Selling Australia’s Organic Tea Tree Honey on Amazon with Ben Rohr of Meluka Australia

May 14, 2020

Meet The Speakers

Ben Rohr

Ben Rohr

CEO of Meluka Australia

Listen to the podcast

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • What makes the honey of Meluka Australia special
  • The challenges Ben’s company faced when they decided to enter the US market through Amazon
  • What are the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how Meluka Australia is coping
  • How Meluka Australia has been managing their inventory on Amazon to mitigate supply chain issues
  • Ben talks about consumer behavior on health products and the Australian perception of Amazon AUS and Amazon US
  • How Ben promotes their products outside of Amazon in the US and how they balance sales on their website and in Amazon
  • How Ben realized he needed a different set of skills to manage Amazon and the strategies he used
  • Ben explains why success follows when you do something you enjoy and his advice for brands who want to join Amazon

In this episode…

When the company that supplies Australia’s tea tree honey decided to promote its products in the US market, one of the first distribution channels it went for was Amazon. Meluka Australia produces premium organic products and despite the perceptions Australians have about Amazon US, the company decided to give it a try.

However, Ben Rohr, the CEO of the company, soon realized that his team did not have the necessary skill set to effectively manage this new distribution platform. He sought advice from Buy Box Experts and now, their products have broken into the US market like wildfire.

In this episode of Buy Box Experts, James Thomson interviews Ben Rohr of Meluka Australia about what sets their tea tree honey apart from other products in the market, why they decided to enter the US market through Amazon, the challenges they faced in the process, and why he believes that if you want to establish on Amazon, you need someone like Buy Box Experts to help you navigate the process seamlessly. Stay tuned.

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Buy Box Experts applies decades of e-commerce experience to successfully manage their clients’ marketplace accounts. The Buy Box account managers specialize in combining an understanding of their clients’ business fundamentals and their in-depth expertise in the Amazon Marketplace. 

The team works with marketplace technicians using a system of processes, proprietary software, and extensive channel experience to ensure your Amazon presence captures the opportunity in the marketplace–not only producing greater revenue and profits but also reducing or eliminating your business’ workload. 

Buy Box prides itself on being one of the few agencies with an SMB (small to medium-sized business) division and an Enterprise division. Buy Box does not commingle clients among divisions as each has unique needs and requirements for proper account management

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:09

Welcome to the Buy Box Experts podcast we bring to light the unique opportunities brands face in today’s e commerce world.

James Thomson  0:18

Hi, I’m James Thomson, one of the hosts of the Buy Box Experts podcast. I’m a partner with Buy Box Experts and the former business head of the selling on Amazon team at Amazon, as well as the first account manager for the Fulfillment by Amazon program. I’m the co author of the book controlling your brand in the age of Amazon, and co founder of the prosper show one of the largest continuing education conferences for sellers in North America. Today’s episode is brought to you by Buy Box Experts. Buy Box Experts takes ambitious brands and makes them unbeatable. When you hire buy box experts you receive the strategy optimization and marketing performance to succeed on Amazon. Go to buy box experts comm to learn more Today our guest is Ben roar CEO of maluca, Australia and Australian health and wellness firm that grows and manufactures tea tree oil, honey, and probiotic concentrate. Prior to maluca. Australia Ben has been an investment director of strategic property consultant and co founder of a successful retail coffee and roasting chain in Australia. In full disclosure to our listeners, Luca Australia and buy box experts work together on the Luca, Australia’s Amazon us channel business today. So welcome, Ben and thank you for joining us today on the buy box experts podcast.

Ben Rohr  1:35

Thank you, James. Pleasure to be here.

James Thomson  1:38

Then I’ve got to start by asking you tell me about the Australian tea tree. How does this make them a Luca honey brand different and special?

