Working for the food and grocery sector, it’s a privilege to visit companies behind many of the products on our supermarket shelves, to meet the teams and see first-hand their heritage and innovation.

Start-up stories are fascinating. From the concrete mixer that produced the first jars of Pic’s Peanut Butter, to the old washing machine and vacuum cleaner that produced the elderberry wine that was the forerunner to the great products from Barker’s of Geraldine.

But it’s also about seeing and hearing about the innovations that bring Kiwi consumers new, exciting products, the new technology that transforms production lines, the sustainability ideas that are being developed, and how each company is performing in the marketplace.

On a recent visit, to Fonterra Brands in Takanini, I got to hear about how food service products for export markets, such as Anchor Chef’s Cream, are developed and launched. That product has been well received by professional chefs and has even been chosen by the world’s biggest distributor to restaurants, US company Sysco, as one of its top 10 innovative products for 2019. I understand that’s the first time a New Zealand product has made that list. Chef’s Cream has been specially formulated to perform well in professional kitchens and already has a reputation for saving chefs valuable preparation time. It’s another example of Kiwi food companies using value-added innovation for big success on the world stage.

I caught up also with the team from The Griffin’s Food Company recently. Seeing their snacks and potato chip factory at Wiri in action is impressive. It’s where they turn some of the best potatoes (from Pukekohe, of course!) into Eta Ripples and Kettles.  I heard about the importance of maintaining long-term relationships with growers to ensure supply of quality potatoes and how critical it is to their local success. For me it was a good reminder of how vital it is to protect our most fertile land from development, and highlights the work of Horticulture NZ and Ministers David Parker and Damien O’Connor to protect important food growing soils from urban development.

Last month I visited two other Food & Grocery Council member companies, this time in the Hutt Valley, which had both started from great ideas and developed into significant operations.

Tom and Luke’s was born out of a desire by Tom Dorman (a personal trainer) and Luke Cooper (a chef) to make a highly nutritious snack bar that tasted great with the right mix of fats proteins, and slow-burning carbs, but without artificial additives, flavours or preservatives. They went from making their Snackaballs for friends to a business that employs 50 people – making it probably the biggest employer in Wainuiomata. They now work hard to keep up with the demand from Australia.

Farrah Breads makes wraps, tortillas, and spice mixes in a former Foodstuffs warehouse in Upper Hutt. The state-of-the-art ‘Bread Quarters’ factory I visited is a long way from the old fish and chip shop that Farrah and Jovan Canak started in after a friend who owned a kebab shop said he couldn’t found a tortilla wrap that wouldn’t crack or split when rolled.

After a lot of experimenting, they opted for the traditional methods used by the Aztecs – rolling and hand-stretching dough balls before baking them on both sides on a hot plate over an open flame. A trip to Mexico, the home of tortillas, armed them with other ideas, and they haven’t looked back, selling all around the country.

I’ve never returned to the office from my member visits without being impressed and inspired by the innovation, commitment, and skill of the people behind our world-class products.

Getting out and about to visit members of the Food & Grocery Council is never a chore, so if you’d like to invite me to visit, I look forward to the invitation!

(as published in Supermarket News)

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