There’s something of a reinvention going on among Taranaki food entrepreneurs.

The region’s strongest economy has traditionally been rooted in a strong agriculture sector, but today it’s being increasingly complemented and diversified by new businesses that are branching out and adding value to core produce.

Regional Development Agency Te Puna Umanga Venture Taranaki says food and fibre production contributed $1.9 billion to the local economy in 2022, and employed nearly 11,000 people. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of it is what’s behind those numbers; the innovation and creativity that’s being brought to the sector.

There are traditional food producers making produce available in modern ways, with direct-to-consumer models and online shops making fresh, premium foods as accessible as they’ve ever been.

The very latest food innovators are going a step further. They’re transforming premium produce into new foods and products altogether, and showing there’s a demand for them.

Like F n Lemons, a business that sells dehydrated citrus, florets, and rim dusts to enhance cocktails and sweet treats.

Cofounder Alex Ratahi says F n Lemons was created from a serendipitous moment, talking with her two aunties (and now business partners) Jenny and Marian about preserving citrus fruit that was falling to the ground and going to waste.

It launched in January 2022, and by the end of the year was selling in more than 100 stores around New Zealand. Now, they have 175 stockists, and can go through up to 60 kgs of lemons, limes and oranges a day.

“We never really put ourselves out there that much,” Alex reflects. “We grew on Instagram quite quickly – one giveaway with a non-alcoholic cocktail company saw us pick up 300 new followers, and that gave us a base. Working with other businesses and small influencers worked for us, and we had a lot of interest coming from stockists.”

Venture Taranaki
Alex Ratahi Cofounder of F n Lemons at PowerUp Business Ready.

In fact, things grew so quickly that they skipped a lot of the basics. Things like business plans, budgets or a formalised marketing strategy weren’t implemented until recently, when Alex went to the PowerUp Business Ready course provided by Venture Taranaki.

“We’ve had so much support from Venture Taranaki,” she says. “The biggest thing is the validation which gave us confidence in what we were doing”.

“They’ve helped us make connections, including at a seminar a few weeks ago with Foodstuffs. We’re now talking to them about expanding into their supermarkets – these are opportunities that, without Venture Taranaki, would have taken a lot longer.”

F n Lemons will also be one of a handful of Taranaki food and beverage businesses at Auckland’s Food Show this month, thanks to Venture Taranaki funding.

Another Taranaki business on show will be Maison Aotearoa, a charcuterie business that prepares and preserves premium New Zealand meat products with traditional French techniques.

Founder Mike Tewhata is educated and trained in centuries-old methods used in the Basque Country in France, making pâté, rillettes and other boutique foods with a subtle kiwi twist.

“We lived in France for 14 years and fell in love with the food culture there,” he says. “We thought it was a prime opportunity to bring that know-how back to New Zealand and mix it with the green Kiwi image. There’s lots of produce here that we can transform.”

To prove his point, Mike says he came back to New Zealand with 85 recipe ideas. Currently, he’s using five. Some are ambitious too, but you don’t get anywhere without a dream.

Venture Taranaki
Julie and Mike Tewhata, Maison Aotearoa.

“I’d love to do an air-dried bacon with no nitrates in it – that’s the plan for early next year. I also have a 10-year dream of doing an air-dried ham from up on the Kaitake Ranges.

“When you think of cured meats from Europe – your jambons and serranos etc. – Taranaki could have its own version, and it would be something we could be really proud of.”

While Mike is an expert in transforming local meats into gourmet products, he and his wife Julie run Maison Aotearoa when they’re not doing their full-time jobs. They also have three daughters, so their time is precious.

Venture Taranaki has been influential in ensuring the time Mike and Julie put into Maison Aotearoa is as efficient as possible. As well as getting them to The Food Show, Venture Taranaki has put them through business startup clinics with a food industry mentor to help guide them.

Both Mike and Alex have seen the impact food shows can have on a growing business. Mike had a stand at the Auckland Food Show three years ago, and Alex has committed to taking F n Lemons to a show every month in recent times.

“It’s not just sales and a boost of income, but it’s also the brand awareness you pick up,” Alex says. “The business really consumes you and you think everyone else knows what you’re doing, but going to these shows, you realise that no one knows who you are.

“It’s great to get feedback on what we’re doing there and then too. We pick up new stockists and new customers, we’ve even had enquiries about exporting, which is really exciting and is something we’re working towards.”

As Mike points out, businesses need to sell a fair amount of product to cover the cost of a stand, so having support from Venture Taranaki makes a huge difference for growing businesses.

And for the thousands that attend New Zealand’s largest foodie affair they get to see (and taste) the Taranaki contingent there and see first-hand just how the “Like No Other” region’s food and drink is evolving.

Supporter Spotlight: Offers and services from NZ Entrepreneur supporters!


Pasifika Digital Showcase celebrates community magic on the big screen



You might also like...