Ben Rohr  1:47

Well, I’m not sure if many of your listeners are probably familiar with tea tree oil. These comes from a species of tea tree called melaleuca Alterna folio and this is 19 To the region of where our plantation and farms exist in northern New South Wales in Australia, and the leaves of that tea tree, the melaleuca alternative folia and known for their antibacterial properties, the Indigenous Australians used to refer to this region where the which is the birthplace of this species as a healing ground. They used it on their skin, they used it in tea for medicinal purposes. And, and a lot of people globally use tea tree or exactly for that use which is for its antibacterial properties, framing and skincare in a whole lot of other properties in relation to our mullica honey. The bees are harvesting from that species as well as other Australian botanical spaces. And so it produces this very unique flavor and medicinal honey.

James Thomson  2:59

So I’m better off eating honey for breakfast every morning if it’s palooka, honey.

Ben Rohr  3:04

Well, I think you’re better off eating any roll honey, particularly every morning for breakfast, as opposed to non-rural, honey. And Alice has, you know, these other antibacterial properties, which we think are really

James Thomson  3:19

great. So let me ask you, you’ve been on Amazon for a short period of time. Talk to me about some of the biggest fundamental challenges that adding the Amazon channel has created for your company. How has the leadership team made the mental shift to embrace this changing distribution model of having Amazon as part of your overall business?

Ben Rohr  3:40

It’s a really interesting question guys, and probably has a whole lot more relevance in these times today. We were relatively particularly in relation to the honey, a relatively new brand. We only launched it just over a year ago, even in Australia and when we We’re looking at opportunities to distribute these outside of Australia, it is really challenging to set up your own sales force. And to get into the brick and mortar stores. So many hoops you have to get through, particularly for a new brand. Amazon make it can make it easy for you to at least get a listing on their platform. So, in regards of actually just getting in the door, that’s a start. But if you’re probably a bit naive, naively, last year, when we were looking at this, we thought, you know, this is just a really big ecommerce platform that, you know, a significant amount of Americans engage on so we have to be there. But when you look at the complexities about how that relates to being able to get presence and to grow your business, it is I would dare say from our point of view, a black box. So it became very challenging for myself. The executive And the board to really getting behind that strategy without the expertise with you. Now in turn,

James Thomson  5:08

once you’ve got the expertise in place, how did you set the expectations of what you might potentially actually realize from this channel? I mean, you jumped, you jumped in saying there were a lot of potential us customers. But did you have any any better sense in terms of what you were actually getting yourself into?

Ben Rohr  5:27

Yeah, look, we do a fair bit of market research on the on the us before we decided to make a guess Amazon is a pillar of our strategy. And, and probably the key difference with the 400 products that we had at that point in time was that our honey is organic, and it’s raw. And when we looked at the US market, there are a lot of raw honey products on the market. However, they there’s not a lot of organic products on the market. And when we looked at the Amazon platform, we you know, that’s it. confirmed to us it is really challenging to harvest organic honey bees can fly up to five kilometers. And so you need a significant area of land that you can confirm this hasn’t been traded with any pesticides or insecticides. Why farming is today that’s a really large portion of land in Australia with less with a very small population and a continent as a nation. So we have a lot of land and a lot of land that is deemed organic. And so in that regard, we have this unique product and we saw a unique fit to the US market. And so the decision to go to the US probe that but then the decision to go to Amazon was more about the fact that when I was speaking initially with Bob box, and some of the stats that were given to me by the sales rep, were compelling and I actually spoke to him Amazon rep at Expo West last year, who really convinced me that it should be a centerpiece of our approach to that market.

James Thomson  7:08

So let’s talk about the current COVID crisis. What kinds of challenges is your organization been faced with and how have you tackled them, given how quickly these unexpected changes have crept up on us?

