WHO: Kiwi Kai

Founder: Reni Gargiulo

HQ: Nelson

website: www.kiwikainz.com & www.atutahi.nz

What products, services, solutions or technology have you developed? 

We have developed and are continually developing a range called Atutahi Natives. Taking our rongoa knowledge and combining it with our food and beverage skills we have created a beautiful range of products that really showcases New Zealand. We are careful to use the very best of what Aotearoa has to offer in quality fruits, berries and vegetables.

Atutahi native drinks are now available in many upmarket NZ cafes and wineries and are available online and via our Kiwi Kai business.

We have also spent eight months carefully developing a range of Atutahi native chutneys which are ready for the consumer now. Because these products are so niche we will be offering them in gift packs for Christmas and will follow through in the New Year to small boutique retail outlets.

Currently we are working on two new Atutahi drinks and an Atutahi spice range which is very exciting.


We make NZ made innovative products from New Zealand native plants and ingredients. With our whanau rongoa background and robust culinary skills we solve the inquisitiveness that customers and tourists have around Māori and native New Zealand ingredients. Then the highlight comes when the consumer tastes our products, then the story starts to flow.

Atutahi products are named after our koro, and our entire whanau is involved from tikanga, to harvesting, sampling and processing. What we can’t do ourselves we contract with the very best people in the fields we need.

Atutahi drinks are made from all natural ingredients in sunny Nelson, New Zealand.

Who and where are your target customers?

It’s probably easier to say ‘who isn’t our target market’. Our target market is generally people that want a product that has additional benefits i.e low sugar drinks, functional benefits from the native leaf, premium products not filled with fillers and additives. The consumer that looks for quality products and the host that wants to showcase ‘the new thing on the block’ that everyone will like and envy.

How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?

We have been working with native leaf quietly for many years – when I started Kiwi Kai in 2010 I decided to incorporate native leaf into our foods and beverages. Feedback was great and one rainy day when I had a spare hour a light bulb moment occurred to carbonate our drink. In 2019 the journey commenced but as it turned out, Atutahi was launched three days before the first New Zealand Covid-19 lockdown. We had no idea that was coming but it actually opened another door. New Zealand was in lockdown, people wanted something new and our online sales started.

What are three things about your business that you are proud of?

  1. Offering good products with functional benefits that I know won’t harm people.
  2. Collaborating with Otago University to develop a sugar free range of drinks for our diabetic community – all natural, no nasties.
  3. Being a SheEO finalist 2021 and Winning Māori Businesswoman of the year 2022.

How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?

Kiwi Kai
Kiwi Kai founder, Reni Gargiulo.

Our marketing budget has been small so we strongly utilise social media, our websites and physical business space to tell our story where possible. Our story has attracted many articles being written about us and also a Māori TV doco that has been aired 8+ times over three years.

When we have these opportunities, I maximise this by looking at the market segmentation it’s going to attract and focus on that audience. We have spent over $60k on marketing since a year before Covid and it still isn’t enough. Prior to that we entered many awards and have won a few – these are another avenue for us to showcase what we do.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?

Time management to trudge through business bureaucracy and red tape. When you work with a product all day, trial taste with your customers and food techs weekly for feedback. This then makes perfecting the creation easy and exciting. Taking it to market is costly, slow and time consuming – by the time you “tick off” one box another box changes. Then freight has jumped up and within three weeks your export space has gone… it’s like playing a game of chess with pawns as your only pieces!

What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?

Believe in yourself. Make realistic goals and surround yourself with professionals that strive with you. I was told a few times by people, ‘That won’t work,’ and ‘You’re too passionate,’ but don’t listen to negative people. Lastly, always know your numbers and be very careful with borrowing.

Story created in partnership with Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).

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