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Wakatū Incorporation

open this image in new window: Wakatū

Wakatū is a Māori family-owned business based in Te Tau Ihu (the top of the South Island). A business of land and sea, Wakatū has three parts: Manaaki (people and culture), Whenua (land and water space) and Kono (an award-winning food and drinks producer and exporter).

What do you do?

Wakatū is a Māori family-owned business based in Te Tau Ihu (the top of the South Island). A business of land and sea, Wakatū has three parts: Manaaki (people and culture), Whenua (land and water space) and Kono (an award-winning food and drinks producer and exporter). 

Through the passage of time, the world has challenged us to innovate — to become scientists, researchers, winemakers, branders, marketers, viticulturists and leaders.

Guided by Te Pae Tawhiti, the business’s long-term intergenerational vision, and deeply held values of rangatiratanga, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga, Wakatū manages its assets in a way that will build on its legacy for the generations to come.

As one of the largest private land owners in Te Tau Ihu, the Whenua division of Wakatū manages a diverse portfolio — from vineyards, orchards and grazing land to residential properties, large retail developments and office buildings. With a strong heritage as gardeners, fishers and providores, Wakatū, under its Kono brand, is an artisan producer and exporter of award-winning wine, cider, seafood, pipfruit, hops and natural fruit bars.

What’s different about Wakatū?

What makes Wakatū different is its deep connection and commitment to whenua, moana and tangata (land, sea and people), as well as its products. “Through the passage of time, the world has challenged us to innovate — to become scientists, researchers, winemakers, branders, marketers, viticulturists and leaders,” says chief executive Kerensa Johnston. “We’ve taken up that challenge without hesitation.”

Wakatū has also made a concerted effort to focus on succession planning, with a robust programme of scholarships, skills training, cultural inductions and governance experience. These programmes are now paying dividends, with people who have been through them working within the business at every level.  

Its innovation strategy aims to commercialise high-value food and beverage applications to address global nutrition, health and well-being challenges. Wakatū will focus on leveraging science and technology applications in two programmes: high-value add, and land and water wellness. 

Wakatū Incorporation

Miriana Stephens, a member of the board and Executive Director of Innovation, says Wakatū’s land and water wellness programmes need to be leading edge. “This means not only do we know the state of our lands, but that our business practices will contribute to land, water and ecosystem well-being. This is all about being good kaitiaki (custodians).”

A new project involves collecting data from vineyards and orchards, and combining it with smart technology to help operational teams make informed decisions, take care of the land, and maximise potential and value.  For example, a sensory network in the vineyards captures real-time data, such as soil moisture levels, and combines it with other relevant datasets, like climate information. This data is then centralised and analysed by an on-farm platform, e-Whenua. 

Miriana says this means specific areas of blocks can be targeted instead of, for example, watering an entire block. “This is smart use of resources, and is good for both the environment and our bottom line, and in line with our values.”

How did you start?

Wakatū was incorporated in 1977 when it took back the management of its customary land in Nelson, Motueka and Golden Bay from the Crown Trustee.

It first purchased land for horticulture in 1987 and made its first investment in seafood in 1992 through a joint venture purchasing paua quota. Tohu Wines, New Zealand’s first Māori-owned wine company, was launched in 1998. Kono was established in 2011 to consolidate the food and drinks businesses.

Wakatū Incorporation

In the 40 years since its inception, Wakatū has grown from a base of $11 million in 1977 to a current value of more than $300 million. The Whenua (property) business is a significant contributor to this growth.

Where are you going next?

“We’re on a journey, and there’s always room for improvement,” says Miriana. “It’s about starting, having courage to try new technology and techniques, and making a difference. We’re also working on a strategy to lift our game in the digital space. There are some real opportunities for us to make better connections with the people who buy our products, as well as to use technology and data even more efficiently to perform better throughout the value chain.”

Wakatū Inc - Kerensa Johnston and Miriama Stephens
Kerensa Johnston, Chief Executive (left) and Miriama Stephens, Executive Director (right)

Miriana says, “We are very keen to partner with people and organisations who’re aligned with our purpose and values, both within New Zealand and internationally. We’ve recently been to Denmark and the United Kingdom to learn from others who’re also in this intersection of people, environment and technology, and to share our story with them. Having a strong and relevant network is very important.”

A Matter of Facts
Headquarters: Nelson
Staff: Wakatū about 40; Kono about 500 (seasonal)
Shareholders: 4,081 descendants from Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Tama and Te Ātiawa
Brands: Tohu and Aronui wines, Tutū cider, Annie’s natural fruit bars and food distribution company Yellow Brick Road
Export markets: More than 40 countries
Callaghan Innovation services

R&D Experience Grants: matching postgraduate students to Wakatū.
R&D Project Grant: co-funding research.
Secondment of Miriana Stephens to Callaghan Innovation.
Innovation IP: supporting Wakatū to manage its intellectual property.
Wakatū Improve: measuring and benchmarking innovation management.
Better by Lean: applying a Lean Thinking lens to operational systems

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Updated: 17 October 2017