Ben Rohr  7:22

It was a really good problems to have James but getting a honey product. We had a significant bushfire a wildfire, I think he call red problem earlier in the year we impacted a lot of area, a lot of the area where our plantation exists, which is impacted on a lot of supply. And then we have you know, when you combine this with the fact that the US is a long way away, and all of a sudden the will just shut down or not, literally. And then we have this platform that had this growth in in customer Coming in looking for products and placing orders. So we have this demand driven sort of pressure on our supply chain that was already under pressure as a result of the wall fall. So we, we just had to hustle James to get product over as quickly as we could. We initially was sending a lot of air freight, which, while those routes were still open and affordable, was a really viable pathway. However, that cost is just become unreliable. And so we just were lucky that we managed to just get ahead of the curve and make a couple of really good decisions on on manufacturing large volumes and getting it over there to meet that demand. And now I think we’ve got a number of sea shipments at sea that should make our ever growing still ever growing demand. But it was very challenging. It was touching guy.

James Thomson  8:57

So one of the one of the audits He’s about Amazon is that if your business takes off and you find yourself with more demand than you anticipated, Amazon ends up punishing you if you don’t end up keeping the inventory in place and so how do you deal with so called good news of customers being interested in your products?

Ben Rohr  9:19

I what’s great about that Jags is that when we first launched you guys launched for us on the platform and took control of it. And I think we just outstripped demand very early, one of the first two months and we ran out of inventory. Even though I your rep at a time and explain to us the dangers of that, we felt a very large number so it didn’t really impact us. And so we knew firsthand that pain and so that prepared us for when it would have been far more significant, the damage lighter during the early part of this year. And then helped us. I guess hustle because you’re exactly right. This Amazon platform. I didn’t realize going into this how brutal they were for your supply chain problems. Were a small business that’s growing. You know, it’s not. I don’t think there’s a small business a lot that does not have supply chain problems.

James Thomson  10:21

Yep. Yep. So talk to me during the crisis, are there things that you’ve learned about your customers interaction with the brand, things that you’ve learned that you can apply to your business after we get to a new normal post COVID situation?

Ben Rohr  10:37

That’s a really interesting point. Because all the time most of the learnings come from mobile supply chain stress and how to build to manage or mitigate risk in in that side of things. But from a customer point of view, what was really interesting for us was how significantly particularly on the Amazon platform How it can change overnight. That demand and that was not something we ever considered. I mean, we just did not think our sales could go from a very slow growth month a month model to literally overnight and, and trying to gather that information of why that’s happening has probably been something that I think Amazon’s potentially lacking. Because we don’t really understand why that happened in such a way. And, and it’s kind of more art than science, if you know what I mean, which for a data driven platform seems a logical lace from our point of view. And so it is kind of crucial to have someone like Bob bolts, they’re holding a hand because, you know, we just, I would have had no chance of being able to convince the board to keep funding this strategy and getting the growth that we had if I I couldn’t justify some of the things that were happening. And again, I’ll say more thoughts.

James Thomson  12:05

It almost begs the question, what else have you got to sell that we can throw on Amazon and see how that goes? So, so let’s talk a little bit more about the Amazon channel. When you think about the opportunity to sell a lot more product on the channel, certainly there are sales revenue opportunities. Are there other types of ways in which you can leverage this channel beyond just generating more sales revenue? Talk to me about the good, the bad, the ugly things that you think that you can leverage through this channel?

Ben Rohr  12:38

Yeah, it’s really interesting when there’s a perception in Australia and whether this is right or wrong in the US that Amazon is really for cheaper, lower end brands. Now we are a high end brand foot fully vertically integrated, fully traceable We control all aspects of the supply chain. So it is very expensive, the production chain for our small company. And so therefore we have a really premium product that is priced accordingly. And so the logic of, you know, I guess convincing the Australian perception that Amazon is more for a cheaper discount type product, to say that we can represent our brand in a way that reflects that we want it to be reflected is actually something that I have evolved and learned that Amazon does actually have that capability. If you’ve got the enhanced brand content, if you’ve got your store antenna represented within that fairly ugly looking platform. And you know why that actually does make it look really beautiful and enables you to in many ways stand out from the crowd. I actually think that I laid honey which is an everyday honey. There are a lot of competitors. In our segment, however, not really that I’m presenting the honey, how light were present here. And I actually think it’s been a bit of a strength because it’s just a bit of a differentiator, particularly in the top 20 homies that are sitting within that category.

