Our region hosts some very familiar companies – Bostock, Rockit Apple, WineWorks, Now, Furnware, Unison, Yummyfruit, Pan Pac. But for every one of those, a host of remarkable – but largely unknown – others are beavering away, some proven, some at the exciting starting gate. All evidence of Hawke’s Bay’s full business depth and potential. Here are some lesser-knowns, profiled by Brenda Newth. Your ‘nominees’ welcome!
[As published in Jan/Feb BayBuzz magazine.]
Putting hemp on the map, & in your coffee
Hemp growing indigenous start-up Kanapu Hemp is on the cusp of releasing a breakthrough product that will put it on the map.
Started in 2017 by co-founders Isaac Beach and Kirby Heath, and Simon and Lou White, the company is founded on organic and regenerative principles that embrace Te Tiriti O Waitangi, and care for the whenua (land), and people.
Currently Kanapu hemp crops are grown on Māori land at Waimārama (25 hectares of organic industrial hemp, now in year three), and in Ōtāne (2,500 hectares of regenerative industrial hemp that’s spray and pesticide free) on land owned and leased by the Whites.
Kanapu see growing hemp as a solution for Maori land owners, says Kirby.
“What we’ve found is an opportunity to not only benefit the whānau, so that they have fantastic healthy land when Kanapu no longer grows there, but it’s also an opportunity to untie our people from leases that might not be beneficial for them.
“We’ve found a gap where we can serve our people and the community,” she says.
Kanapu is vertically integrated. It’s the farmer and the manufacturer, and currently produces two food products – hemp flakes and hemp seed oil – in small batches (for freshness) from its Havelock North premises.
But things are set to get a lot bigger with the launch of hemp milk in early 2024. Kanapu hemp milk will be the world’s fourth, and New Zealand’s first hemp milk product.
“We have been intentionally moving into the value-add area of production, where there are less steps to consumption,” says Kirby.
“The consumer knows how to use milk. So instead of producing an ingredient product, we’re moving into more familiar territory for the end consumer.
“We’ve been working on the milk for a long time, since Covid-19, but we like to take our time with things and get them right. We’re about to take the leap and launch the product.
“The milk is our hero product, and should put us on the map. We have our own R&D arm based at Massey University and a food technologist who develops our products.
“We’ve just had our final trial and it’s tasting very, very good,” says Kirby.
With a distribution partner in place, Kanapu will pilot its 1 litre creamy chocolate and creamy original hemp milks in Hawke’s Bay through cafes, bakeries, service stations, and other non-supermarket channels, to understand where the product is moving, and how it is moving, before expanding to the next region.
Kanapu’s secret sauce for success? Kirby says it’s the fact that the company is indigenous and treaty-based.
“We are what we would consider to be an example of a treaty-based partnership business in New Zealand.”
20 years of solving difficult problems
Adele Rose loves a gnarly problem.
The 3R CEO and the company she leads love nothing better than putting their collective brainpower to solving the issue of what to do with difficult-to-manage waste streams, how to keep end of life products out of landfills, while reimagining new uses for them.
The Hastings business is playing an increasingly important role helping to drive New Zealand’s circular economy by developing product stewardship schemes, the most notable to date being Tyrewise, the scheme for end of life tyres.
Rose says Tyrewise – live from March ‘24 – means that all tyres in New Zealand have a place to go to be processed and made into another material.
3R plays a unique role, says Rose. “We sit between industry and Government. Government as the regulator, and industry as the producer, and that’s a privileged position to be in. For industry we’re trying to be upfront about what their future obligations are going to be, while trying to encourage them to go further. And with the regulator we’re saying ‘how can we work around this problem that we’ve got so you’re satisfied as well?’”
Circular economy principles, which involve reusing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible, are being adopted all over the world, and imbedded in regulation, says Rose.
“We see the impact here in New Zealand as a receiver of goods. It’s sort of the realisation of a goal that 3R had when the business first started was to move from being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff (dealing with difficult waste streams) to playing in a space where circular principles are embedded from the product design phase onwards.”
