Typically, agency folk harness their creativity to help clients’ businesses. But occasionally that creativity is put towards their own projects. And that's exactly what globally recognised young creative and burrito aficionado Ben Polkinghorne has done with the Bangerrito, a burrito-flavoured sausage that's made its way onto a few high end supermarket shelves and, all going to plan, might soon be seen in other markets.
It all started when Polkinghorne, who started as an intern at Colenso BBDO three years ago and has since gone on to win a number of awards and accolades including a D&AD Yellow Pencil and multiple Lions, set up the Auckland Burrito Review (ABR) in 2011. Since then he’s published 37 reviews, officially opened several Mexican restaurants and before the recent election took several politicians out to lunch to ask them questions about burritos.
At a sound booking for a State radio ad, the talent was Matt Simpkins, an advertising veteran and partner at Post Creative who makes top notch bangers in his spare time under the name Mr Bones. They discussed the possibility of a burrito sausage and he couldn’t get the idea out of his head, so he went back to him and they did some recipe tests. Using free-range Freedom Farms pork, it added in whole black beans and chunks of red cabbage “to stay true to a burrito and give you a consistency and crunch that is unlike any other sausage”. And, rather than a stale piece of white bread and tomato sauce, it served the sausage in a tortilla with guacamole, hot sauce and sour cream.
“All the sausage needed then was a name.”
It launched in December on the Ponsonby Rd footpath. It’s also catered the George FM and Colenso Christmas parties and had a stall at Laneway. Now it’s stocked in Nosh and Farro (ten stores) and will also be part of a My Food Bag order next week and the week after (due to time constraints, Simpkins has taken a small share in the company and Polkinghorne has done most of the grunt work).
“We’re on track to sell 30,000 Bangerritos this month," says Polkinghorne. "I’ve somehow done this by only taking two days off work," he says.
He believes those in advertising need to be open to opportunities to be good at their jobs. And that’s something he’s learned working at Colenso. He says the agency has been really supportive of the idea, as evidenced by the fact that it was awarded best side project at the end of year internal awards in December and the sales he's got by pestering colleagues.
Like many creatives, he says he's "got a book of stupid ideas" and he says he’s done business plans for a number of them, but this one has been a bit different. It has moved so quickly that things just fell into place—with plenty of hard work. As such, there hasn’t been any in-depth research into the gourmet sausage market (although anecdotally, it seems to be on the rise, as evidenced by the number of people in Westmere Butchery every weekend or the varieties now available at supermarkets) and he hasn’t got his grand plan down on paper yet, which he admits probably isn’t the best way to run a business. But he does have a couple of mentors helping with the important stuff, like setting retail prices and ensuring it’s a business that can make money, and he’s learning heaps and becoming more efficient as he goes.
As an example, he says he started off grinding cloves for the sausages in a mortar and pestle. Then he discovered the coffee grinder ("That’s probably not the best example.”). A better example is the packaging, he says, which he wanted to look like a burrito and stand out on the shelf. Originally, to stick the cardboard on, he had to use double-sided tape or glue. But with the help of Mat Bogust, a ‘cardboard engineer’ at Image Centre Group, it developed something that worked much better and was one tenth of the cost.
The lesson: "It pays to work with experts."
He said it had considered putting outrageous claims like ‘it made my hair grow back’ on the packaging. Instead, he's gone for a more traditional approach and tapped into the power of stars and endorsements, although the four five star reviews he's using come from “prestigious and well-respected publication" the ABR, so the independence is highly questionable (it also got an endorsement from comedian Brendhan Lovegrove).
The ABR's review of Bangerritos might also show some small signs of bias: "Every so often something comes along that changes the world. The wheel. Prozac. Dr. Dre. Something else is about to be added to that list. The Bangerrito. What you’re about to read is the very first look at what we’re proudly calling the biggest innovation since the sausage roll. An idea so clever, whoever came up with it is nothing short of a genius. Ladies and gentleman, this is a sausage that tastes like a burrito."
There's a definite sense of whimsy about the business, as evidenced by the sign above and the company's official name Bangerrito Inc Worldwide Global Ltd, and, not surprisingly, Polkinghorne has plenty of mad ideas for further promotion.
“We’re definitely going to do something cool with advertising. But it hasn’t happened yet.”
And, like a meaty version of Lewis Road Creamery’s chocolate milk, it could be a good sign that no advertising has yet been required as the product has been good—and interesting—enough to sell itself.
While Mexican flavoured sausages exist, he says he hasn’t found anything similar to this idea in other markets, aside from Sushirito. He’s currently looking at securing distribution around New Zealand in the big supermarkets and he thinks he could easily hire a few people to sell them at various festivals and events, but he also hopes to be in Australia by June (AJ Park is taking care of protecting the intellectual property).
It’s also working on other versions of the Bangerrito (chicken, beef and vegetarian) and he has a few other sausage-based innovations that he’s keeping up his sleeve.
But he's not limiting himself to ground up meat. He's hoping this business might afford him the luxury of coming up with other innovations. And chief among the things he wants to improve? Pegs.