Taranaki-based Kaitahi is an iwi-owned enterprise making frozen superfood smoothy drops out of traditional Maori ingredients.
Being predominantly rural, the iwi (tribe) wanted to look for opportunities outside of the dairy and mining industries that would provide employment, and businesses that were less invasive on the environment.
They weren’t only searching for opportunities that would generate revenue today, but opportunities that would remain sustainable into the future.
“We were looking at it from a number of angles, an iwi, employment, and innovation perspective, as well as ensuring that we provide opportunities for future generations,” says Arohaina Owen, Working Group Lead for Kaitahi.
“Our iwi coming together to figure out what we could do that is ours and what we could give to the world.”
The Ngaa Rauru Kiitahi Iwi started their first business, the Kii Tahi Nursery, in 2001 in South Taranaki. In 2017, they began running trials to grow traditional Maori foods like puha and kawakawa commercially. No one had grown puha like this before.
Various uki (descendents) worked together to figure out how to turn these traditional Maori ingredients into a product they could bring to market. After further research and trials, they turned their ingredients into a frozen product that solved a common problem for many health-conscious consumers: time.
In 2018, the Ngaa Rauru Kiitahi Iwi launched Kaitahi, a range of innovative frozen superfood smoothy drops that uses traditional Maori ingredients.
What makes Kaitahi unique is that their smoothy drops don’t require a blender. All the ingredients needed are in each flavour. Consumers take a scoop, add it to a protein shaker, add their choice of liquid, and shake.
Kaitahi takes away the need to buy individual ingredients as well as measuring each of them out.
Because Kaitahi’s smoothy drops are so small, they break up and dissolve when shaken. The drops’ ability to provide smoothy’s on the go won Kaitahi the 2018 NZ Fine Foods Innovation in Food Service & Product Award and James Wells Champion of Innovation.
Apart from innovating, Owen says that Kaitahi is also bringing back the old ways of cultivating and processing Maori foods as a way to make it the norm once again.
“We’re doing things in a way that provides the respect that the food deserves while ensuring sustainability. You only take what you need, and ensure that it continues to grow,” says Owen.
Sustainability remains a priority for Kaitahi, and as an iwi enterprise, Kaitahi aims to support both current and future generations. The money Kaitahi makes is reinvested into the people, first.
“We’ve got to be giving back,” says Owen.
Kaitahi has only been in the market for a year, but it is quickly gaining traction and stockists. Countdown picked up Kaitahi in November, followed by Fresh Choice, Binn Inn, Four Square, and most recently, New World.
Their team is quickly growing too, which Owen says is a result of the ‘Kaitahi Effect’.
“It was a karanga (a call out) to people we knew that said, ‘You’ve got the expertise that we need to get Kaitahi to the next level. Will you help?’ And everybody jumped on board, and we’re just going from strength to strength. It’s really exciting.”
Although Owen and her team are spread out across the globe with big international dreams, they remain focused on New Zealand, where they continue to nurture a base they can later spring from.
It’s another tie to sustainability, one that prioritises the ‘now’ as much as the future.