Vege Chips builds on environmental, social credentials with Wildlife Hospital partnership

Aussie healthier snack brand strike three-year partnership including packaging refresh to drive awareness and donations to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital

A long-term commitment to environmental and social principles has led Vege Chips to forge a three-year partnership with the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital in its home location on Australia’s Gold Coast.

The healthier snack business has been around since the 1990s, initially selling its handmade, free-from and gluten-free chips locally and through shows such as Sydney’s Royal Easter Show. Having built up a loyal customer following, the business secured distribution through Woolworths and Coles and started seeing exponential growth over the last decade.

Having successfully navigated its way through the challenges of such rapid growth, including 60 per cent growth in just one year, and a retail price increase, Vege Chips over the past six years has been chalking up an average of 30 per cent year-on-year growth. Vege Chips managing director, Rob Crisfield, and general manager, Owen Cooley, put this down to a combination of great tasting product, free-form, gluten free and now vegan credentials, an aggressive focus on in-store promotion and sampling, and overall commitment to the environment.

The executive pair told CMO the business takes great pride in the fact it delivers on the growing demand for ‘better for you’ products “that still taste good”. As both Crisfield and Cooley pointed out, being first to market with chips cooked in sunflower oil, well as being gluten free, put Vege Chips ahead of the healthier snack trend curve – and it’s gained authenticity and a loyal customer base as a result.

“We are on trend and have built trust in our product by sticking with our promise and protecting our loyal customer base aggressively,” Crisfield said. “We live by our standards. We are strict on testing processes, which in Australia are stricter than in many other countries – Australia has zero tolerance around ‘free from’ standards, for example.”  

The transition to 100 per cent vegan products a couple of years ago has also given the brand further credit with the growing number of consumers choosing vegan products.

“We were ahead of that trend, as we were ahead of the gluten free and free-from trends. Now we have that loyalty because of our history,” Cooley said.

It’s clear younger generations are increasingly environmentally conscious and the push to more sustainable food consumption is gaining focus, Crisfield agreed. “The movement to veganism has really driven this too – supermarkets have embraced that and we have seen products launch within six months,” he said.

“It’s incredible to see the amount of product on the shelves. We have also seen the World Health Organisation promoting vegetarianism.”

From an environmental perspective, Vege Chips also boasts of 300 solar panels on its factory and internally calls itself “Vege Chips powered by the sun”.

“We are responding to the market quickly, but also being ahead of the curve was critical for us in that authenticity,” Crisfield said. “Most vegans are environmentalists, concerned about packaging, recycling and the state of the environment in general.”

It’s for all these reasons Crisfield said the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital partnership was a natural fit. Located just 2km away from Vege Chip’s factory, the partnership celebrates the Gold Coast and wildlife protection while highlighting the company’s Australian roots.

The partnership is ultimately about driving awareness and donations to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital and sees Vege Chips including the hospital’s branding on its multi-pack product packaging. A QR code will be included on packets encouraging consumers to find out more information about the hospital and to donate. Vege Chips is also providing financial support.  

A competition has also been launched asking consumers to help name baby wildlife animal patients across the year. The winners will have their names immortalised on a ‘Walkways for wildlife’ path situated in the hospital grounds. The partnership launch was celebrated by naming a baby swan at the hospital ‘Chippie’.

“It wasn’t enough just to educate people, we needed call to action,” Cooley said. “That why we have launched the ‘name the baby’ competition… it’s about helping Currumbin not just with education but also bringing consumer in and really engaging with the hospital.”

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital has been open for more than 30 years and focuses on treating, rehabilitating and releasing sick, orphaned or injured native wildlife. The hospital had its busiest year on record in 2020, has admitted more than 14,000 animals since being founded, and treated more than 600 koalas in 2019. Seventy per cent of its funding is from non-government sources.

The two organisations have estimated if one in five Vege Chip purchasers donate a gold coin equivalent, the new relationships could raise $235,000 for the hospital.  

Partnering with a local organisation isn’t new to Vege Chips, and it has previously worked with local groups such as Surfing Queensland. The emphasis has historically been on providing sample packs and encouraging trial of the product.

As well as the new Currumbin relationship and campaign, Crisfield said Vege Chips will be exploring further marketing activity and promotions.

“We like to get the product in people’s hands, that’s what sells the product, so giveaways are a big thing for us,” he commented.

The company is also working on product development around different categories and vegan, free-from products.  

“We are doing a lot of product development around different types of vegan, free-from categories not necessarily in the aisle right now,” Cooley said. “Watch this space.”

“We have passion for this,” Crisfield added. “Our long-term growth plan is to go into other categories and markets with the credentials we have.”  

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