Gull has long been committed to providing kiwi customers with real choice in an extremely competitive market. Starting out as a small, family-owned independent energy retailer in 1998, it has grown to a network of 44 branded service stations largely on the back of its 2007 gamble to make biofuels a key leg of its product offering and its marketing.
While biofuels are not new - they've been around since the late 19th century - their promotion in New Zealand was novel, with Gull being the first forecourt retailer to offer them.
Competitors and vehicle manufacturers seriously doubted biofuels were compatible with the New Zealand market. Customers were likely to be resistant to the change. There was no benchmark to follow and the government had to be lobbied and legislation changed. The costs and risk, born by Gull alone, were high. In short: Gull had a real challenge on its hands.
But Gull recognised the opportunity to offer a 'green' product and the point of difference that would give its brand. It persevered and four years later, Gull Force 10 is sold at all its sites, while five service stations are dedicated solely to biofuel retailing.
Gull says customers like having the option to buy biofuel, which reduces emissions and the country's reliance on crude oil and petroleum imports. But they are also attracted to the company's focus as a low-cost provider. Gull Force 10, Gull Regular Plus and Gull Diesel Max all sell for less than comparative grades of conventional fuels.
In 2010, Gull sold its five millionth litre of bioethanol. Sales growth of its Gull Regular Plus product now exceeds that of its mineral Gull Regular fuel and last year the company introduced Gull Diesel Max and Gull Force Pro.
Gull Diesel Max is suitable for trucks, cars, buses and tractors, and is available at five service stations. It is made from a blend of up to five per cent biodiesel, which is blended from Gull's base stock at its Mt Maunganui distribution terminal.
While biodiesel is notorious for its poor cold-flow properties, Gull overcame this serious customer challenge by opting for a vegetable oil-based product over a tallow-based blend stock. The chosen biodiesel blends well at ambient temperatures without the need to heat the fuel. Logistical issues have also been overcome, with Gull entering deals with competitors to support delivery and handling of the fuel.
Gull Force Pro is a high-ethanol, high-octane specialist fuel aimed at the latest flexi-fuel vehicles sold in New Zealand and the motorsport community. It uses a blend of 85 per cent ethanol, which has the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 35 - 50 per cent compared with ordinary fuel.
Gull faced a `chicken and egg' marketing challenge as the fuel is only suitable for a niche market and the cost of retrofitting underground storage at an existing service station was prohibitive.
It chose to delay the launch of the product until April this year when it could be incorporated with the construction of a new service station in Hamilton. Promotion of the new grade was timed around the Hamilton leg of the Australian V8 Supercar series and Gull used event stars Garth Tander, Greg Murphy and James Courtney to boost the launch.
In 2011 the Innovation in Petroleum award category was sponsored by ITL.