The company has a multi-skilled team, including product innovators, data and systems specialists, marketers and sales professionals, business development, project managers and logistics specialists.
“We always take that team in with us to help design product stewardship schemes. And we bring that deep experience every time we meet a new industry group.”
Rose reckons it’s 3R’s secret sauce. “Our people. They’re special. That’s always the feedback to me from our customers. It’s the way our people work that keeps our customers engaged in the process, and our tenacity to keep pushing through, when things get hard.”
With the hard yards nearly done on Tyrewise, Rose and her team are turning their thoughts to solving other difficult problems such as static batteries, paint, and car bumpers.
Post harvest automation specialists
We deliver productivity. That’s the mantra of CR Automation, a robotics and automation engineering company based in the heart of Hastings.
Perry Field, CEO says the company specialises in post-harvest automation, delivering a mix of bespoke applications and off the shelf solutions depending on customer need. Solutions include material handling, empty and full carton handling, sorting and tracking, and palletising and cool storage for crops like apples, citrus fruit, kiwifruit, stone fruit, cherries, avocados, and asparagus.
Clients are drawn from horticulture, food manufacturing, timber processing and water infrastructure, and are businesses of all sizes, ranging from ‘Mum and Dad’ growers to multinationals. Most of CR Automation’s business comes from within the Bay, but increasingly from other growing regions domestically, and also in Australian growing regions such as Victoria.
“We deliver anything that has an industrial process, that benefits from automation,” says Perry.
Automation in post-harvest technology typically streamlines processing and packaging, involving material handling, empty and full carton handling, sorting and tracking, palletising and cool storage. CR Automation says its clients enjoy larger yields of export grade produce, get better prices for product and many have been able to gain access to high-value, pest sensitive markets.
Around 30 highly qualified staff work for CR Automation, mostly engineers, but also design specialists and fabricators, meaning the company can handle all aspects of a job from design to build.
“We are a bit unique in terms of an automation business, because we have a wide complement of professional disciplines,” says Perry.
“Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and then of course the fabrication and working capabilities to build what we’re delivering. Quality is a big focus for the customers that we deliver to, so it has to be a big focus for us as well, and we have a full value chain.”
As well as new builds, CR Automation is also developing a specialty in machine safety, retrofitting safety features for older legacy machines, that need to be brought up to code.
Like any new technology that’s evolving, the barrier to entry for automation is getting lower and lower, says Perry.
“Previously we only had applications that gave good productivity improvement, and in very industrial cases. Now we’re seeing both automation and robotics coming into more and more applications because the technology is a lot more accessible.
“The key for CR Automation is to find those applications that can be developed and then replicated a few times. We want to do more in terms of productised offerings that allow us to (more easily) go further afield, and scale sustainably.”
As to their special sauce, Perry says that the skill set within the business is one aspect, but the other relates to the relationship between its engineers and customers.
“All of our engineers are really close to the customers in terms of solutions. So we have a team of 30, but it’s really a team of 30 also in sales. Every one of the team is fully engaged in all parts of the project lifecycle, especially right at the start.”
Today New Zealand, tomorrow the world!
Agritech start-up Croptide is on a mission to bring greater know-how globally to the simple act of watering crops.
Born out of a Massey University master’s project, and founded by Hawke’s Bay engineers Finn Brown and Hamish Penny, Croptide’s pioneering water sensing technology has captured the attention of major players in New Zealand’s horticulture sector. It has just secured $4.25 million in funding from Ubiquity Ventures, a major US investor that describes itself as a provider of “nerdy and early capital for ‘software beyond the screen’ startups”. Croptide is Ubiquity’s third New Zealand investment, it was also an early investor in Rocket Lab.
Croptide was founded in 2021. Since then it has been trialling its stem water potential sensing technology in 20 monitored orchard and vineyard sites in Hawke’s Bay, as well as sites in Marlborough. Current trial partners include Villa Maria, Cloudy Bay, Pernod Ricard, Zespri, and T&G. To date, water savings using Croptide technology sit at around 50%, on average.
