A deep commitment to land and sea, Māori business Wakatū is continuously innovating to build a legacy for generations to come. Firmly at their side is Callaghan Innovation.
- Māori business Wakatū is looking to build a legacy for coming generations, with an innovation strategy aiming to commercialise high-value food and beverage applications to address global nutrition, health and wellbeing challenges.
- Callaghan Innovation has supported their journey a number of ways, including R&D Experience Grants, supporting the business in managing its intellectual IP, and in applying Lean thinking to operational systems.
- Despite already producing well-known products like Tohu wine and exporting to over 40 markets, Wakatū is taking a courageous approach going forward, trying new technology and techniques to make a real difference.
A business of land and sea, Wakatū is a family-owned, Māori business based in Te Tau Ihu (the top of the South Island) with a diverse portfolio. And it’s this diversity that has seen them grow from a base of $11 million back in 1977 to a value of more than $300 million today.
Through the passage of time, the world has challenged us to innovate — to become scientists, researchers, winemakers, branders, marketers, viticulturists and leaders. We’ve taken up that challenge without hesitation.
- says chief executive Kerensa Johnston.
Within Wakatū is Whenua, which covers everything from vineyards, orchards and grazing land to residential properties, large retail developments and office buildings. And then there’s the Kono brand, an artisan producer and exporter of award-winning wine, cider, seafood, pipfruit, hops and natural fruit bars.
What makes Wakatū different is its deep connection and commitment to whenua, moana and tangata (land, sea and people), as well as its products. Its strong vision and deeply held values means Wakatū manages its assets in a way that will build on its legacy for the generations to come. And their innovation strategy, where they aim to commercialise high-value food and beverage applications to address global nutrition, health and wellbeing challenges, will be its backbone.
A business built on innovation, Wakatū has leveraged help from Callaghan Innovation in a number of ways.
With Wakatū heavily focussed on succession planning, and offering a robust programme of scholarships and skills training for example, using our R&D Experience Grants to match postgraduate students to the business, providing a pathway into the business, has been a natural fit.
And with Wakatū also focussing on leveraging science and technology applications in two programmes: high-value add, and land and water wellness, our X programme? Has been crucial.
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).”
This is realised in a project involving 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.
Even with prestigious brands already in-market, such as Tohu wine and Annie’s natural fruit bars, and exports heading to over 40 different markets, Wakatū is not a business that will be standing still.
“We’re on a journey, and there’s always room for improvement,” says Stephens. “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.”
Stephens says, “We are very keen to partner with people and organisations who are 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 are 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.”