Founder: Fiona Tomlinson
HQ: Hawke’s Bay

What problems do you solve and what products or services do you sell?

We have found a unique way to put Hawke’s Bay’s renowned stone fruit on the world stage, diversifying our range in the process. The Damson Collection has built a reputation for its delicious range of condiments and antipasti accompaniments and more recently those same locally-grown plums have been used to create an internationally-awarded Damson liqueur.

Who and where are your target customers?

Our products are shared by a broad range of adults. Our original target market was women 45-65, with an interest in food and entertaining. However, our Damson Plum Liqueur appeals to a wider demographic and has expanded the overall target market. It’s still female dominated but with a discerning palate, many who know and appreciate the sloe-gin style having lived overseas. You only have to mention Damson gin and they quiver!

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

The Damson Collection
Fiona Tomlinson founder of The Damson Collection

I bought The Damson Collection three years ago. It has always been my intention to expand by developing the alcohol side of the business. I wanted to capitalise on the popularity of gin internationally and develop a world-class Damson gin.

The Damson Plum Fruit Liqueur was our first foray into alcohol (it is produced by my other business, The Dam Fine Gin Company Ltd for The Damson Collection). Our Damson Plum Liqueur won not only the best New Zealand Fruit Liqueur gold award, it took the top honour of World’s Best Fruit Liqueur, at the World Liqueur Awards 2020.

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

  • I’m incredibly proud of how we evolved and innovated. We didn’t do just more of the same. The success of the liqueur gave us validation and impetus to now work with the distillery on our top-shelf DFG Damson gin.
  • Not only what we do but how we achieve it is a highlight. Things like living wage accreditation, our sustainability model working towards carbon zero accreditation with Toitu and also BCorp accreditation.
  • Thirdly, and most importantly – I truly value our customers; without them we have no business.

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

Initially we were very B2C focused, promoting ourselves through local markets, social media, and tastings.

COVID changed that completely, but our award win garnered a lot of media attention. It has proven to be the springboard for us to start seeking both earned and owned media.

Advice? Sheesh…. I would say understand who your customer is, understand your Unique Selling Point (USP) and how you can solve the consumer’s problem and then stay connected.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?

Cashflow! Financial resources full stop.

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

Firstly, don’t let your need for perfection cause paralysis.

And secondly, trust your gut.

How has your business adapted to the challenges of COVID-19?

We quickly moved from a B2M business model (supermarkets, direct to consumer at food shows and online) to a primarily robust online business model that streamlined the purchasing journey for our customers while still servicing existing stockists.

The World’s Best Fruit Liqueur Award was announced during lockdown. That resulted in a sales spike, proving that we are not a small cottage industry but a local business on the cusp of further expansion.

What are your plans for the next 12-18 months?

We validated a few export markets (USA and Australia) during lockdown with the help of NZTE and an export consultant, so our immediate focus is on maximising this and other export opportunities. We are cognisant that we must continue to consolidate our local client base and nurture this market also.

We have a Damson Gin in New Product Development (NPD) that we hope will be available this summer. It’s pretty special and expected to be another premium addition to our range. There is also a non-alcoholic summer drink and a few other goodies in NPD also.

What’s great about HB?

Having moved from Auckland, I feel like I‘ve gained a huge part of my day back.

I think being in a smaller community allows faster traction in business. The Hawke’s Bay Business Hub has been  pivotal in gaining access to expert connections, funding from RBP (the Regional Business Partners) and The Callaghan Institute and of course help from NZTE. There is so much information and help available for people in business through the Business Hub.

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