Penny says Croptide’s technology (in simple terms) is trying to translate the language of plants.
“We’re trying to turn what’s happening in plants into really simple language that people can use. Our sensors plug directly into the stem of crops like apples, grapes, and kiwifruit, and give precise information on the water status of that plant. That information goes through an app to a cell phone or computer, providing insights to the grower that allows them to be very precise with their water management, and achieve better quality outcomes with their crop.”
Stem water potential measures water stress in plants, akin to blood pressure in humans. As the soil dries or humidity, wind or heat load increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for the roots to keep pace with evaporation from the leaves. Under these conditions the plant begins to experience ‘high blood pressure’. Measuring stem water potential helps determine the optimum time to deliver water to the plant.
With two seasons of data under its belt, and its next phase of funding secure, Croptide is focussing on further product development, expanding its team, and commercial trials with existing partners Zespri et al shifting to customer status.
The coming season’s El Niño weather pattern, with dryness expected in the east coast of New Zealand, will be a great test case for Croptide, says Penny.
“To see what difference we can make, how much water we can save, and the difference we make for production. How our (technology) can improve operations and everything else. That’s the goal this season with our customers.”
Penny’s vision for Croptide technology is to solve the global problem of water. “Water is going to be the biggest geopolitical issue of the century. Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s water resources.
“We want Croptide to be a global solution, where we can really make a difference for water and food security. That’s our focus for the longer term.”
King of fruit ripens in Clive
A country road in Clive is home to Tatsumi New Zealand, a high tech strawberry growing operation owned by Japanese interests. Tatsumi grows strawberries year round in two glass houses, replicating its Japanese based operation.
Japan’s harsh summers are too hot for strawberry cultivation, explains Takushi Matsunaga, Director of Tatsumi New Zealand, and that’s where the Clive operation comes into its own.
“For the Japanese summer, we ship weekly from May through December, averaging around 2.5 tonnes each week once full production is reached. The strawberries travel overnight by road to Auckland, and they land in Japan later that day,” he says.
Tatsumi New Zealand’s multi-million dollar project is in its second season and, as we write, is just months away from full production. In the packing shed the strawberries are packed in special boxes, with the export fruit picked early, as it colours, but doesn’t sweeten on the journey.
The numbers are impressive:
• Around 19,000m2 of above-ground growing space
• 224 rows of plants
• Around 15,000 planters, each holding multiple plants
• 100,000 strawberry plants at full production
• 150 tonne per annum output once fully operational
The strawberries are planted on tables, in above-ground planters, similar to hydroponics, but are planted in a special recipe growing mix, developed by the Japanese technical team. The growing house is fully automated with an environment control system. Bumblebees pollinate the crop, and the plants’ fertigation (water/fertiliser) is controlled and measured. The growing trays will soon have “outriggers” extending the plant horizontally, enabling the fruit to hang, making picking easier.
Currently around 16 people are employed, but more are needed to do the early morning picking, before the shed gets too hot.
Tatsumi is primarily focussed on growing for the Japanese export market. Interestingly, the way in which Japanese consumers like to eat strawberries is a little different to New Zealand, explains Takushi.
“The strawberry is the king of fruit for confectionary, so a lot of our fruit is sold for use in baking, patisserie, and desserts like parfaits, all year round. We don’t want the fruit to be too sweet, as it dominates the flavour of the dessert. In the winter, Japanese people will eat strawberries as a piece of fruit.”
Locally, Tatsumi strawberries can be found in Bellatino’s, and the company is also supplying specialty Chinese supermarkets in Auckland.
Future aspirations are to reach full production, increase planting density, and establish the Tatsumi name as a quality provider, says Project Manager Mike Harper.
“We can supply all year, and produce strawberries when no other growers can. We don’t see ourselves in supermarkets.
“This year has been a big learning year, from a plant health and production point of view and the setup, it’s looking amazing.”