It’s an exciting year ahead for dessert maker Wicked Sister, with its recent move into a new facility and the launch of a new sub-brand.
Wicked Sister’s branding evokes cheeky, playful, happy childhood memories.
And while that’s exactly how founder and CEO Paul Polly feels about the favourite childhood dessert that sparked the company in the first place, it’s a slingshot away from what goes on in the entrepreneur’s brain.
The next 12 months sit large on the horizon for the nine-year-old company, and that’s exactly how Polly likes it.
“I always set impossible goals and tasks for my team. My thinking is that if we are able to achieve anywhere close to our goals, we would have achieved a hell of a lot more than if we had set ourselves realistic ones. That’s how we’ve grown so quickly. We’ve got a really good team and a really good culture here.”
Polly now has a team of 35 production and admin staff who work out of their brand new, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Ingleburn in Sydney.
This doesn’t include the additional 70 reps on the road selling and merchandising Wicked Sister into supermarkets across Australia, New Zealand and most recently Hong Kong – one of the first steps in Wicked Sister’s Asian expansion strategy.
“We previously had 35 staff in production at our Bankstown facility in Sydney, producing 4.5 tonnes of premium desserts a day, working two shifts, 24 hours a day.
Now we’re producing 16 tonnes in one shift with half the staff. The transition from Bankstown to Ingleburn was not always smooth sailing.
We always look at ways we can improve, and subsequently have invested a huge amount of money by innovating the automation process.
Our biggest investment, however, has been in our people. And the results speak for themselves.”
Idea takes shape
Polly began his career working with his father in the family business, antipasto and marinated olive maker Olympus Grove.
He left the business in 2007, taking a year off to work out what he was going to do next.
“I wanted to be in food because I really enjoyed it. But I didn’t know what I was going to do. Olympus Grove was a very seasonal business, which has its pros and cons. I knew if I wanted to really grow a business I would need to look for something more stable, for a product that people would eat no matter what the weather was like.
“Having a manufacturing background, yoghurt was on my radar from a young age, but having walked through the supermarket aisles, I quickly realised that the category was saturated, and achieving success was going to be tough. There were more than enough brands on the shelf and the category had already evolved and innovated significantly. I didn’t see a huge amount of opportunity and realistically, I would need to compete with the likes of multi-nationals Yoplait and Ski amongst others.
“I was having lunch one day at a sandwich shop in Marrickville, and I grabbed a bottle of Coke out of the fridge. There was a whole stack of freshly made rice pudding next to the drinks that the old lady in the café kitchen had made. I thought to myself, ‘I haven’t had one of these in years!’ so I bought one. When I ate it, it reminded me of the rice pudding my grandmother used to make.”
Not being able to find anything similar in retail, Polly says he “took a punt and invested [his] life savings in a factory in Bankstown”. It was the birth of Wicked Sister.
It took Polly a year to develop a recipe, which he then presented to Woolworths at the end of 2008.
Wicked Sister was launched at Woolworths in 2009 with two lines: an old-school style rice pudding with cinnamon on top and a chocolate rice pudding.
“Woolworths gave me a huge opportunity and agreed to range Wicked Sister in 150 Queensland stores. With absolutely no money to invest in store or in catalogue promotions, we had a three-month window to achieve some pretty serious hurdle rates, for the brand to prove itself and to remain on shelf. Lucky for us, Wicked Sister sold really well.
At our first range review after launch, Woolworths increased Wicked Sister ranging into NSW and soon after that to the entire East Coast. In 2012, Wicked Sister went national. Based on the success of the brand and its growing popularity, Wicked Sister is now also ranged at Coles nationally.”
By late 2016, Wicked Sister was available nationwide, including independents.
“Now we’re in just about every supermarket in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, and very recently in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.”
New factory crucial
Completing the new factory last year was crucial in these successes. From the original site in Bankstown, Wicked Sister moved into its new home at Ingleburn in 2016.
“We started with one little plant in Bankstown, then we upgraded and added another facility in the complex next door. And then another. But having three disjointed manufacturing facilities producing 24 hours a day was inefficient and extremely stressful on our entire team to say the least.”
To achieve his sky-high plans, Polly knew the business needed a serious production upgrade, so he hired design consultant and project management company RMR Process and building company Fugen, bought a large site in Ingleburn and they went to work.
The result was a state-of-the-art facility in south-west Sydney, which is easily 10 times the size of the Bankstown plant.
“The new production facility has enabled us to achieve volumes that exceeded our expectations due to the state-of-the-art engineering design and automated production processes,” Polly says.
“We’ve got less staff in terms of manufacturing, and what we previously produced in 24 hours at our old plant we can do in just four hours today. It’s given us a huge amount of capacity that has enabled us to branch out into other products, markets and countries. We’re now able to invest more back into the brand, and that lets us deliver more value to our customers whilst attracting new customers to the chilled dessert category.”
And that’s just what Polly’s been doing.
Last month, Wicked Sister updated its brand. The brand refresh included a full packaging redesign, a new website and a revitalised social media presence.
The objective was “to declutter and refine the brand DNA and cement Wicked Sister as the premium dessert offer unmatched in the chilled dessert category”.
Polly says, “Wicked Sister is all about memorable moments and we wanted to amplify that message and inspire a real connection with our customers. Our packaging was a little dated, so we needed the new look and feel to bring the brand more in line with today and to deliver our memorable moments message clearly on shelf and at point of sale.”
As part of the refresh, Wicked Sister added two new products to its core twin pack range with gluten-free tiramisu and a choc mousse with crunchy choc star decoration.
