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BayBuzz approached about thirty agri-business and food cognoscenti in the region to nominate in confi dence the companies they thought represented the best of Hawke’s Bay. Here’s what I requested: “I’d welcome your suggestions regarding who we might identify as, loosely, ‘the top 20 food businesses in HB’ – be that by scale, reputation, quality of leadership, positioning for the future. If you wanted someone to take seriously HB’s claim to be a food leader, which are the companies that best evidence that?”
We wound up receiving 142 diff erent candidates – from AFFCO to Zeelandt. I try to follow what’s what and who’s who in this sector, but still about a quarter of these companies were new to me. And so our quest for the ‘Top 20’ was hugely informative. You might have heard this old maxim: where you stand depends on where you sit. Just look at the diversity of the B’s alone that were nominated: Balance Fertiliser – Bay Blueberries – Bay Espresso- Bay Irrigation – Bellatino’s – BioRich – Bistronomy – Black Barn Bistro – Bostock NZ – Brownrigg Agriculture.
Something for everyone on that list! If you’re from the growing or producing side of the sector, your nominees tend to be the food giants like Wattie’s, Mr Apple and Brownrigg, or the under-the-consumer- radar service companies Frost Fans NZ, DSK Engineering, Bay Irrigation, and ATI Engineering and many like these.
If you prepare food professionally, you tend to mention your favourite suppliers, usually on the smaller, local side – some broadly known, like Holly Bacon; others less so, like Epicurean and Terraza Saffron.
And if you come at it from a consumer perspective, there’s still another crowd of favourites – restaurants and cafes, boutique merchants (e.g., Hohepa, Origin Earth, Chantal, Cornucopia, Vetro, Bellatino’s, Scott’s Strawberries), and the true icons like Rush Munro, The Strawberry Patch and the Farmers’ Market.
So I guess it should come as no surprise, but food excellence has many diff erent meanings and criteria … and happily for us in Hawke’s Bay, we’re surrounded by dozens and dozens of ‘food’ companies that excel at what they do.
The other thing we came to realize is how ‘private’ so many of these companies are. Sure, some are obviously consumer-facing and they want you to know and appreciate their brands. Which isn’t to say they want you to know their volumes or turnover! And the same is true of the larger companies, most of which are privately held and also not keen to share their financials, especially in the cyclical world many inhabit.
A final general observation is that even the biggest of these companies – and almost without exception, the biggest are our exporters – are small on the world stage.
Take apples, one of our proudest and most signifi cant products, with major players like Mr Apple, Bostock NZ, Yummy Fruit and Apollo … with all those bins and pallets you see driving around the Bay … with literally millions of new trees being planted in the region … with Hawke’s Bay producing (and exporting) about 68% of NZ’s apples … with record exports 22,205 containers in the last season … still, all NZ produces less than 1% of the world’s apples and exports less than 4% (2014 fi gures).
That’s the reality for everything we produce and ship from Hawke’s Bay, and it’s a reality that underscores our absolute need to produce with excellence and – as just about everyone recognizes – increasingly for niche premium market segments.
Sifting the list
Increasingly, as we pored over the list and did further research, we realized the impossibility of the task! So we took out the carving knife.
First we cut away all the restaurants and cafes. We weren’t really looking for a popularity contest amongst eateries – from fi ne dining to pop-up pizza and coff ee. There’s just so many, and they deserve a ‘people’s choice’ of their own, with proper categories and consumer-focused criteria like food quality, service, atmosphere and value.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t very fi ne businesses in this category – look at Bay Espresso and Hawthorne, the gems created by Jennifer Le Comte (Opera Kitchen, Albion Canteen, FG Smith’s, Picnic), or the Havelock trio (Wright & Co, Hugo Chan’s, Mamacita’s). In this category, survival is an achievement.
Then we dealt with the issue of ‘Icons’ versus ‘Heavyweights’, and decided to award some special, separate kudos to the icons. Icons don’t need to be huge. They do need to be widely known and admired … household names. They’re the brands you feature at the dinner table or show off to out-of-town guests. Lizzie Russell took on the task of extracting a list of icons from our nominees, which you’ll fi nd a few pages later.
As you’ll see, some of our icons are also heavyweights.
Top 20 Heavyweights
Which left us sifting the balance of our nominees for ‘Heavyweights’. These we defi ne as major in scale (production, employment, diversifi cation) or standing amongst their peers. Who do those in the ‘biz’ most respect? One responder termed them ‘enviably successful’.
