Kitchen Tips

6 Nelson food companies that are putting the environment first

A growing number of Nelson producers are prioritising the environment – and creating something delicious while they’re at it. Meet this new wave of local food businesses who are doing good by Mother Nature.

By Fiona Ralph
It's known as the sunshine capital of New Zealand, but it's making a name for itself as a destination of a different kind. For a small city, Nelson is chock-full of innovative food and beverage companies – and the environment is at the core of many of these producers' philosophies.

Appleby Farms

What does a food technologist have in common with two dairy farmers? In Appleby Farms' case, they all make delicious ice cream.
Two years ago, farmers Julian Raine and Murray King (below) teamed up with food technologist Kristy Giles to launch a range of ice cream made from A2 protein milk. Kristy (who had previously done product development for Tip Top) had worked with Julian for a decade as a contract food technologist and knew Murray socially, while Murray and Julian grew up on nearby family farms, which they now run.
The trio now sell six delicious ice cream flavours in supermarkets around the country – including chocolate brownie, passionfruit and the new salted caramel. Their award-winning ice creams are also stocked in Singapore, and Australia is next on their list, with more export markets to follow. At their Airstream caravan, which takes up residence at Nelson's Tahunanui Beach each summer, new flavours are trialled on the lucky public.

Making their premium ice cream "as natural as possible" is important to the company, with no added colours, and vanilla the only flavouring used. The ice cream is filled with local goodies, including boysenberries grown by Julian, gluten-free brownie made by Blenheim cafe BV Gourmet, and freshly roasted coffee extract from nearby Sublime Coffee.
Sustainability practices include recycling water and cleaning chemicals in the factory, and, on Julian's farm just down the road from their Stoke ice creamery, storing surplus winter water for use during dry Nelson summers. Streams are also fenced off on the farm, wetlands have been developed, compost is used on paddocks, and trees have been planted to encourage birdlife.
Murray's farm in Appleby supplies the milk for the ice cream (and the name), while the cream comes from Julian's farm, which also produces Oaklands Milk and Aunt Jean's – two old-fashioned brands which encourage reuse and recycling through vending machines, home deliveries and glass bottles.

Pic's Peanut Butter

Pic Picot's story is proof that you may need to run a dozen less successful businesses before hitting on 'the one'. The entrepreneur (below, with guide dog Fido) made sandals, bags and belts as a teen, and furniture and novelty gifts as an adult, and ran a restaurant, sailing school and laundromat in later years. But it wasn't until he was 55 that he finally landed on the right idea, when he started roasting peanut butter in an old concrete mixer and selling it at the Nelson markets. His product proved so popular that, 12 years later, Pic's has 49 staff, exports to 14 countries and recently opened Pic's Peanut Butter World complete with free factory tours, a cafe and a shop.
When Pic's launched, the artisan nut-butter wave was still a number of years away, and the peanut butter offering was limited to big brands which usually had added sugars, emulsifiers and oils. Pic's healthy option, with just roasted peanuts and a little salt, as made by his mother and aunt when he was younger, is now a market leader with 41 percent of the local peanut-butter market.
The hi-oleic peanuts that go into Pic's peanut butter are from Australia but he is currently trialling a peanut grown in Northland. The company has now diversified into almond and cashew butter, peanut oil and boysenberry jelly (made with berries grown down the road).

Pic is big on supporting the Nelson food scene and is on the advisory board for Chia Sisters (see below for their story), and next year he's launching The Food Factory, a commercial kitchen and incubator for new food start-ups.
Environmental initiatives by the brand include donating outdated product to food rescue charities and waste peanut butter to Predator Free New Zealand, and transforming peanut husks into animal stock feed. Monkeys at Nelson's Natureland get peanut butter on their sammies, too. Jars can be returned for discounts or donations to a wildlife sanctuary, with kilo jars refilled and the smaller jars reused by jam-makers, community groups and schools.

Yum Granola

Yum's roots can be traced from California to Nelson via Wanaka, where chef Sarah Hedger became renowned for the healthy, tasty granola she made for the guests at Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet. Her creations proved so popular that she eventually left the lodge and launched Yum, her artisan breakfast brand.
Sarah says her love of good granola stems from growing up in California on home-cooked whole foods. She studied nutrition and business at university, but always ended up back in restaurants, starting with a part-time job in one when she was just 13.
For two years, the granola was cooked in a container outside Sarah and now-husband Mike Cowlin's house – that container is now inside their warehouse. When the couple relocated to Nelson, Mike officially joined the team and wears many hats, including photographer, builder (he fitted out most of the warehouse) and production manager. The couple now juggle Yum's responsibilities with looking after their one-year-old daughter, Rai, with help from two staff members, one a former refugee from Colombia.

The brand's commitment to local produce sees Nelson honey, Blenheim hazelnuts, local Sublime coffee and New Zealand blackcurrants incorporated into its range of granola, Bircher, seed clusters and porridge. The treat-like flavours, such as Dark Choc Granola and Creamy Apple & Chai Porridge, are all dairy- and gluten-free and made with organic ingredients. Sarah loves experimenting with new flavours – Coffee Deluxe came out recently, and a fig variety is coming soon.
Minimising waste is a big driver for the company, from their zero-waste supermarket tastings, to home-compostable one-kilo bags. They've got a nifty granola honesty box outside their central Nelson base too, where people can refill jars for a discount. "At the end of the day, you just need less packaging," says Sarah.
Five years after its inception, Yum has nearly 200 stockists of its award-winning granola – and Sarah still supplies granola to Whare Kea Lodge.