James Thomson  14:18

So I want to take your comments about the Amazon platform. Talk to me about are we seeing Amazon Australia also being viewed this way by folks within Australia?

Ben Rohr  14:29

It’s a really interesting thing. Amazon Australia, and I have probably daily discussions with Australians about this. Australia’s got some real logistical challenges and obviously in the US, Amazon has been able to nail this logistics solution which is famous right from what has driven this demand, we’ve been able to get this free delivery in such a prompt time is the real killer. And in Australia, they’ve only launched FBA in the last 12 months. Yes, they really struggled. They’re not getting the uptake. They’re not getting the odds on the platform. They’re basically giving away prime memberships. Yeah, if you go on there, you can just shop like without actually signing up to brown shop like you’re a prime camp counselor. And so therefore, it’s really hard market to compare because they just they’ve struggled, if I look at the sales on our Amazon Australian side, the delivery delays from order a significant compared to the US so I think Amazon is still trying to resolve the logistical solution in Australia. And until they do, they just won’t be able to create that comparative advantage. I’m confident I will. But Australia is a small market in the grand scheme of things. Yeah, we have 25 million people and a really large spice of land. So it is a real challenge for Amazon will be interesting to see if I can make it work.

James Thomson  15:57

I’m from Canada, Amazon went into Canada. The same issue. Lots and lots of geography, not a lot of population. It’s taken them good five, six years to figure it out. But we’re now starting to see some very good traction in Canada. So I would I would bet on Amazon to eventually figure this one out.

Ben Rohr  16:16

I be a full wave, I bet against Amazon.

James Thomson  16:21

So talk to me about how have you been able to get us customers to discover your brand? Certainly, putting the products on Amazon and doing some advertising helps. But other other types of things you’ve done outside of Amazon, that have created awareness of what is this maluca brand? And why should I be buying it over other brands of honey?

Ben Rohr  16:40

Yeah, well, we’ve got our own e commerce website as well. And we do a lot of promotional work via that. And that’s exactly how we want to brand representative within our own API system. And so we’re still refining that message. And we do advertising across all the usual sort of social media channels. by Google and Bing and all the different search search engines to try and build that awareness, but we also until earlier this year had a reasonably active brick and mortar approach to tell our story. So we’ve actually been selling bulk tea tree oil into the US for don’t take the day late over a decade and, and so we have an established base actually in Santa Clarita in California. And and so via that we’ve got you know, we generally go to a lot of the the trade shows like Expo West and present the brand, the brand will have its own stand and we also talk regularly to the the sort of key brick and mortar distribution channels that are around, we just haven’t gone into it because it’s it’s a different approach. And we were doing it the interesting thing with the brick and mortar channel, probably even product COVID-19 Yeah, we were saying easily see results and traction that you can, you know, very quickly translate into a successful model, at least from a modeling perspective, whether on the disk, the traditional side, you’ve got to show relevancy and otherwise. And you’ve got to try and demonstrate that your product is you’re willing to put marketing dollars behind something up front, without actually getting a sale laden in the door. And so it makes it a real challenge for a new brand to get noticed. You really need someone that just gets convinced by your story. And that usually takes a couple of years of going to these experts knocking on the same doors, and then they realize you’re not flying or not. Yeah. And so yeah, let’s let’s give them a guy and a couple of years would be very quick. It’s probably like three or four. And this is why the Amazon platform, I guess, guidance this advantage because we can Now use the Amazon platform to potentially leverage that other network and say, Look, customers like us. And, and we’re selling product and they see evidence. So you think it makes sense to, you know, give us go?