The first ten on our list are major in scale; the second ten, mostly smaller in scale, win high acclaim from the food biz cognoscenti.
1. Apatu Farms
Apatu Farms was started by Ken Apatu 41 years ago, supplying tomatoes to Wattie’s. His sons Mark and Paul continue the family business and this season will grow over 2.5 million tomato vines – as well as beetroot, sweetcorn and butternuts – to still supply Wattie’s. The Apatus use about 2,500 hectares on the fertile Heretaunga Plains, where in addition to growing produce they run around 20,000 lambs, 3,000 ewes, and 1,500 cattle.
2. Arataki Honey
Started on nine acres in 1944. Now managed by members of the original family, Ian Berry, Pam Flack and Barbara Bixley. Around 40 employees are based at Havelock North, working in beekeeping and processing, tourism and retailing. Honeyland, their premium, export quality range is available in over 20 countries. With 20,000 hives – 7.000 around HB – Arataki has been providing hives to Hawke’s Bay orchards for 60 years and now do over 6,000 hive placements every season, plus producing 30,000 queen bees to meet overseas requirements.
3. Bostock NZ
Started 30 years ago; diversifi ed company 100% owned by John Bostock. NZ’s largest organic apple grower and exporter – 85% of national crop – grown on 500 hectares. Plus 25,000 tonnes of onions and 12,000 tonnes of squash. Other products include olive oil, avocado oil, and apple, kiwifruit and pear juice concentrates. Exports to over 20 countries. Owns Rush Munro, whose ingredients are sourced where possible from local HB purveyors such as Silky Oak Chocolate Factory, Arataki Honey and The Strawberry Patch. Also in the family, Ben Bostock’s Free Range Organic Chicken – no chemicals, no antibiotics, no hormones and no genetic modifi cation, no stress. Currently producing under 300,000 chickens per year, aiming for 600,000 “in the next few years”.
4. Brownrigg Agriculture
Family business started in 1988 and now run by brothers David & Jonathan has become one of the largest growers in NZ, with 12 farms comprising over 10,000 hectares of freehold and leasehold land. Produces over 22,000 tonnes of squash annually, much to Japan, Korea. Supplies over 300,000 lambs annually, as well as 4,000 cattle annually to meat processors. Farms the largest Wagyu beef herd in New Zealand. On Farm Research, a joint venture with scientist Dr Paul Muir, provides farm- based applied research to the agricultural sector via the Poukawa Research Farm, the primary pastoral research facility on the East Coast of the North Island.
5. Mr Apple
Orchard to container, Mr Apple is the largest vertically integrated apple grower, packer, shipper and exporter in New Zealand, controlling 25% of the national crop and exporting 25% of NZ’s apples to 60 countries. 97% of its own apples are exported. Grows on over 1,000 hectares in Hawke’s Bay, employing 220 full-time staff and up to 1,600 seasonal workers. Facilities to coldstore over 25,000 pallets.
6. Napier Port
A food company?! Clearly the most important ‘enabler’ of Hawke’s Bay agri- business – with $793 million in meat exports, $177 million in fruit and nuts, $148 million in wool, $135 in other food products, $83 million in other animal products, and $32 million in wine. Top markets in dollar order are European Union, China, USA, Japan, UK and Australia.
7. Progressive Meats
Started in 1981; today directly employing over 300 staff , with processing facilities for lamb, beef, venison and rams, mainly under toll contracts with industry partners including Ovation New Zealand, Lean Meats, Davmet, First Light Foods. Founder Craig Hickson was EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015, and in 2012 he was named Federated Farmers’ Agribusiness Person of the Year. The associated companies in which Hickson is a signifi cant shareholder employs over 2000 people. Overseas markets include France, the United Kingdom, China, the United States, Japan, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India and Hong Kong.
In 1934 James Wattie began canning plums, peaches, pears, moving on to peas and tomatoes. Today at Wattie’s original King Street Hastings site, about 140,000 tonnes of canned fruit and vegetables, baked beans, spaghetti, soups, meals and sauces are produced each year by more than 500 permanent employees and up to 800 seasonal workers. The Tomoana factory employs around 230 permanent employees and up to 140 seasonal workers producing pet foods, jams, food dressings, soups, sauces and burgers. Wattie’s exports to over 40 countries and is the southern hemisphere’s leading manufacturer of air dried and freeze dried vegetables.
