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What’s it like to work at Lewis Road Creamery?

Lewis Road Creamery, one of the country’s most-loved brands, is currently looking for someone to take on the role of new product development manager and the brief is deceptively simple: help take new product ideas from a blank sheet of paper to the supermarket shelf as quickly as possible. Sound like your cup of tea (with milk)? Then read on.

By Erin McKenzie | May 13, 2016 | Sponsored content

Picturing Lewis Road Creamery’s HQ, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks something like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, such has been the public’s fascination with the brand. Step through the double glass doors in Auckland’s CBD, however, and instead you’ll find a small, open plan office with a country-style kitchen at its heart. And while there aren’t any chocolate rivers on display, there’s still plenty of magic.

The business has two general managers: Michelle Preston, who looks after operations and finance, and Angela Weeks, who is responsible for sales and marketing. And Weeks says one of the realisations the team members have is, yes, it is an FMCG business, but it’s not corporate, it’s creative. There is very little structure and it only has as much process as it needs.

In traditional FMCG companies, the sales managers and operations managers may only see each other once a week in meetings, but at Lewis Road Creamery Kylie Dykes and Claire Daly sit beside each other and they both say that’s part of what makes it such an amazing place to work.

Both are in the kitchen to taste test new products and give feedback, sharing the sample with brand manager and CFO (chief fan officer) Ali Puchala, who says no matter their title, the 13 team members can all get their hands dirty—figuratively speaking, of course—on any project. Anyone can pick up the phone when a call comes in, and all mention being active on the Facebook page and interacting with customers, or “roadies” as they call them.

There’s no chain of command to work through, and founder Peter Cullinane is often in the kitchen, creating a culture his team describe as “liberating”.

Lewis Road Creamery's founder and spirit animal Peter Cullinane sampling his company's wares in the office kitchen.

Meet the makers 

Cullinane and Weeks come from ad agency backgrounds and see similarities (and some differences) between that culture and the one at Lewis Road Creamery.

Like agencies, they say the business is ideas-focused and anyone can come up with an idea at any point and try to bring it to life. But in agencyland, whether creative ideas go ahead or not is always in the hands of the client. Lewis Road Creamery is the client and gets to make its ideas happen every day, which the team all describe as being hugely rewarding.

“I think one of the delightful things about the brand or the business, is that people are supportive. It’s very pleasant to be in a position where you don’t have to defend anything and you are just given support to do the next thing.” Peter Cullinane. 

When asked how many trialled products actually make it to the shelf, Cullinane says it’s a ratio of about one-to-one.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he and the rest of the team say. “If you can imagine it you can find a way of getting it done.”

Not surprisingly, with a focus on creativity and strong links to the world of advertising, Lewis Road Creamery has a cupboard full of ideas (often stashed away in the fabled ‘bottom drawer’, where creatives are said to keep them). But it needs someone to own them and nurture them, hence the search for an important new staff member: a new product development manager that may come up with the ideas, but who has strong experience in project management and making things happen. 

Reaching maturity

Lewis Road Creamery is only three-and-a-half years old. And in that time the company's ambition has grown significantly. So the right person is needed to help realise that. 

If you are up for that challenge—and the associated rewards—it’s a great place to work, says Weeks. But it’s definitely not one for the slackers. No-one sits on their laurels in the office, she says, and the team has very high standards, which comes not only from Cullinane’s presence but also from each other.

All of the team admit they work hard in their roles. And it’s not surprising when they talk about their next product launch being the fastest ever. While some FMCG companies may take two years to launch a new product, Lewis Road Creamery aims to do it in two months.

“When you’re on, you’re on and you’re going hard like everyone else is because we just don’t have time to work any other way,” says Weeks.

It’s a passion shared by Cullinane and the team to keep shaking up New Zealand markets and working hard to do things no one else has the guts to do. 

  • Check out our profile of Lewis Road Creamery here

On the charge

Lewis Road started off with premium butter, but it has moved steadily down the dairy aisle—and, after launching its premium bread, beyond the dairy aisle. Right now there are 15 new projects in the works, more than there are people in the team. And when Cullinane talks about how it’s all managed, he compares it to plates.

“In a business there’s all these plates spinning and you’ve just got to constantly pay attention to all of them. New product development is a major plate to spin but so too is what you’ve already got and keeping that up and so on and so on. So if you are in that mindset that you have all these spinning plates to take care of you just tend to be in the zone all the time. So the new product ideas aren’t really hard to come by, the problem frankly is we’ve just got so much in the pipeline that it needs really smart inventive management of the process to keep us on the tracks.”

That’s another reason to take on a new recruit. Because Lewis Road Creamery launches new products so quickly, the new product development manager will make sure every product is right, and every box is ticked before the deadline hits.

Finding the balance

Despite the push for productivity, there is a clear acknowledgement of the importance of personal time. And outside of the office, the team all talk about the interest and excitement shown by family, friends and strangers when their job at Lewis Road Creamery is raised in conversation.

When Weeks first started working there she would have to explain what it was. Now she doesn’t have to elaborate because the typical reaction is “Lewis Road! I love Lewis Road!”

Cullinane says the love customers have for the brand makes all the effort worthwhile.

“I think one of the delightful things about the brand or the business, is that people are supportive. It’s very pleasant to be in a position where you don’t have to defend anything and you are just given support to do the next thing.”

That definitely rubs off on the staff, says Weeks, who sums up the attitude of the whole Lewis Road Creamery team when she says she’s only had one bad day in the office in her two years with the company. And that could be classified as a symptom of too much success: tiredness.

“I go home every day and think ‘I just love what I do’.”

  • Sound like a job for you? If you’d like to know more about the new product development manager position at Lewis Road Creamery, or would like to apply, contact Erin Kirk: Erin@convergencepartners.co.nz

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