Lavender teddy bears, who would have thought?
Have you heard about Bobbie Bear from Tasmania? He is a very sought-after little fellow taking China by storm, but before I tell you about him, I have to tell you about my summer holidays.
I spent the last few days cherry-picking in Roxburgh and gathering mussels in Purakaunui. These experiences have been enhanced by the magical weather and the looks on my nieces’ faces – who are visiting from England – as they loudly pronounce “delicious” cherry by cherry.
Like most New Zealanders, I take the ability to do these sorts of activities for granted. Although I do remember with some shame cherry-picking when my children were toddlers and sheepishly shuffling them past the orchardists at the end of our picking, their purple-stained faces making it very obvious they had eaten far more than what went into their bags!
These sorts of ‘every-day’ experiences are now sought-after activities for tourists to New Zealand, especially those that come from mega-Asian cities where mussels and cherries are only ever seen surrounded in plastic. So that brings me back to our Tasmanian friend, Bobbie Bear- who is he and what makes him so special?
Bobbie Bear comes from the Bridestowe Lavender Estate, Tasmania, where lavender is grown pesticide-free. The estate owners, Mr and Mrs Ravens, bought the estate as a retirement project. Alongside growing lavender, they started a gift shop and make teddy bears as a way of using up some of their dried lavender produce.
When they realised that Bobbie Bear was popular with Chinese visitors to the farm, who microwaved him to keep them warm at night, they got a store near Chinatown in Sydney to stock him and started marketing him in Hong Kong.
Demand for Bobbie Bear hit the roof in mainland China when a 26-year-old Chinese celebrity, Zhang Xinyu, posted a photo of herself with Bobbie Bear on Chinese social media site Weibo – reaching 8.7 million viewers with the words "the ideal bedtime companion for a cold Shanghai night." Demand is now such that Bobbie Bear cannot be bought online as the owners just can’t keep up.
In a masterstroke of marketing and favourable supply-demand dynamics, the owners of Bridestowe Lavender estate, who say they are in the business of ‘fine lavender’ not stuffed bears, have made Bobbie Bear so exclusive that only one bear can be bought per visitor to their estate.
Naturally visitor numbers have soared along with the sales of Bobbie Bear. Parallel to this has been a rise in counterfeit Bobbie Bears on the Chinese market, so the real Bobbie Bear now comes with his own identification tag that buyers can verify online.
The rise of Bobbie Bear is a great story and epitomises both the power of social media to reach consumers and the power of authentic products that pull at heart strings. How many of these kinds of products could we produce here in New Zealand, building on our everyday experiences that we take for granted?
China is now New Zealand’s fastest-growing market for international visitors and our tourism sector is aiming to attract greater numbers of high-value Chinese visitors.
In New Zealand we are great at selling the New Zealand tourist experiences like bungy-jumping and jet-boating. Our beautiful food is well-showcased in some of our luxury lodges. But are we doing enough to introduce the Chinese to New Zealand everyday experiences coupled with authentic take-home memorabilia and gifts?
What about something simple like hand-feeding lambs and creating a product to remember the experience? Or social media stories about everyday farming activities showcasing where our products come from? Not cheesy stories that are the domain of big companies, but real stories captured by us on mobile phones and go-pros – building authenticity and a connection to our products and our land.
When I learned about Bobbie Bear I was struck by a couple of comments from the owners: one was the description of Tasmania as being a ‘pristine environment’, the other when Mr Raven said that he could take ‘one sniff’ of a Bobbie Bear to be able to say whether it was authentic or not. Just imagining that one sniff would take any consumer straight back to their lavender estate visit.
It would be easy to dismiss Bobbie Bear as a fad created by people of a culture we don’t quite understand. But he is so much more than that. Bobbie Bear represents a whole pristine production system, region and Tasmanian way of life. He represents an authentic experience and of course, warmth at night. No wonder he is so popular! What could the New Zealand equivalents of Bobbie Bear be?
Photo source and credits to Bridestowe Lavender Estate