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Field Reports

How Miraka Expanded its Customer Base by Leveraging In-Aisle Exploratory Research

Miraka wanted to see how their values as Māori brand would resonate with an audience abroad. Remote research was critical to understanding this new market. 

Words by Tony Ho Tran, Visuals by Emma McKhann

“Nau mai piki mai,” means “Welcome, come close.” in Māori.

But there’s more to Miraka, a New Zealand-based dairy-processing company, than just a friendly greeting. Miraka has an ethos—one that embodies its mission to provide sustainable milk products that not only nourish their customers but the world as well.

“Miraka is a Māori-owned company,” explains Brendan Haigh, general manager of innovation at Miraka. “Māori have a tradition of being travelers and are the descendants of the great explorers of the South Pacific. As a result of these travels and arriving here in New Zealand, everything’s a long way from us.”

For Miraka, expanding its consumer base beyond their home base is easier said than done; the closest country is a three-hour plane ride away.

To gain insight into consumer habits, Miraka knew they needed to leverage the right remote research tool that could help them save time and find great users.

That’s why they turned to dscout.

Brendan Haigh is...

...the general manager of innovation at Miraka. He leads the innovation team at the company and has a deep background as a scientist, earning his PhD in molecular biology and working as a scientist for New Zealand-based company AgResearch.

User research at Miraka is...

...steeped in tradition—but with modern features. Since they’re challenged by their location, they leverage tools such as WeChat to conduct remote work in places like China.

The problem:

When the New Zealand-based company wanted to expand its consumer base to other countries, they faced a challenge: how do you gain deep user insights when your customers are thousands of miles away?

“We have a brand called Taupo Pure, and it’s targeted for Chinese consumers,” Brendan explains.

“We’re trying to create that greater connection to the source,” he continues. “But that’s been quite a challenge because China is a 14-hour flight away. It’s still a good deal of distance. So how do we be more responsive and more keyed into customers in China from here in New Zealand?”

Researchers at Miraka began to experiment with remote research tools. For their initial trials, they relied on WeChat, one of China’s most popular messaging apps. They used the app to gain insights and feedback on how their users felt about Taupo Pure.

“That actually worked pretty well,” Brendan says. “For one exercise, we had users use WeChat’s video function to show us how they were preparing dehydrated milk at home; that provided lots of insights.”

With the success of WeChat, Miraka knew they wanted a more sophisticated way of approaching remote design study. Luckily, Brendan learned from his peers about how dscout could provide him with exactly that.

The solution:

Learning about dscout, came at an opportune time. Miraka wanted to expand their reach into America, beginning in California.

They needed a robust remote research platform to help gather the right kind of insights from the right kind of users.

“We want to be there. We want to talk to people,” Brendan says. “So how do we [conduct remote research] again from New Zealand? dscout seemed to be a good way of doing it given what we’re trying to achieve. Luckily, we were really pleased with what came out of the project.”

Brendan and his team wanted to find users who shared similar values to those of Miraka.

“Californians are a really diverse group of people,” he continues. “We wanted to find consumers who connect with our story and our values because those are the sorts of people we want to sell our products to and develop products for.”

“I’m aware that people say that sustainability is really important to them. But, more often than not, there are other reasons why they purchase a product. We were trying to tease that out.”

To do so, they did two things: First, they began by asking users on dscout to record themselves pulling dairy products from their kitchen and explain why they purchased it. Then they had users record themselves shopping for sustainable products in a grocery store.

“There’s that sense of realness being there in the environment surrounded by the sounds and the different products,” Brendan explains. “We learned that sustainability is a really, complex multi-factored concept that means a lot of different things to different people; be it organic, grass-fed, animal welfare, or recycled packaging.

Case study: Sustainability in action

Brandon: We got comments like: “I’ve really been thinking about sustainability and food since we started doing this. And here I am walking around the supermarket and I’m really struggling to find anything. I think there’s so much junk here that’s not good for the planet!”

So our scouts got really into it. I think we also identified a real desire for people to find products that allow them to live more gently on the planet.

It’s always going to be driven by taste, affordability, and convenience more. But if you can get people there, and give them the option of a product that’s good for the environment, then you have a good opportunity for companies such as ourselves.

The impact:

Miraka was able to attain rich insights from their dscout study. dscout allowed Miraka to save time on areas that otherwise would have been a resource sink. Since Brendan’s team had insights faster, they were able to dig into data and iterate quicker as well.

Brendan and his team are already iterating on another set of concepts based on their learnings. And they hope to use dscout as part of their next investigation.

“The richness of the responses identified other opportunities that we’re now picking up on,” Brendan explains. “I expect we’ll be using dscout for at least part of that evaluation given how well it has worked for us.”

Specifically, Miraka gained a greater depth of insight into how consumers approached purchasing products. Brendan went on to use the video data for his executive team to better explain the impact of the study.

“You can write a three-page report but a three-minute video with six people talking was a whole lot more illustrative.” Brendan explains.

“Overall, it took only about three or four weeks to complete the project,” Brendan says. “Which was really good from a time perspective. We could have spent that much time just trying to negotiate a contract with a traditional in-market company! Now we can get on and do it. “

“That’s exactly the kind of thing that companies like ours want. More time doing stuff, and less time faffing around.”

Before dscout...

  • Research was limited by Miraka’s relatively remote location
  • Limited insights attained through WeChat
  • More time spent on logistics

After dscout...

  • Research insights expanded to America
  • Attained rich data and insights through dscout
  • dscout saved Miraka time to spend on iteration and data analysis

Tony Ho Tran is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Huff Post, Business Insider, Growthlab, and wherever else fine writing is published.

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