In 2012, a small group of investors based in Perth bought the rights for Yowie chocolate from global food giant Kraft.
Although the product had disappeared from retail shelves some seven years earlier – just like some of the endangered species it seeks to educate children about – the newly formed ASX-listed Yowie Group felt confident that the Yowie chocolate, with its surprise collectable toy, still had unfilled global potential.
They chose to relaunch first in the USA, with product on shelves in late 2014. Last year, the number of US retail outlets carrying the Yowie grew substantially.
First launched in 1995, the product was created by Geoff Pike and the late Bryce Courtenay through their company Kidcorp, in partnership with Cadbury. It was based on the famed mythical Australian Yowie, with other characters in the collectable series being endangered animal species.
For 10 years Yowie was one of the biggest-selling chocolates in Australia, moving 65 million units worth more than $100 million at retail in the first full year of sales. The line was discontinued in 2005.
In 2010, Kraft bought Cadbury for $20 billion, and in 2012, those who had originally been involved in the Yowie brand saw an opportunity to reclaim the brand.
After Yowie Group acquired the brand it spent the next two years preparing for the launch and setting up the business model. In fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the business grew more than 50 per cent annually.
Yowie Group CEO Mark Schuessler says there were two main drivers for Yowie to launch first in the US.
“First, the sheer size of the market and confectionery sales in general. But also because there was almost no ‘surprise inside’ chocolate novelty in the market. Yowie virtually created this subsegment that has now become quite crowded with new items in the past year,” Schuessler said.
Although the company sells chocolate, it calls itself an entertainment and education company with a conservation mission and message.
The product is delivered through a chocolate treat, but it’s the message carrier for Yowie to introduce the brand and create awareness.
There is a much bigger opportunity around licensing out the Yowie brand, with the brand then playing a role in other categories, the company's ultimate objective.
To get there, the company plans to bring the characters to life through a series of books and webisodes. With the aspirational mission of the company Australian wildlife conservation, Yowie Group has partnered with the not-for-profit Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a global organisation that buys land to create animal sanctuaries.
Yowie aims to appeal to conservation-minded gatekeepers who buy the brand, those parents and grandparents, as well as children across a range of ages, varying by market.
The company has created a free app where children can become a “Yowie Ranger” and experience the Yowie habitats, with the aim being to build a community of Yowie fans.
“We certainly hope to be known as not just a chocolate brand, but as an educational and media entertainment company capitalising on our mission to educate and connect consumers to conservation through the recognition of our Yowie characters and unique digital contents,” Schuessler says.