As part of “having a right royal crack” at the premium dessert market, Polly has left nothing to chance.
“We buy a huge amount of data and analytics, so we know exactly who our customers are, where they shop and why they purchase Wicked Sister and the category. This helps us develop new products that we know our customers really want. In retail, Wicked Sister enjoys sales across an even spread of all demographics, including young families, new families, older families, older singles, older couples and retirees.
“We’ve got a good spread. Like many products sold through supermarkets, 88 per cent of our retail customers are female. We know they buy Wicked Sister for lots of different reasons and are influenced by various household demographic compositions and influencers at home.”
To that end, Wicked Sister is launching a new sub-brand called WS Creations this month, a single-serve, multi-layered premium dessert offer.
“The flavour profiles were painstakingly designed to suit the Australian palate. We’ve got a really delicious lamington dessert, a choc profiterole dessert, a coconut cream mousse with mango and passionfruit and a few others that we will be announcing shortly.”
Polly estimates Australia’s premium chilled dessert retail market is worth somewhere between $100 and $120 million.
While Wicked Sister continues to grow year on year, the overall category has been in decline.
“It’s not clear whether the competition is finding it too hard to stomach more investment given Wicked Sister’s market dominance,” Polly says.
“We’re up against Nestlé and all the big guys. Dessert is a much smaller market for them, because they’re playing in the bigger markets of yoghurt, which is worth close to $1.2 billion, and cheese which is worth $1.7b, not to mention milk and butter. I could almost guarantee the dessert category decline is off the back of no innovation, so that’s why we’re driving innovation.
“Customers have been leaving chilled desserts and taking their hard-earned dollars and spending it on ice-cream and confectionery. Those guys continue to innovate. Our strategy has always been to give consumers something that they can’t get anywhere else, as a way of getting them to come back to our category – and it’s working.
“That’s how our new brand WS Creations was born. The WS Creations product offer and brand position was conceived and developed to attract and deliver against the lifestyle needs of a younger millennial audience. WS Creations aims to deliver a premium single serve, ‘foodie’-orientated chilled dessert offer, and in doing so is creating a new usage occasion – much like the single-serve ice-cream or chocolate bar. By doing it this way, WS Creations will clearly differentiate itself from the traditional supermarket twin pack offer. We are confident WS Creations will not cannibalise our Wicked Sister twin pack sales.
“Woolworths are pretty excited about the whole thing. Our Australian export partners are also really excited about what’s on the horizon.”
Expanding into export markets
Wicked Sister only began in October last year, according to Polly.
“Through our partnership with Manassen, we made some good contacts in Singapore and Hong Kong as well as Hutchinsons in New Zealand. New Zealand has proven to be our most successful market outside Australia; The brand is kicking some serious goals across the ditch. We expected Wicked Sister to have taken off in Hong Kong before New Zealand, but we were wrong. It’s been wonderful. It’s great watching both markets take off.”
Wicked Sister “absolutely” has plans to keep expanding to new destinations. Polly says its immediate export priorities are to support growth opportunities in Hong Kong as well as New Zealand. Then the business will look to expand into other Asian markets. The US market will come after that.
Bullish in sport sponsorship
Late last year, Wicked Sister signed up as a major sponsor of the NRL’s Canterbury Bulldogs football club.
The sponsorship became effective this season, with branding on the players’ shorts and across the team’s home-ground sideline signage “amongst other strategic assets”.
“The strategy is simple: it’s about widening Wicked Sister’s reach, building brand awareness with a passionate target audience and drawing them towards the brand,” Polly says.
“We are as passionate about desserts as Bulldog fans are about football. Building brand awareness and reaching new customers is at the heart of our marketing efforts.
“We’re doing some great work with the Bulldogs already and we are really proud of the partnership. They are a great team and are very well respected across the code and have broad brand awareness outside the league as well. In reaching and supporting the Doggies, we believe we will also reach lots of other NRL teams, their supporters and a wider audience in general. It’s a win-win.
“I’m very, very confident that if people try our desserts they will come back for more. Free trial is a big part of our marketing strategy.
“Wicked Sister is a premium brand, but we don’t want to just pitch our desserts to high-income earners. The average Aussie family can’t afford to eat out every week, but they still want to enjoy a nice meal at home and have that restaurant-quality dessert to share with their family. Something exciting. Something that delivers the quality, the taste and the innovation you would find at great restaurant. That’s where Wicked Sister delivers.”
Sky’s the limit
In March, Wicked Sister desserts began being served on all Qantas’s international flights.
“We are extremely proud that a company like Qantas would choose to serve Wicked Sister. Qantas is a great brand. The association means a lot,” Polly said.
“A big part of our long-term business strategy is not to be so heavily reliant on retail as we have been in the past. We are starting to realise this goal and it’s already paying dividends. Spreading the risk across different customers and channels lets us all sleep better at night.”
From two trial products in Woolworths, Wicked Sister now has a 40 per cent market share of Woolworths’ chilled premium dessert category. The numbers are lower in Coles and the independents, which. according to Polly, have smaller dessert categories and fewer SKUs.
Polly’s objective is for Wicked Sister to be the number-one dairy dessert brand and the number-one dairy dessert manufacturer in Australia.
“I won’t settle for second. It’s a big task but I think we’re driving the right innovation into the category and we have the best team in place. It’s going to be really interesting to see what the Wicked Sister team will achieve over the next 12 months. Supported by our new facilities, investment, marketing and sponsorships, and WS Creations, the sky’s the limit.”