Vodafone Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah (left)
shakes hands with Fernbaby managing director Tianxi Shao.
Photo by Photosport.
When it comes to travelling, Tianxi Shao could be
considered a frequent flyer.
The Chinese businessman and sporting enthusiast has visited
60 countries, yet fell in love with New Zealand, captivated
by the "clean, green image".
Mr Shao is now principal of Fernbaby, a company formed to
provide a locally-made high-quality alternative to the
Australian and Singaporean-made infant formulas, which it
says dominate the New Zealand market.
It might be the "new kid on the block" but the company's
assistant director John McCaulay said it was well-resourced
It was recently announced that Fernbaby would be sponsoring
the Vodafone Junior Warriors in the national youth
competition in 2013, before becoming a full sponsor of the
club's NRL team in 2014 and 2015.
While it was a "substantial investment", the company needed
to create a brand at both ends of the market - China and New
Zealand, Mr McCaulay said.
As well as establishing Fernbaby in New Zealand, Mr Shao is
managing director of Sotx, a company which manufactures
badminton equipment. Sotx has a long history of encouraging
sport, including sponsoring the Chinese junior national team,
and of tours of China by European representative badminton
Several shipments of Fernbaby product have already been made
and, by the end of this year, the company expected to be
exporting 80,000 to 100,000 cans a month into China. It would
also be available in many of New Zealand's supermarkets.
Chinese consumers were looking for brands they could trust.
Having attended a mother and infant trade show in Beijing, Mr
McCaulay was very impressed by the strong family values in
China and how "incredibly precious" children were.
He was in a supermarket in Singapore a few weeks ago where he
encountered about 20m of infant formula on the shelves,
stacked about 2m high.
All probably contained "quite a lot" of New Zealand dried
milk, but there was no evidence that New Zealand was
represented on the shelves, which was a reflection of how New
Zealand's dairy industry worked, he said.
Fonterra had done a "brilliant job" but its role was mainly
to cope with the flush of milk supply, build large milk
powder plants and sell it as a commodity to the world.
Investing in brands was not the priority, Mr McCaulay said.
Fernbaby's role was not to build plants to make the milk
powder - it was contract-manufactured by Fonterra and listed
company New Image - rather it was in distribution and
It was not just about the Chinese market. Other potential
markets were being explored, including India, Korea, Japan,
the Middle East and possibly Africa.
It was a premium product and the potential was "quite
While the initial focus was on producing infant formula, the
company was positioned to further develop its range of
The company's initial commitment to its branding and
marketing systems had a budget of $1 million "so we are very
serious about what we are doing", Mr McCaulay said.