Heartland Chips Revisited

June 2024

An update on Heartland Chips near Timaru. 

Crispy, salty and often irresistible, potato chips are one of the most popular, versatile, affordable snacks in New Zealand – and around the world for that matter. 


In a hotly competitive market, there is a New Zealand family-owned potato chip company that has gone from strength to strength since taking over a chip manufacturing plant when the multinational owner bailed. Rural Delivery first told the story of Heartland Potato Chips, owned by the Bowan family and based at Washdyke near Timaru, in 2012, three years after Bluebird closed operations in the region.  


At that time local farmers Raymond and Adrienne Bowan had ‘spent the retirement money’ purchasing the plant, modernising equipment, and developing their own Heartland brand – and they had just hit supermarket shelves with their first line up of chips. They went to market with just five flavours to choose from, a ‘from our farm to you’ story and 15 people had jobs growing and harvesting the potatoes, making and packaging the chips.  


We revisit the Bowans to catch up on developments at Heartland in 2024. 


Heartland Potato Chips could not be more homegrown being the only New Zealand-owned potato chip company in the country. Heartland grows its own potatoes on its own land, trucks the spuds up the road to turn them into crunchy flavoursome chips in a processing plant it also owns.  


The Heartland story traces its roots back some five decades with Raymond Bowan getting dirt under his fingernails as a young lad when he earned pocket money helping dig potatoes on a neighbouring farm. Today he is joint chief executive (with wife Adrienne) of Heartland Potato Chips. They grow potatoes on the land they purchased in South Canterbury as a young couple 40 years ago, make the chips and send them off to consumers throughout New Zealand, a fair chunk of Australia, and Singapore.  


Raymond and Adrienne’s son James runs the farm at Orton, where he lives with wife Jess and their three children. It is a rural community 20 minutes north of Washdyke and it is here that the potatoes are grown alongside cereal crops, and sheep. 


Daughter Charlotte is the general manager of the company. She and her fiancé Nathan have two young children. Another daughter, Kate, is not directly involved in the business but still very connected to what is happening in the company.  


Heartland Potato Chips came into being with the 2009 closure of the Timaru Bluebird factory. The Bowans had grown potatoes for Bluebird, and others, for a number of years. In a bold move they purchased the factory outright, then established the Heartland brand, upgraded the equipment and were able to retain some of the original staff.     


Over the past decade and a bit, as Heartland has grown market share, more staff have joined the company, with today’s tally of 40 employees. Roles include management, operation, production, logistics, product development and business development. 


For sales and merchandising, Heartland contracts to another Kiwi-owned enterprise, Auckland-based Twin Agencies. With Twin Agencies, Heartland is in the company of other leaders in New Zealand’s fast moving consumer goods sector – amongst them Whittaker’s chocolates, Barker’s of Geraldine, Ecostore, Farrah’s and Hubbards.   


From thin cut to thick cut to wave; from extreme crunch to kettle cooked to semi-nude or nude (that is, low to no salt), Heartland has developed an innovative range of chip styles. The company’s variety of flavours is equally creative. Lemon and thyme, Korean fried chicken, sweet chilli and sour cream, honey mustard and maple bacon sit alongside the more usual suspects such as salt, and salt and vinegar – although Heartland also strikes a different note with its apple cider vinegar.   


Raymond Bowan says the potato chip business is a tough one to be in, with plenty of competition. “At the end of the day here at Heartland, it’s about producing the best product for our consumers. In the beginning to gain consumer attention we needed to produce chips that were different to those already on the market. We chose to be gluten free at a time when not many were promoting this option, and we still use different oils and flavouring ingredients to our competitors.” 


Heartland eschews the palm oil still being used by a number of food manufacturers, instead opting for high oleic sunflower oil and canola oil which are more sustainable and have a better shelf life, as well as helping to produce a crunchier better tasting chip.  


Raymond is also pleased the original Heartland positioning that its chips are ‘direct from our farm to you’ continues to resonate with New Zealanders keen to support homegrown producers. “Heartland potato chip lovers can trace their chips from paddock to packet. We are forever grateful they value that we’re a grassroots family-owned New Zealand chip maker using potatoes grown on our own farm.”  


He says while Heartland now works with an independent flavour house with a dedicated product development specialist, just as they did in the earlier years, the family, staff and friends still gather around to sample proposed new flavours and give their opinions. “Amongst the two most successful flavours we have introduced in recent times are the Tokyo Tang, made using wasabi mayonnaise, and Bacon Maple.” 


When asked what chips are favourites at family gatherings, Raymond says although Tokyo Tang and Apple Cider Vinegar are popular, ‘most of us still reckon plain old Southern Salt can’t be beaten’.   


As well as growing potatoes for the Heartlands plant, the family’s Fallgate Farm also continues to grow potatoes for other food manufacturers around the country.  


James, who runs the farm operations, says his parents were drawn to Fallgate because of the soil, which was perfect for growing potatoes – free draining, with little-to-no stones and good irrigation. (The farm was named by a previous owner because many of the gates on the property were falling off their hinges when he purchased it.)  


To maintain good levels of nutrients, cropped paddocks need to be continually rotated. “As well as the 250ha of potatoes we plant each year, we also raise sheep and grow cereal crops.” 


Each year, potato planting begins in September after working the soil and ridging it. By November the new season’s plants are emerging. As they grow, they are monitored and irrigated as necessary before an early crop is lifted in January, followed by the main crop being harvested from March through to June.  


Over the years the Bowans have trialled a wide variety of potatoes, reaching the conclusion that only five or six varieties produce the colour and crunch required to become a Heartland potato chip. “Some are early maturing potatoes and others are long storage varieties. All potatoes we grow must have the properties to produce good crisp chips,” says James.  


As general manager of the company, Charlotte is based at the Heartland plant in Washdyke. Here her responsibilities include overseeing the team and the equipment turning the potatoes into those tasty chips, amongst them a machine that grades the raw potatoes, a washing machine and a dryer, slicers, blanchers, a fryer, a cooler and a chip sorter.  


The oils and flavouring ingredients also come under her jurisdiction, as does liaison with the flavour house and with the Twin Agencies sales and merchandising team. 


Ensuring Heartland is an eco-conscious business is a high priority too. “As a Kiwi-owned and operated business, it’s important to us that we have as low an environmental impact as possible with our choice of ingredients and materials, as well as processing systems and packaging,” says Charlotte. The fact that Heartland grows its own potatoes on the family farm just 30kms down the road from the plant where they are turned into chips is also a winner in reducing their carbon footprint.  


All the cardboard the company uses for packaging is made from recycled card, while shrink wrap is kept to a minimum and recycled. Heartland is also part of the soft plastics initiative allowing for its chip packets to be used to make plastic fence posts.  


All the Bowans agree with Raymond when he says: ‘good food brings people together’.