James Thomson  19:16

Yes, yes. So talk to me more about how do you think about the shopping cart on your own website versus shopping carts on marketplaces like Amazon? How do you use them tactically how to use them strategically? How do you balance the customers that are found in one place versus another?

Ben Rohr  19:35

Yeah, it’s really interesting. So we actually we’ve gone a different approach and we’re not

100% sold on this, we’re still learning.

We actually advertise that we are on Amazon on our site. So through the cart, you can click at any point on Amazon, we don’t want to lose customers. We only do this in the Interestingly enough, we don’t do this in Australia. We, we don’t want to lose customers because they can easily go through that purchasing variants. And what might be assumption given the amount of bounce rate that we had early on without website without those buttons that those customers were going on to Amazon any land searching for the product. And so we just tried to make it a bit more convenient. And I guess one of the advantages on that website when people do go through and check out that we can control a lot more, is that cross purchasing the upsell and I haven’t gone Do you have it? But I have it in there ny All right, all right. A customer gets it with everything that they buy on Amazon, so I’m not sure they really even notice it most of the time because if they’re always on Amazon, it’s just a pop up that they used to where they if they knew outside then these things are new and these products are new and we can certainly I think I provide a different experience for them that we think is more enhanced than Amazon however, I think Amazon has a much quicker Yeah, that one click process and I have to enter the address. It’s just a far more efficient checkout. Wait wait logical when I was living in the US, which we I was was wasn’t that long ago. I did all my shopping on Amazon as well. So I completely understand why you maze using that platform.

James Thomson  21:29

So what are bioworks experts sales team talks to prospective brand clients. One of the biggest challenges we see is brands like of awareness that dealing with Amazon requires a very different set of skills compared to running their own shopping cart. You talked a little bit about this earlier in our discussion. What were some of your organization’s Hard Knocks in getting the Amazon channel to work for you? What What did you quickly realize, oops, we can’t quite do this ourselves.

Unknown Speaker  21:57


Unknown Speaker  21:59


James Thomson  22:00

I’m not looking for you to compliment us. I’m just trying to understand our

Ben Rohr  22:03

jobs. The irony is I do have a bit of a commerce experience, right. But I did not have and this is more me driving this Amazon strategy internally on outside. Everyone else I’m working with, didn’t have any e commerce background. And so it was really me evangelizing it. And that was because as soon as I got in there, I went. This isn’t what I thought it was right? I thought, well, what the hell am I doing here? And almost instantly, I knew I needed help. And so, to be honest, it was just a naivety on our side as to what Amazon was just another ecommerce platform. It’s not just another it’s a whole ecosystem unto itself. And you don’t go into that without experts on board and and so given our strategies, a hands off strategy we don’t want To build solid strength, we’re a smaller company, we want to control things from Australia. It just made complete sense to go with an expert in this area. And it didn’t take me long at all, you know, just searching through the dashboard alone. And looking at the different reports, I realized that we didn’t have the skill set on

success, we need to find that skill set.

James Thomson  23:23

So I want to change gears a little bit here, Ben, and I want to talk about your professional mentors, and the kinds of advice that they have given you over the years as you’ve changed the types of industries in which you worked. And you have more breaths than most people we talked to, in terms of different industries, different types of jobs. Talk to me about the kinds of mentorship that you had and the kinds of advice that have helped you get to the place where you are today.

