A food and beverage brand for the sale of products coming off Whakatu Incorporation land
Kono, which means “basket”, is the consumer brand Wakatu Incorporation has developed which integrates their seafood, wine and horticulture products and which is used to market these products offshore.
Kono is a separate and wholly owned subsidiary of Wakatu Incorporation. Wakatu was formed in 1977, with an $11m asset base, mainly of land. It has since grown into a $250m property and food and beverage export company. There are more than 3,000 owners in the incorporation, who are descendants of the original landowners in the Nelson, Tasman and Golden Bay areas. Kono makes up less than half the asset base of Wakatu Incorporation’s portfolio.
Don Everitt is the new CEO of the food and beverage company, and started work in early November after previously spending a couple of years with his marketing and branding consultancy Far Reach Ltd. Before that, he headed the marketing, sales and distribution at King Salmon and previously worked as marketing manager for Sealord.
Kono employs more than 350 staff, with 209ha of orchards at Motueka, growing apples, pears, hops and kiwifruit. It is also part owner of a packhouse and leases a coolstore.
It has 150ha of mussel, oyster and lobster production with 250 staff, a processing factory in Blenheim, quota marine farms in the Marlborough Sounds and a hatchery. This is the largest sector in the Kono business basket.
Kono Beverages has 140ha of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris vines in three vineyards in Nelson and Marlborough, and a staff of 16. It has two brands: the premium Tohu brand and its Kono brand. This the second largest sector in the Kono business basket.
General Manager of People and Culture, Rōpata Taylor says Wakatu is using Kono as a way to communicate to its markets about what sets them apart from everyone else operating in the same field. It’s a way for us to give people an insight into our land, our products and our people. Kono is a traditional food basket, and it is a nice fit with being a food and beverage brand.”
“The owners are really pleased about Kono and are quite engaged with the brand, and want to ensure it appropriately reflects Maori culture. We are quite clear we want Kono to be the foundation for us becoming the world’s most successful indigenous food and beverage business. All things going well there should be no reason we can’t achieve that.”
At the moment they are concentrating on product from their own land but in future this could expand to include product from the orchards, which they lease to nearby owners as well – as long as the quality standards of the brand are met, he says.
“Likewise, other producers around New Zealand who have products that resonate with the brand.”
Kono has a modern approach, and in the last two years has developed and integrated its products together. It isn’t relying on the traditional way of selling each of its products. This is a strong integrated brand with huge potential for expansion into international markets – because of the multiple items in its food basket.
Don says Wakatu has thought its strategy through well. “It suits them as a group of Maori landowners, integrating their assets with how they can reach out and connect to consumers.”
“A lot of iwi organizations have looked at the Wakatu Incorporation model because they are seen to be doing something aspirational for all Maori.”
“I think Kono is commercially smart. It’s an integrated brand developing offshore, getting close to consumers, controlling the supply line, and marketing. That spins my wheels.”
“Kono products are being marketed to Europe, the US, Asia, Australia and also within NZ. Our biggest market is probably in Asia for the complete basket of products. Europe has traditionally been an important market for wine and seafood and apples. But our focus is more and more on Asia.”
“We collaborate a lot with different organizations such as Enza on the Envy brand of apples, and we work with a lot of other iwi organizations. We are looking to collaborate with other iwi wherever they may be in assisting access to research and to markets. We feel we lack scale, so combining and collaborating is one way of getting scale.”
“The horticulture side of the business has changed the most in the last few years. We have taken out uneconomic crops, and replaced them with different varieties. Gold kiwifruit is now G3, Envy apples have replaced other poor-performing varieties, and hops are a relatively new development.”
“Other companies in the horticulture industry look to us to see how we are doing things. We are quite a bit different, particularly in our marketing arrangements.”
“We like to do the marketing ourselves, breaking away from other companies. Integrating all our products under the Kono brand is our main difference.”
“There aren’t many companies with fully integrated supply chains and such a breadth of supply chains. And there are very few who have done their marketing well. At the moment there are no marketing staff offshore, apart from China, where we have a joint venture. We don’t really have a lot of marketing expertise yet. Part of my remit is to develop in-house marketing skills as opposed to hiring consultants.”