The Park was abuzz last Thursday, as we played host to the highly-anticipated Food North hui, drawing an enthusiastic crowd of over 50 people including around 40 food and beverage industry attendees from around Te Tai Tokerau.
The event served as a key update on the development of Aotearoa New Zealand’s first-of-its-kind, groundbreaking shared food and beverage (F&B) manufacturing facility, planned for construction right here at the Park.
Far North Holdings Ltd CEO, Andy Nock, expressed his enthusiasm for the hui, describing it as a prime opportunity to showcase the regional manufacturing facility set to be established here at Ngawha.
Nock emphasised the significance of this venture for the local community in terms of career, education and training pathways, as well as for growers and F&B manufacturers across Te Tai Tokerau looking for a scalable solution without the cost of building their own individual facilities.
"Food and beverage offers the biggest opportunity for growth in Northland and has significant potential to increase its productivity and grow its contribution to the national economy,” Nock said.
The event commenced with a karakia led by the Park’s kaumatua, Matua Albert Tana (Ngāti Rangi), followed by introductions to the Food North project team and an update on the planned facility including funding channels, project milestones and key timelines by Justine Stuart and Sue Dobbie.
Andy Nock and Foodscope Ltd director/innovation engineer and Food North project team member, Kris Tong went on to share the proposed site design and facility capabilities.
Other guest speakers included government-supported organisation NZ Food Innovation Network (FoodBowl)’s Alasdair Baxter and Marshall Bell, who talked about expert advice, product development facilities, and upscaling support available to Food North kaupapa via the FoodBowl,and their commitment to the kaupapa
They also shared the diverse range of products that had successfully passed through their organisation, including brands like Ārepa and Boring Oat Milk, with examples of emerging products such as plant-based jerky, brain-boosting beverages, and a cauliflower ice cream capturing the audience's attention.
Northland F&B industry attendees included Debbie and Nigel Stowe, owners of the award-winning food company 'Vince,' known for their dried vegetable mince made from 80 per cent New Zealand produce.
Having recently shifted their production operations from Whangarei to Auckland, the couple now leverage the FoodBowl's open access manufacturing facility, equipped with higher-output machinery.
The Stowes shared their motivation to manufacture their product in Northland, their desire to employ local people and without the need to travel to Auckland or overseas for scaling up.
“At the moment we need to use three separate facilities in order to get our product out, so having something more accessible and in a one-stop-shop would be great” they explained.
NIEP’s resident cafe owner, Florence Tahere (Ngāti Tuatahi, Ngāpuhi, Ngai-Tu-Tea-Uru, Ngāti Mahia, Ngāi Tāwake) of Flo’s Cafe provided a delicious lunch for guests.
Tahere said the new facility ‘screamed’ opportunity for everyone across Te Tai Tokerau to bring their wildest dreams alive and to turn their ideas about kai and wai into a reality. “I believe this space is the start of an opportunity for many,” Tahere said.
Following the collaborative lunch and networking session, attendees were treated to one final Q&A session with the project team, where discussions around
how deeper collaboration with mana whenua and rangatahi in the region could be explored as part of the upcoming project.
Emphasis on job capability and pathways was also an important issue raised, with everyone in the room enthusiastic to understand how they could cross-collaborate and share knowledge to help make this happen.
Finally, participants were taken on a guided tour of the park grounds, visiting existing partners such as Te Pukenga and Regent Training Centre campuses, as well as the Mahinga Innovation Centre and its laboratories.
The tour culminated at the designated site for the Shared F&B Manufacturing facility, offering participants a tangible glimpse into what is to come.
As the afternoon unfolded, the success of the Food North hui echoed in the positive comments from participants, setting the stage for the next steps of this all-in-one shared food and beverage manufacturing facility.