Amazon, US supermarkets back feminine hygiene firm Oi

Amazon, US supermarkets back feminine hygiene firm Oi

Auckland-based Organic Initiative (Oi) has been making waves across the Atlantic. Chief executive Clare Morgan tells Aimee Shaw the business exhibited recently at trade shows in the United States, where its recent growth has been significant.

In the last 12 months, Oi’s sales in the US have doubled. The company has since moved to third party logistics, and sales through Amazon have boosted the personal hygiene business to new heights.

What has your venture set out to achieve?

Oi make synthetic, plastic and toxic chemical free period products or reusable products that are healthier for the body and the planet. We launched in 2015 and are in 750 retail stores and the aim would be to get that up to north of 1200 by the end of this next year. We have tripled our sales on Amazon in the last 12 months and the US is now our biggest market. We’re focused on leveraging the success we have had with Whole Foods in similar stores. We’re in New Zealand, Australia and the US. In NZ we’re sold in Countdown, Chemist Warehouse, New World, Pak'nSave and Commonsense, and 330 independent stores in Australia.

Helen Robinson, our founder, originally took the business to the US in 2018, and they went into some of the major retailers like Walmart and CVS. Covid happened shortly after and the original plans didn’t work out; mainly because people weren’t in supermarkets and it was an unknown brand. I joined in February 2022, and we reset the strategy to focus on Amazon and specialist organic online retailer Thrive, and the natural channel to range with retailers such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Erewhon and The Mother’s Markets, and that’s been our focus since.

We went into Whole Foods in July last year, we’re in Erewhon and with Mother’s Markets we’ve gone into Harmonds, a number of natural stores in Utah, and Earth Bare in San Francisco. There are lots of retailers we are talking to at the moment, but no new ones that we have signed with that I can share just yet. The one that is in progress at the moment and likely to happen is Giant Foods on the East Coast, including Pennsylvania, so we should be on shelves in coming months. Our bricks and mortar sales have doubled in the last 12 months, and sales on Amazon in the US have tripled in the last 12 months. We’ve just listed on Amazon in Australia too.

What are you currently focused on?

Our focus is the US market, as that is where we see the most opportunity. Because of the scale of the market, there is a large natural channel and mainstream supermarkets to tap into, including Walmart and Target. Being able to specifically target that natural channel - consumers coming through the door that are predisposed to buying a premium organic product - our ability to grow the brand successfully in the US is much greater, because of the make up of the market. We want to continue to grow the number of natural retailers we are stocked in.

How competitive is the hygiene market in the US?

It is competitive, there are more brands coming into the market. Most of our product is not made in New Zealand, it is made in the US, so that is not a strength for us, unlike is the case with primary produce.

We source our product from all around the world. New Zealand-made is not a big advantage for us at all. From a competitive perspective, there are three US-based brands; Real, Kora and Honey Pot, and increasingly we’re seeing competitors come in from the UK, such as Natural Care and Flow. We found there is also product coming in from India, which has been ranged by Whole Foods. Increasingly, people are seeing the US as an opportunity, and there are more brands exporting into that market.

What’s your tips for breaking into that market?

Be prepared to play the long game. Even after having range confirmation, it can take eight to 12 months before your products hits the shelf. There are specific windows to meet and penalties if you do not deliver on time. Ask your potential new retailer, 'What are the costs and how are they calculated?' to understand their terms of trade and one-off costs. Also, do your due diligence to assess the profit opportunities.

In three years’ time you will be ...

We’re focused on growing our sales on Amazon. I’d really like to triple our sales on Amazon again in the next 12 months, as there is great opportunity there. We’re also focused on securing stockists throughout the rest of the natural channel. There are so many smaller regional players that have anywhere between six to 400 stores in a region, that we want to range in.

We also want to get into reusable period underwear. The US has been a little bit slower in adopting reusable period underwear. We showed our product at a recent expo, and I couldn’t find anyone else showing it. We got a tremendous response to that with it being organic cotton, so we plan to fast track some of that into the market to test and learn as we go, as that will give us an early mover advantage in the US.

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