Zesti Goodies

The tagline "little local goodies" perfectly personifies Zesti's line of organic baked goods. Its range of cookies, fruit bars, vegan sunflower snacks, Christmas mince tarts and biscotti (the first four are all certified organic) are made by a dedicated team of bakers at the 36-year-old Nelson company. As far as organic products go, the brand has a lower price point than many, but still focuses on quality ingredients, such as Fairtrade cocoa and mānuka honey.
Zesti is owned by Tasman Bay Food Co, known for its Juicies, frozen juice bars made from Nelson apples that would otherwise go to waste. The business had its genesis in the 1970s, when Brian Hirst, father of managing director Marina Hirst Tristram (pictured below), got into the juice business.
The company was founded in 1984, and while it's been through a number of changes over the years, its premise of quality, local food has remained the same. Brian is still involved as the company's chairperson, while Marina's sister, Ainslie Pomeroy, works as the contract manufacturing coordinator.
Wanting to spread the organic message far and wide, Tasman Bay Food Co also makes certified-organic goods under contract for other companies around New Zealand and Australia.

They're community-minded too, feeding firefighters during the recent Nelson bush fires and opening their factory to the public to buy discounted goods four times a year. Excess food goes into making chutney, as well as to food rescue groups or pig farmers, and the company tries to find a use in the community for everything they discard, from recycled cardboard tubes to buckets and damaged gumboots.
They are aiming to cut their waste by 50 percent in 2020, have already audited their rubbish and carbon output and are looking into compostable packaging.
They're also BRCGS certified (a global food safety standard) at the highest level, meaning every ingredient can be traced back to its source to ensure the highest ethical standards throughout the supply chain.

Proper Crisps

Well-made chips, with minimal processing and natural ingredients. Too much to ask? Not for the passionate team behind Proper Crisps, who, in 2007, set about creating the perfect crisp, using Marlborough sea salt and New Zealand potatoes. Fast forward to today and that simple crisp has now been joined by 12 other products, including Rosemary & Thyme, Cider Vinegar & Sea Salt, and Smoked Paprika potato crisps, plus kūmara, parsnip and mixed vegetable crisps.
Owners Mina and Ned Smith, who moved to Nelson from the US and took over the business in 2010, still make use of the original cooker that produced those first crisps back when Proper Crisps was a one-and-a-half-person operation.
Now the busy production team, led by Ned's son Eddie (pictured below, with Mina and head cultivator Duncan Kerr), turns out up to 20,000 bags a day at the Stoke factory, and is constantly coming up with new innovations (the latest being home-compostable packaging) and flavours, such as the recent Beer Crisps, a collaboration with Garage Project. As New Zealand's most awarded chips, it's no surprise they're stocked all over the country and are now being exported to Australia and Asia too.

All Proper Crisps products are made with high-oleic sunflower oil (some from Canterbury) and are vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free and contain no added MSG or artificial flavours or colours. All of the brand's veges and grains are grown in New Zealand – kūmara from Dargaville, beetroots, carrots and parsnips from Ohakune, and (mostly Agria) potatoes from all over the country. The Smiths still use their American contacts too, sourcing chipotle from a Mexican farm.
The eco-conscious brand has just added organic potato chips to the mix, and if the new compostable packaging goes well, they're hoping to roll it out to all their products. Food waste is given to local pig farmers and the hot oil is also used to heat water, while the old oil goes into the manufacture of wood pallets.

Chia Sisters

2019 was a big year for sisters Chloe and Florence Van Dyke (pictured below, with Chloe on left). The innovative pair launched their super-popular Hemp Protein Superfood Smoothies, were named one of the top five female-led businesses by the SheEO crowd-funding initiative, and Florence appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List.
This followed the launch of their Bottled by the Sun fresh-pressed juice range in 2018, created to celebrate the conversion of their factory to solar power. The building had been a brewery, which had done the bottling for the sisters, but when it closed down, Chloe and Florence had a quick decision to make – close the business or take over the brewery. They chose the latter, installed solar panels and now run the country's first solar-powered juicery.
It's all part of their plan to become New Zealand's most nutritious, sustainable and innovative juice producers. They're certified Zero Carbon and Climate Positive, and are now encouraging 1000 other Nelson businesses to do the same. They swapped their company car to an electric car and opt for sea rather than air freight. They also plant native trees and use all natural ingredients, organic when possible. Local ingredients include Hawke's Bay and Nelson apples, West Auckland lemons and Canterbury hemp. They are a Living Wage Aotearoa employer and pay more than the living wage.

"We want to show that business can be done better," says Chloe. "We believe that businesses should prioritise having a positive impact on both the environment and the community, because at the moment I think they're having the opposite effect in the world."
Chloe, a neuroscientist with a background in herbal medicine, launched the company in 2012 with Chia, a drink made with chia seeds and fruit juice. It was developed as a nutrient-rich drink for Florence and their father, Ben, both champion triathletes (Ben has been involved in the company since the beginning, too).
After working in international human rights law and corporate law, Florence joined the business at the end of 2015. They also sell Awaka Sparkling Coconut Water and a range of hemp protein powder, hemp and chia seeds.
Photography: Daniel Allen. Additional Photography: Tim Williams; Lumiere (Appleby owners, Zesti product); Elspeth Collier (Appleby farm).

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