Kiwi company delivers millions of PPE supplies amid COVID pandemic

  • 21/09/2020
  • Sponsored by - ZURU
ZURU's Anna Mowbray.
ZURU's Anna Mowbray. Photo credit: Supplied

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up countless challenges and although we're still battling through it, Aotearoa is being recognised internationally as one of 2020's few success stories.

Every member of the team of 5 million should be proud of the part they're playing. Some of the Kiwis who have had more impactful roles are widely celebrated, but others have been key team players in ways most of us are unaware.

Award-winning entrepreneur Anna Mowbray, co-founder of wildly successful Kiwi company ZURU, is one of them.

In March, her company identified an imminent desperate need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as coronavirus triggered a global shortage.

ZURU leapt into action.

"I knew, with every part of my being, we were going to have some extreme PPE shortages coming with the pandemic," says Mowbray.

"It became immediately evident that our public sector didn't have the capabilities to efficiently mobilise a supply chain in a manner of which we have the competencies to achieve here at ZURU. We had an opportunity to provide mission-critical assistance and support to our nations front live service workers in what was proving to be an unprecedented health crisis."

ZURU's capabilities come with its success - last year, the company's turnover reached all-time highs, and it now has 5500 staff around the world. Leveraging its vast manufacturing, sourcing and product development power, the company went from producing no PPE to nearly 91 million items and delivering them to New Zealand in an exceptionally short time frame.

"ZURU funded and chartered eight Air New Zealand cargo planes to transport all of the product," says Mowbray.

An Air New Zealand plane with a cargo of PPE supplies.
An Air New Zealand plane with a cargo of PPE supplies. Photo credit: Supplied

"After discussions with Rob Fyfe and Healthsource, we identified the need to establish a robust supply chain for such products. Our team worked tirelessly to take action and present immediate solutions to the Ministry of Health, cognisant of the fact that this was going to be a huge crisis for New Zealand if we didn't act with urgency."

So far, ZURU has delivered to the New Zealand Government 91 million items of PPE, across a number of product variants including face masks, gowns, gloves, goggles, wipes, hand sanitiser and face shields.

The company's efforts sourcing PPE began in the last week of March before the first of those chartered planes departed China on April 5.

Although she was confident ZURU would be capable of helping supply New Zealand with PPE, Mowbray says there was no getting around just how difficult a job it was.

"It was a very stressful time. The workload of which we undertook as a team in the month of April was immense; a function of moving into a category within which we had zero experience," she says.

"I pulled together a team of the absolute best people from our organisation, both here in New Zealand and China, of whom had to adapt quickly, upskilling around the clock to get an understanding of the certifications and quality standards that the category demanded. With that said, fundamentally I was confident in our ability to deliver a quality product, knowing that ZURU has built its reputation on the foundations of authenticity, transparency and integrity in its supply chain.”

ZURU called in the support of multiple agencies and experienced personnel within the health sector to help ensure they were on the right track, and more importantly ensuring the business avoided quality issues of which unfortunately become a prevalent fixture associated with the procurement of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such expert-clinical advice guided ZURU’s sourcing efforts and ensured the product being delivered, not only met but exceeded generally accepted quality standards.

Of course, the explosion in need for PPE wasn't just occurring in New Zealand - most countries had a sudden and vital need as the pandemic spread around the globe.

"We were dealing with a sector that was rapidly becoming very saturated, while supply chains were shutting down at a rate of knots that I can't even truly express," says Mowbray.

"We were fighting the biggest nations in the world, including the US, UK and Australia, as we attempted to secure the requisite materials necessary in the production of all key PPE products. There was a rapidly narrowing window to be able to get your hands on great quality supplies- a battle we encountered day in, day out, for months."

That fight, stress and hard work paid off, as the numbers above attest. Considering the country's population is indeed a team of just 5 million, there's a good chance if you've used a disposable face mask this year it's one of the 83.5 million delivered by ZURU.

"It's very likely - by now, most Kiwis have had the opportunity to use our masks. I'm very pleased about that, because there's an abundance of low quality product in the market currently," says Mowbray.

"Knowing people have got ZURU product on their faces, after it's gone through our rigorous quality assurance systems and practises is pleasing."

ZURU's PPE products haven't just been used in New Zealand. The company helped the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade with its procurement for several Pacific Island nations including Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

There are also discussions underway to supply PPE to the UK, Australia and the US.

Mowbray says ZURU Health plans to continue building credibility within the health sector internationally.

"Our mission is to ensure our partners no longer have to compromise on affordability, accessibility or quality when it comes to healthcare products and supplies," she says.

"But we also want to bring innovation and sustainability into a category that has become stale and complacent. After having been injected into it in quite a rapid fashion, we want to deliver that ZURU edge to a category that we believe is poised for disruption."

Despite all the difficulties, Mowbray says it's been amazing to be able to help the way ZURU has amid the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.

"I'm very proud to have been a conduit between the private and public sectors, helping make almost the impossible happen and ensuring that the global challenges- structurally disrupting supply chains all over, was overcome," says Mowbray.

"As a proud Kiwi, It’s satisfying to know ZURU was able to provide mission-critical support in a time of need. I'm pleased that we have been able to play our part in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic."

This article was created for ZURU