WHO: LILO Desserts

Founders: Cleo Gilmour, Alex Worker & Russell Haines

HQ: Queenstown

website: lilodesserts.com

What products, services, solutions or technology have you developed? 

LILO is on a mission to open minds and open taste buds to new ways of snacking. After more than three years of research and development we launched LILO real fruit cheesecakes into more than 70 New World stores in October this year. LILO Cheesecakes are New Zealand’s first dairy free, no added gluten cheesecake to be launched at scale into supermarket chillers, creating a new category for chilled, grab and go indulgent snacking.

Our hero product is the Central Otago Summer Fruit Cheesecake featuring Black Doris Plum, Blueberry and Cherry. Favourites are closely split between this and our Gisborne Lemon and Te Puke Golden Kiwi flavour.

Who and where are your target customers?

LILO was designed as a lighter, real fruit alternative to the 3pm bubble-tea craze around large urban cities in Asia-Pacific (APAC), fulfilling the demand for premium indulgence combined with functional health benefits in 20-35 year old women. Cheesecake is one of Asia’s most popular desserts coming in a variety of flavours, textures and formats and is a perfect platform to showcase premium New Zealand fruit. Making LILO dairy free was a future focused decision around the growing demand for alternative protein in Asia and the high proportion of lactose intolerant people.

In New Zealand LILO is driving new category growth in the grab and go desserts section, offering an alternative to family sized portions for younger consumers shopping for a single or couple sized basket. LILO combines an indulgent, rich tasting dessert with the lightness that comes from being dairy free. Perfect for a mid afternoon pick me up or late night treat.

LILO Desserts
The LILO founding team (L-R): Russell Haines (Design Director), Cleo Gilmour (GM), Jacqui (Foodtech AKA mother of cheesecake) and Alex Worker (Growth Director).

How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?

LILO was started in a cherry orchard after witnessing thousands of tonnes of fruit go to waste for being a bit small, a bit under ripe or a bit weather beaten. Our founding team have all spent time living and working in APAC and saw the disconnect between the premium position our fruit holds in international markets and how much delicious produce is going unused because of cosmetic imperfections.

New Zealand grows some of the most nutritionally dense and delicious produce in the world so we saw an opportunity to create value-add solutions for this lower grade fruit in the form of wellness enhancing snack foods designed for busy modern lives. LILO has been designed for export from day one in everything from our packaging format, SKU size, flavours and ability for quick product R&D.

What are KEY things about your business that you are proud of?

  1. Firstly, the quality and uniqueness of our product. There were a lot of eyebrows raised along the way as we explained we were creating a small, dairy free cheesecake to be sold fresh. Since launching we’ve seen even the staunchest of dairy lovers swoon over a LILO mouthful and admit: “That does not taste dairy free.” LILO is on a mission to challenge the status quo around how we think about our food – be it fruit or what your cheesecake is made of so creating a non dairy product that goes undetected is a huge development for alternative protein desserts in New Zealand.
  2. Secondly, the wider LILO team. So much of what LILO is building requires cross industry collaboration, we are so lucky to have supportive orchardists on board with our mission, an incredibly savvy and innovative strategic manufacturing partner and a talented foodtech who tolerates all my whimsical questions.
LILO collaborates with orchardists to harness the fruit some say is “ugly” and turn it into delicious, mood-enhancing snacks.

How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?

Tasting is believing so for LILO, getting product into people’s mouths has been key. There is a lot of resistance to plant based products so one of our first steps with the Cheesecake launch has been overcoming this. Over launch we had a big push on in-store demos which enables direct to consumer marketing at the place of purchase. Demos are as much about telling your story and getting direct customer feedback as they are about making sales.

I come from a background in Chinese digital marketing where the strategy is often at a really targeted suburban level rather than a country or even city level i.e. go deep and go narrow with your target audience rather than spreading yourself too broadly. Supporting key stores and running demos is a great adaptation of this.

Everyone you talk to will have a different idea about how to market your business, pick something you can execute, get the learnings, assess and tweak.

What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?

Find a network and get out and meet/talk to people. It can be a lonely time so use the size of New Zealand to your advantage. People are usually happy to have a chat, coffee or link you up with someone they know in your industry. Our coworking space GridAKL has been awesome for making connections through the different residents and having a great bunch of humans to see during the work day.

Story created in partnership with GridAKL.

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