Cranberries Westland – the only commercial cranberry farm in New Zealand – is reaching new ground, having increased harvest six-fold over the last six years and is projecting to expand further into unchartered territories and markets.

Cranberries are a superfruit native to North America and while the West Coast of New Zealand has a very different climate and conditions, owners Kate Buckley and Kevin MacGregor are successfully growing cranberries from their ten acres of Hokitika farmland surrounded by lush native forests, freezing glaciers, and precious Greenstone/Pounamu.

They bought the small-scale farm in 2017. MacGregor met the owners who had established the farm and business ten years previously. They got talking and that got him interested in the project. The rest is history.

“We were new to the area and looking for a shared project, the cranberries were quirky, interesting and a challenge, so we took it on,” says Buckley.

She says being the only cranberry farm in New Zealand has given them a competitive advantage and provides a lovely talking point with customers.

Kevin MacGregor successfully grows cranberries from his ten acres of Hokitika farmland.

“Cranberries are a taste of home for a lot of people from America and Canada,” she says.

Establishing cranberries as a commercial business has been a challenge for all who have tried it because the plant is slow growing and so it’s difficult to bring to full production.

“Everything seems to grow faster than cranberries,” says Buckley.

It takes five years to establish a cranberry bed for harvesting, and the plants require regular water, a small amount of fertiliser and an acid soil. Cranberries grow best in regions like Wisconsin in the States where they have really harsh winters, sometimes minus twenty degrees centigrade. On New Zealand’s West Coast it’s practically the opposite – the climate is temperate with few frosts.

Not only that but importing the plants into the country is a “huge piece of work” given the necessary restrictions put in place by the Ministry for Primary Industries. To avoid that hurdle, MacGregor propagates the plants for new beds.

Ninety percent of American growers flood the cranberries for harvest. In some areas they flood beds in winter and the ice layer protects the plants.

“We couldn’t do that here for all sorts of reasons, mostly to do with temperature. It’s a really different cycle,” MacGregor explains.

From the beginning, the pairs intent was to put structures and processes in place to get Cranberries Westland up to a full standalone commercial entity.

“We have a long term plan to build a standalone business. We built a processing shed and a commercial kitchen to handle increased production and we’ve propagated to increase berry production,” says Buckley.

When Buckley and MacGregor bought the farm six years ago, the harvest was a mere 600kg. Last year, it was nearly six times that amount, sitting at 3500kg.

“At the moment the cranberry business is something that we do alongside our other work,” explains Buckley.

Buckley is an artist with a background in community arts and development. She works part time coordinating WestREAP’s Creative Spaces programme.

Cranberries Westland – Kevin MacGregor and Kate Buckley

𝗜𝗿𝗶𝘀𝗵 𝗮𝗿𝘁𝗶𝘀𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗞𝗶𝘄𝗶 𝗳𝗮𝗿𝗺𝗲𝗿 𝗱𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗹𝗼𝗽 𝗡𝗲𝘄 𝗭𝗲𝗮𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗱'𝘀 𝗼𝗻𝗹𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗺𝗲𝗿𝗰𝗶𝗮𝗹 𝗰𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗯𝗲𝗿𝗿𝘆 𝗳𝗮𝗿𝗺 𝗶𝗻 𝗛𝗼𝗸𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗸𝗮, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗶𝘁'𝘀 𝘂𝗽 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘀𝗮𝗹𝗲!Kevin and Kate moved from Taihape to the coast and finally ended up in Hokitika. They transformed a small cranberry business into a successful venture, producing a range of products. Excitingly, they have put their thriving business up for sale. Check out their story! Read more here: Westland NZ, The Coasters Club

Posted by Development West Coast on Wednesday, May 10, 2023

“It’s a place where people who experience barriers to participation can come and work on their own creative projects. It’s a community arts programme,” she explains.

MacGregor has a commercial refrigeration business which he runs alongside the farm.

As for sales of the cranberries, some are sold fresh at harvest time [March/April] with the remainder going into a commercial refrigeration facility in Christchurch.

The artisan products are made in batches by hand in the farm kitchen. These products are sold in specialty stores and supermarkets such as Farro Fresh, Raeward Fresh and online. It takes the team three months each year to cook up these shelf-stable products.

During harvest and cooking they work with up to five part-timers. Buckley says they may need to increase staffing to support future expanded harvest and cooking times.

“As the amount we harvest has increased, the opportunities to make and sell more product have increased. We have increased production of our existing products and are working on new markets,” she says.

Buckley is excited about the range of possibilities for new products, but the couple always need to balance growth with the realities of the time they have available.

Cranberries Westland has grown steadily and sustainably and is now ready to move from its life as a shared part time project into its next stage with a wider range of products and a bigger customer base. Buckley spoke about the value of mentoring and access to business development training provided by Development West Coast. That has helped them get to where they are today.

The Cranberries Westland family of cranberry products.

“Commitment to our project, a shared vision and the ability to be flexible in our approach to problems are key aspects of the way we work,” says Buckley.

Looking back, Buckley says she would have learnt more about the industry before starting.

“The food industry was not my background and I learnt on the job. This was not the best approach – and it would have been less stressful if I’d known more before getting into it. But everyone was generous and could see where we were coming from as artisan producers. We were lucky to have bought a business which already sold in bulk to supermarkets nationally.”

She says getting out there and talking to people, forming relationships, following up with customers are also key. Her advice for others: Get advice, take advantage of training, learn the sector. Do the sums and enjoy the ride!

Cranberries Westland has a few opportunities knocking on its doors: one being the health and drink [juice] market, which is already on their radar for next year; but also the fresh and frozen cranberries market.

There are also lots of other avenues for business growth that are part of their plan. There’s also the restaurant supply market, tourism, accommodation, and the local cycle trail. Big decisions for sure for Buckley and MacGregor who are weighing these options as they take a deep breath before the Christmas rush.

Story by Mina Amso in partnership with Development West Coast (DWC)

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