Stocking New Zealand's food basket

06 July 2016

Rachel Taulelei / Chief Executive / New Zealand

An indigenous food and beverage company formed in 2011, Kono was formed from the consolidation of businesses owned by Wakatū Incorporated – a Māori-owned commercial investment organisation that represents 3500 whanau shareholders across the top of the South Island. 

Our vision is to create a legacy through long-term sustainable excellence. While we’re unashamedly commercial at Kono, we’re culturally rooted and are first and foremost a family business. Those values will never change – it’s our secret sauce. That clarity around why we exist creates an incredibly strong foundation.  

Kono’s products and services include seafood (mussels, oysters, and lobster), wine under the Tohu, Aronui and Kono brands, and apples, pears, kiwifruit, hops, Annies fruit bars, and award-wining sustainable seafood distributor Yellow Brick Road. We export to 20-plus markets and our focus is on deepening our penetration in existing markets rather than necessarily growing their number.  

We’ve invested heavily in staffing our office in Shanghai so we can target segments of this huge and complex market. We’re applying ourselves intensely to market insight in China and also the US, which is our other priority market. There, we’re participating in a project called Team USA. It’s a spinoff from the Te Hono primary sector movement that sees us working with the Stanford Design School to better understand our US customers.  

Over the past year, Kono has introduced several new products, including our Kiwa flat oysters. They are doing well locally, in North America and in Hong Kong in the super-premium space, which is where we want to position ourselves both as a New Zealand company and as a country.  

Another of our new products is Tutu cider produced from Fuji apples grown in Motueka; and we’ve also launched a low-alcohol sauvignon blanc.  

"I urge other exporters to surround themselves with like minded people who are happy to share their learnings. You can save yourself money and time, and a certain degree of heartache by having those conversations before you jump... "

Among our medium-term goals is to spread our risk by broadening our market, our products and our channel matrix. Like everyone in the New Zealand primary industries, we’re looking at smarter ways of offering our products and adding value. Perhaps rather than simply exporting frozen half-shell mussels, we may look at creating a nutraceutical version of that product. 

Good cross-sector collaboration is incredibly valuable. There are great in-market, product and people learnings from the companies in red meat and dairy, even forestry. I urge other exporters to surround themselves with likeminded people who are happy to share their learnings. You can save yourself money and time, and a certain degree of heartache by having those conversations before you jump, so look for and work those synergies quite hard – that’s a fundamental part of succeeding.  

When it comes to entering new markets, use the information provided by organisations such as NZTE, MBIE, the NZ Story, and Callaghan Innovation. Download everything that’s freely available through secondary resources and is at your disposal. The path has been well trod, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Certainly, NZTE offers funding programmes, but the networks and insights they provide are so valuable. There’s advice, support, direction in market – they’re brimming with opportunities to help us be better at what we do. NZTE is a great enabler, offering multiple touch-points of engagement, it’s a really great partnership we have with them.  

Rachel Taulelei is Chief Executive of Kono NZ. This indigenous Nelson-based food and beverage company produces and exports premium wine, seafood and fruit under a number of brands.    

This story was originally published in NBR in May 2016.