The ‘back room’ for much of Hawke’s Bay’s wine industry (and indeed NZ’s). Founded in 1995 and since managed by Tim Nowell-Usticke, WineWorks provides wine transport, bottling, packaging, laboratory, warehousing and distribution services … the grunt work. Allowing winemakers to do what they do best – grow grapes, make wine and market it. With facilities also in Marlborough and Auckland, WineWorks can bottle 110,000 cases per day with a national staff of 340, and can warehouse 60 million bottles. The company fi lled its 1 billionth bottle last July.
10. Yummy Fruit
Started in 1862 and moving to HB in the early 1900s, this company holds the longevity record on this list. The Paynters (father John and brothers Paul) have the largest family-owned fruit company in NZ, growing apples and stonefruit on more than 700 hectares, employing a full-time staff of over 100, and up to 300 seasonal workers. And now the family product mix includes Paynter’s Cider. Yummy Apples are found only in Foodstuff s supermarkets (New World and Pak’n Save). Kids redeem those Yummy stickers to earn free sports gear for their schools.
Our next ten companies enjoy strong acclaim from their food biz colleagues. Most are familiar. Some earned a spot on the Hawke’s Bay Icons list as well, and are described there (see following page).
11. Farmer’s Market
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12. First Light
First Light is the only commercial- scale producer of grassfed Wagyu beef, considered the ‘Rolls-Royce of beef’. Their successful formula includes special genetics, New Zealand’s best farmers, stress-free animals sourced from 180 farms, and a well-managed pasture- to-customer supply chain. Started in 2003, now a staff of 30, mostly based in Hastings, from where the farmer producer groups, sales and marketing, processing, logistics, finance and administration are managed.
13. Gourmet Direct
In 2004, well-established as a premium meat supplier to the food/service trade, the company decided to open the door to home delivery and sold that side of the business to an employee, marketer Kate King, under whose guidance it has since fl ourished. Locals can buy online (free delivery across HB) or at the shop in Ahuriri.
From its Hastings plant, Greenmount produces 4,000 tonnes of natural (use no genetically modifi ed ingredients) and fully traceable value-added vegetable ingredients and packaged prepared meals each year, meeting the highest food safety standards. These are exported to Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Philipines, Singapore, Taiwan and UAE, as well as having a large domestic food manufacturing and food service business. 80 full-time staff , including food technologists and product development chefs.
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16. Holly Bacon
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17. Orton Catering
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18. Sileni Estates
With 70 plus wineries in Hawke’s Bay, the entire industry has worked hard and successfully to establish its international reputation on the back of outstanding award- winning vintages. So we were reluctant to select a company for our list. However, we’ve included Sileni, as the largest locally-owned winery in the Bay (producing 760,000 cases per year currently), and an export success story because of the indefatigable energy of founder Sir Graeme Avery. No one works harder to open markets – now numbering over 80 countries – for his award-winning wines.
19. Telegraph Hill
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20. Village Press
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By any measure, we hope you will agree that these Top 20 heavyweights indeed make Hawke’s Bay proud … the #1 food centre of New Zealand.
Hawke’s Bay Food Icons
We’re putting the antennae of BayBuzz to the test here. Here are the top 20 food brands our foodies believe define Hawke’s Bay. Plus some ‘up and comers’. Most are our little secrets, our local legends; few are known outside the Bay. We welcome your reactions! By Lizzie Russell
Honey is hot these days, but Arataki have been in the game since before it was ‘in’. Established in 1944, Arataki exports its product all over the world and has 20,000 hives throughout the country.
Bay Espresso Coffee
One of the Bay’s early ‘proper coff ee’ producers, Bay Espresso roasts only certifi ed organic and ethically traded green beans.
Established in the 70s by a group of local families (one of them with a daughter named Chantal), this is now a national business producing and distributing organic food, as well as a must-stop shop and a beloved wholefood café.
Cornucopia One Stop Organics
From humble co-operative beginnings in the 1980s, Cornucopia has developed into a hub of good food and good health in Hastings, and now also houses Taste café, plus a purpose-built herbal dispensary and two clinic rooms used by independent health practitioners.
The Food and Wine Classic, Hawke’s Bay Tourism’s festival of foodie events takes place in winter and spring and has now cemented itself on the regional calendar.
Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s Market
There aren’t many more ‘Hawke’s Bay’ ways to spend a Sunday morning than strolling around the Farmers’ Market at the showgrounds. The aromas of coff ee and fresh produce, the queue to get said coff ee, live music, all part of the fun.
The product is one of NZ’s most-awarded, and the coff ee bar in Havelock is loved by the locals.
