Kiwi skincare company Snowberry is focusing its R&D efforts on biodiscovery and taking its products to the world, with the backing of multinational Procter & Gamble.
At a glance
Science-backed skincare going global
At first glance Snowberry appears to be a small Kiwi skincare company with a dozen employees, focused solely on the local market for its premium products. But appearances can be deceiving.
Go beyond skin-deep and you find a business with its own biodiscovery operation – centred on a 25-hectare garden with thousands of New Zealand native plants – and the backing of major multinational Procter & Gamble.
Snowberry can also lay claim to successfully developing a technology to ensure the effective delivery of peptides via a topical product, proving the efficacy of its serums by gold standard clinical trial, and having its dermal delivery technology published in the Journal of Aging Science.
Doing things differently was always part of the plan for Snowberry’s founder Soraya Hendesi. She started the company in 2006, shortly after immigrating to New Zealand, with the intention of creating skincare products she could trust.
“New Zealand felt like the perfect place to create a premium, natural skincare brand,” says Hendesi.
‘Premium’ and ‘natural’ are words that get thrown around a lot in the world of skincare, but Snowberry has prescribed its own high standards around clinically-proven safe, high quality, active ingredients – and one major point of difference for the company is where and how they source many of the ingredients for their formulations.
In 2007 the company established Snowberry Gardens, on a 25-hectare plot of land north of Auckland, where the team has cultivated some 8,000 native plants of selected varieties with potential cosmeceutical applications, based on either rongoā Māori (traditional Māori medicine) or through scientific assay.
“Snowberry Gardens is a biodiscovery operation. The purpose of biodiscovery is not simply to produce raw ingredients or simple extracts, instead it’s about identifying active compounds that will benefit the skin in specific and clinically verifiable ways.”
The company had a small staff at the outset and it’s remained a tight team, with one brief expansion when Snowberry made a foray into contract manufacturing and discovered it wasn’t the right fit.
For Hendesi and her business partner (and husband) Mark Henderson – Snowberry’s Operating Manager – it clarified the need for the company to ‘stick to its knitting’ and invest in R&D to develop products that delivered on their mission.
“Our mission, and core business, is to create skincare that will help anyone’s skin to look and feel better,” says Henderson. “And that doesn’t happen by mixing up some nice ingredients and simply hoping for the best.”
Risk and rewards of R&D
Unlike makeup, Henderson says, genuine skincare isn’t about delivering a purely cosmetic outcome in the short-term.
“Our formulations have been developed to do more to help avoid the premature aging of skin, at any age, and it’s this aspect that requires genuine skin science. That’s what led us to develop an R&D programme from early in our history.”
Hendesi says the drive to ensure their products are backed by science has seen the company invest heavily in R&D, even in the early days when it came at the cost of investing in other areas of the business.
"For any new company, investing in original science is really challenging, because it's money that isn't going into communications, the rent or even salaries. And because it's original science, there are no guarantees anything useful will come of it. It's a real gamble."
Henderson describes Callaghan Innovation’s support as essential in enabling Snowberry’s R&D, in terms of helping the company shoulder some of the costs and providing valuable advice.
Snowberry was the recipient of a Project Grant and received $105,000 in co-funding from Callaghan Innovation.
“Whilst the sums were not large, given our own very limited resources, they made the difference between doing the R&D and not. We simply could not have completed our science without that support.”
It wasn’t just about the funds either.
“Callaghan Innovation was able to assist Snowberry with their R&D into anti-aging skin treatment through project grant funding and they also worked with our Research and Technical Services to develop extraction techniques from plants to be used in their skin care range,” says Customer Manager Health, Andrew Paterson. “They have built great R&D capability and are employing highly skilled graduates.”
Henderson adds that Callaghan Innovation’s support also provided validation during the more challenging periods for the business.
“Having the support of Callaghan Innovation meant that we always had a science-and-business-savvy organisation on our side. Entrepreneurial business is lonely business. It is fraught with risk and it requires a great deal of perseverance, often in the face of strong head winds. Knowing that your R&D aspirations have been reviewed by a science-based organisation and then actively supported, helped us to retain confidence and momentum.”
With consumer goods multinational Proctor & Gamble’s acquisition of Snowberry in 2018, the company is now looking to the future.
“P&G will make an enormous difference to Snowberry worldwide. With their backing we can increase staff, production, and research investment here in New Zealand. While the New Zealand business will operate much as it has, P&G is committed to developing the brand and particularly, the biodiscovery operation as rapidly as possible.”
“At present, Snowberry is utilising harakeke seed oil and a unique kanuka honey extract for use in several Snowberry products. This is just a beginning. With the investment we are now making in biodiscovery, we expect to identify and commercialise new-to-the-world skin bio actives.”
Being part of the global company also means Snowberry products will be back on international shelves.
“Snowberry has been distributed in many markets, beginning with Germany in 2007, but a lack of capital meant that for a period we needed to consolidate into the domestic market as we focused on completing and commercialising our science. Last year’s acquisition means that Snowberry will return to major global markets very soon.”
While P&G’s acquisition was a major milestone, Hendesi and Henderson say their greatest satisfaction has come from creating the company and products they set out to develop and doing it their own way.
“Setting out to do something quite different entails a great deal of risk, belief, capital and a capacity to roll with the punches,” says Henderson.
“We’re really proud of creating skincare products that do what we say they will.”
Updated: 26 June 2019