Ben Rohr  23:52

JACK, that’s a really interesting question. I’ve got a very, very checkered background in terms of my hopping across the industries a yacht was a classic case of getting through high school and doing well without exceptional going to college and doing well without being exceptional because oh my and I chose these broad based top topics because it was more about employability. I’m a Gen X was more about employability than aspirational. I want to be, you know, the next Hugh Jackman or therefore I’ll be an actor was more like if I’m going to get through life. I’ve got to choose something that is, you know, there’s a job at the end of it kind of thing. But at the same time, as you go through life, you realize, yeah, you’ve got to enjoy things. And if you want to be successful of things, and this is very early in my pace, one of mental with it effectively, it was like a fin tech startup and he was so passionate about what we were building them and I was more on the finance side that he was actually even explicitly say it to me, he made it very clear that if I was to be successful, I needed to find something I really enjoyed doing. And I, you know, this checkered background is probably a sign that each thing that I’ve sort of switched to meant, I really didn’t enjoy it before I made the switch. And I had to look for another challenge or get to a point where I’ll be getting bored and, or whatever I wasn’t what I wanted to be. So I made this move. And funnily enough with where I am today, I’ve been in, you know, with the same good for five years now, which is long as I’ve ever done with anyone. And I’m really enjoying the challenges and the process that we’re going through and growing out this brand, working with the founders that had this, this amazing property. And then, you know, trying to bring this to the world. Yeah, I think I’ve found it a few times and actually So, yeah, that was one particular mentor. But as you go along that journey, you need to develop the confidence to be able to make those switches and, and different mentors over the years have shown me that, you know, I was always a bit risk averse in the younger years where you would be nervous to make that step. Get those mentors sort of said to me that don’t be nervous. I mean, I’m really lucky I’ve grown up in an era where we’ve had come to Australia actually, until probably now has had hasn’t had a recession since the early 90s. And that was wrong when I was finishing hospital. So we’re having this great period of growth that has bring bought you know, full employment opportunities and things like that. I really feel for some of the younger people today, going through what we’re going through right now and and trying to understand how I would act in this situation if I found myself without a job. So yeah, the mental is pliva pop but also I I see myself as incredibly lucky to be living through Such a prosperous time for the Western world anyway, for developed nations.

James Thomson  27:06

Hey, thank you for sharing those insights with me, Ben. I want to wrap up our discussion today by asking you a question around the overall experience on Amazon that you’ve had. What What advice would you give to brands looking to manage their online presence on Amazon, such that they could create alignment with the kinds of work they’ve done in creating distribution and other channels?

Ben Rohr  27:32

Look, I honestly the very first thing and I this is going to look like plugging a box but i’m not i can tell you, I’m telling you, he made an expert. He made an expert that will help you navigate, we refer to Amazon internally as the black box. If you don’t have an expert, then you are not only luck will determine how well you go on that platform. No one wants to go into business based online, right? And, and then try to align that with you the things you can control is so important. And so you need an expert that’s going to be able to help you, you know, tell your brand story that you can control in the way that you can control through the mechanisms that you can control like your own e commerce store, brick and mortar distribution channels. And you need to be able to communicate that to an expert to say, this is how you need to do it within Amazon. And it changes so rapidly. We’re saying change, you know, day to day on our advertising, and a now a brand building within that Amazon platform. And I honestly, as someone who actually hasn’t been experiencing this, I’ll put my hands up in the air and just say thank God, I’ve got someone else looking at Yes, I have a crate behind them that is doing the research to be able to then hopefully come in Take that back to us. So I can then, you know, develop an education to support and to feed this platform you feel growing rapidly, you need to feed it with resource. And no one wants to allocate research resource to thing I don’t understand. And so this is, I would say, honestly, the number one thing you need to do is get an expert, get the help. If it’s not Bob Bob’s, you know, someone else that is an expert, and, and then make sure you’re communicating to them regularly about the things that are happening and the things that you’re saying, and demand of them to explain to you what’s happening on Amazon.

James Thomson  29:38

I wish I could explain some of the aspects of the business that we simply don’t fully understand, but But certainly, I hear what you’re saying loud and clearly with looking at this Amazon sandbox as a creature in and of itself. So, Ben, Ben, I want to thank you for joining us today. For those of you interested in learning more about Ben’s organization, please visit the loo Cut Thanks, James.

Outro  30:04

Thanks for listening to the Buy Box Experts podcast. Be sure to click subscribe, check us out on the web and we’ll see you next time.