Since 1934 Wattie’s has employed Hawke’s Bay people and processed food grown here – canned fruit and vegetables, frozen vegetables, baked beans, spaghetti, soups, sauces, jams, food dressings, sauces, burgers, pet food and organic vegetables for distribution throughout New Zealand and the world. Surely there’s a Wattie’s can in your pantry.
Hohepa Hawke’s Bay are leaders in bio- dynamic farming practices in NZ, extending from Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy of Anthroposophy. The cheeses produced at the boutique cheesery include halloumi, ricotta, blue, feta, danbo, as well as quark and yoghurts.
Carl Vogtherr began the Holly Bacon Company in 1914 and it’s now run by his great- grandaughter Claire. Chefs and home cooks rate highly the bacon, hams, sausages, pork belly and pork pies and other specialty meats.
Sam and Mary Orton’s catering company has delivered great local fare and top quality hospitality since the 80s. Weddings and events throughout the region are enriched by the Orton experts, plus they have exclusivity at two top venues – The Old Church and Sileni Estates Winery.
Pipi Café and Pizza Truck
If a bright pink pizza restaurant, a cookbook and a truck wearing a crown weren’t enough, the Pipi team are now operating a boutique accommodation!
Always apple central, Hawke’s Bay can now also boast the world’s fi rst miniature apple. Rockit apples are the perfect healthy snack, coming prewashed and in novel tube packaging. The Havelock North Fruit Company developed the apple and now has licensed growers in Australia, UK, USA and Europe.
NZ’s oldest ice cream maker has been a Hastings icon since 1926 and still serves up sweet treats at the Heretaunga Street HQ, as well as supplying outlets around the country.
The berry choice of chefs and Farmers’ Market regulars, Billy Scott’s strawberries taste like summer, and his family has been growing them on Te Aute Road since 1962.
The country’s largest producer of NZ-grown table olives and a pioneer of the industry here, Telegraph Hill is now operating out of a purpose-built olivery on Howard Street, on the edge of Hastings.
Te Mata Mushrooms
A team of around one hundred is involved in growing and distributing over 1,000 tonnes of mushrooms per year from the mushroom farm in Havelock North, making TMMC the second largest mushroom producer in NZ.
The Strawberry Patch
What’s summer in the Bay without a Strawberry Patch real fruit frozen yoghurt or ice cream dripping down your fi st? The shop on Havelock Road is known for its huge strawberries, and it also supplies a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the year.
The Village Press
Not just producers of award-winning olive oils, condiments and cooking oils, The Village Press (est. 1994) also operates harvesting, pressing, bottling, labeling and storage facilities.
Yummy Fruit Company
The Paynter family are fi ve generations of fruit-growing royalty. Their apple and stonefruit operation now covers 700 hectares and employs 100 staff (up to 300 seasonally). Pick up a New World apple and likely you’ll see a Yummyfruit sticker.
Still Planting Roots
‘Aunty’ is Hanui Lawrence and her garden is the superb community garden at Whakatu established in 2010. It’s run by a team of volunteers and teaches people the value and skill of growing your own while providing inexpensive fresh produce.
Stocking an impressive array of fi ne artisanal food and fresh produce, Bellatino’s is a one-stop shop in the Village and online. And it’s also a great spot to grab coff ee on the run and daily salads and snacks.
Bostock’s Organic Chickens In just a couple of years Ben Bostock’s chicken business has made a splash, off ering tasty organic chicken products from happy birds who live in and around gorgeous French chalets.
Le Petite Chocolat
Anissa and Joe Talbi-Dobson’s delicious operation stepped up a notch this year, expanding into their new l’Atelier Chocolat on Heretaunga Street in Hastings.
Sustainability and traceability are cornerstones of this Havelock North- based dairy business. They make terrifi c milk, yoghurt and a range of cheeses from Hawke’s Bay sheep and cows’ milk.
Tangaroa Seafoods has become a favourite of locals and chefs hunting out the freshest catch. Thankfully, when the four now- owners were told the place was to close, they banded together and took it on.
Te Mata Figs
Farmers’ Market staple Te Mata Figs produce not just fresh fi gs, but an ever- expanding range of fi g goodies, including syrups, compotes and preserves and ‘drunken fi gs’.
Ya Bon Artisan Bakers
Authentic French bread and pastries made in Hastings – what more do we need? Moise and Andrea Cerson’s boulangerie/ patisserie in Hastings supplies restaurants and cafes and is a sweet spot to stop for a treat.