Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) Northern - Mamaku Blue – over 30 years and still growing strong

Mamaku Blue – over 30 years and still growing strong

19 Aug 2018
Mamaku Blue – over 30 years and still growing strong

Changing times have required Mamaku Blue berry grower and manufacturer to develop new products, rebrand and change export strategies.

 

But through all the threats to the 30-year-old blueberry and gooseberry business – such as Varroa mite, hurricanes and the global financial crisis – a most unusual constant has saved the day: a generous and sympathetic bank!

 

Most businesses will relate to the first paragraph, but fewer will have experienced the second.

 

Co-owner Harry Frost had been with the same bank since the age of 18 and as his wife and co-owner Anne tells it, “We have a good credit rating, we are asset rich and cash poor.

 

”After we expanded, building our [retail and processing] complex and extending the freezers we got Varroa mite and no crops. So we had two years’ expenses and one year of no income….it was the first time in our lives we spent money before we got it. The bank has supported us.”

 

Mamaku Blue makes blueberry juice – a major seller – as well as wine, liqueur, vinegars, preserves and ice-cream and sells both fruits fresh and frozen. It also sells blueberries dried, and runs guided tours of its farm complex.

 

Mamaku Blue’s current foci include promoting its European (green) gooseberries, developing chewable blueberry supplement tablets with optional additions of Vitamin C and colostrum.

 

The company has had do many requests from people unable to buy gooseberries in shops, has a huge supply and is one of only two commercial growers in New Zealand. A Christchurch buyer is taking 2 tonnes a year of fresh and frozen, and maybe more. So Mamaku Blue is building up awareness that ‘we have them and can courier them throughout New Zealand if you want them’ in television advertisements targeting an older demographic.

 

“It’s an old fruit and young people would need to be educated….” The green berry has a short season over Christmas time. Some people love the early sour crop for curries and chutneys others prefer the later sweeter ones for dessert and jams.

 

The company is going direct to the public after disappointing results from food marketers. “They promise the Earth at the beginning but we have been let down by all, regarding our gooseberries.”

 

Mamaku Blue also sells 1tonne of fresh blueberries plus gooseberries each weekend at seven markets in Auckland (Parnell), Tauranga, Mt Maunganui and Rotorua.

 

It’s also looking at a name change to move away from a focus on products such as its blueberry wine (an industry that’s saturated) to a focus on the health benefits of blueberries that are proven to be substantial. The website testimonials are incredibly flattering. The Frosts have also obtained testing and food safety accreditation, and are investigating health benefits further.

 

Gooseberries also appear to have great health properties so research is underway on them.

Anne says research that is available suggests gooseberries traditionally grow in cold climates and are the first spring fruit, useful for cleansing the body after a winter diet heavy in carbohydrate.

 

The blueberry juice is being sampled in Japan this month but fresh berry exports – necessary in the 80s before Kiwis knew what blueberries were – eventually dried up after 20 years. This was due to disappointing efforts from marketers, the New Zealand dollar value and international competition, especially from Chile in the American market. It is not cheap to make 1litre of blueberry juice that uses 1.5kg of berries.

 

One of the Frost’s three children, Phillip, is also a company director. He always hated picking blueberries so bought the business’ first picking machine.

 

Some picking is still done by hand, as is grading.

 

On top of the three directors plus three full time staff and same number of casuals, about 20 seasonal workers help out in the orchard, shop and manufacturing complex.

 

Harry bought 40 hectares in 1967 and after he retired from work in financial and insurance advising, the Frosts thought they would develop the land. Blueberries struck a chord with the family and they now grow eight varieties, working seven days a week.

 

(Reprinted from EMA’s Business Plus magazine, November 2011 issue)

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