Sustainable Future through Value-added Food


Creating a sustainable future for its people and maximising its assets is a priority for South Island based iwi, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (Ngāi Tahu). This position is both unique and reassuring, given many New Zealand businesses end up in the hands of overseas’ investors once they thrive.

Today most of Ngāi Tahu’s food assets are sold unprocessed into commodity markets while others are yet to be commercialised. With a vast range of high quality raw materials on hand and a strong cultural story to tell, Ngāi Tahu has an excellent opportunity to create additional value from its foods through processing and branding. At the same time, it has a chance to develop capabilities within its entrepreneurial food businesses beyond the traditional roles of farming and fishing.

To help it realise these opportunities, Ngāi Tahu engaged FoodSouth as its Business Advisor to help it develop and commercialise a selection of food products. The project which spanned eighteen months was supported by Te Pūnaha Hiringa: Māori Innovation Fund, a Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment initiative established to help Māori collectives grow capability, understanding and knowledge in areas that will allow it to realise the economic potential of its assets. The Fund also aims to help iwi engage more effectively with the enterprise and innovation systems available to them, something that FoodSouth could offer as part of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network.

“Although we are well known for our pilot plant and capabilities in prototype development, we have a bunch of people with a wide knowledge and experience in developing and commercialising new food products, so are well placed to build and lead a project like this,” says FoodSouth CEO, John Morgan. “We also have a wide network of trusted specialists who we can bring on to a project to provide expert advice in particular areas, like technical food development, consumer research, labelling and food safety”.

FoodSouth’s advice throughout the project centred on the new product development process, guiding Ngāi Tahu through each of the steps from concept to prototype development, scale-up and commercialisation. “We started with six different raw materials and a handful of ideas, and took each as far as was deemed feasible,” explains John. “Some ideas were tossed out after the initial market research, while others are getting close to commercialisation. As with any product development, we have encountered a number of hurdles, some of which we have been able to overcome with modifications, while others simply made the product unviable. We are still anticipating that two products will make it to market, although the shape will be different from what was first envisaged.”

Extending a food business from primary producer to marketer of a branded food portfolio requires quite a different mindset as well as a whole new set of skills and capabilities. The process can be quite daunting for those making the transition as risk rises sharply while the business gets used to a new way of doing things. Long-term, overall risk should lessen as the business will have a diversified product mix to work with and be less reliant on volatile commodity markets. Fortunately for Ngāi Tahu’s entrepreneurial food businesses, there is strong support from the Ngāi Tahu Business Development team who are now equipped to take a new product from concept to commercialisation on their own.