LeaderBrand - fresh food going places

Gisborne-grown cropping company LeaderBrand is here to stay but is expanding elsewhere because of the limitations involved with a solely Gisborne-based operation, says general manager Richard Burke.

Gisborne-grown cropping company LeaderBrand is here to stay but is expanding elsewhere because of the limitations involved with a solely Gisborne-based operation, says general manager Richard Burke.

KEY TO DEVELOPMENT: LeaderBrand general manager Richard Burke believes more needs to be done to encourage business development in Gisborne, to make it easier to do business, and the right sort of infrastructure development is vital. Picture by Paul Rickard
Richard Burke

Founded in 1975 by Murray McPhail, LeaderBrand has gone from a “tractor and a bit of land” to one of New Zealand’s largest and most diversified horticulture and fresh food businesses.

“Innovation and development is perhaps what we are best known for and I’m proud to see the next generation bring on their ideas and make their mark,” says Mr McPhail, whose sons Gordon and Richard are heavily involved in the LeaderBrand operation.

Mr Burke says serious transport issues must be dealt with to make the most out of Gisborne’s advantages when it comes to the supply of fresh produce.

“Gisborne has got a lot of things going for it, with a lot of natural advantages and a lot of really good people,” says Mr Burke.

“But it has its drawbacks, particularly when it comes to infrastructure, and particularly transport in and out of the district.

“As a company we feel Gisborne does not get the support required from central government.”

Transport limitations

Mr Burke says LeaderBrand has serious issues transporting its fresh produce to market.

“The district’s transport options, apart from roading, are quite limited,” he says.

“Yes we have a port that has potential but in terms of supplying our export markets with fresh products, it’s actually very limited.”

The company farms approximately 2300 hectares of land in the Gisborne region, predominantly on the Poverty Bay Flats.

“LeaderBrand receives a lot of support from local land owners and enjoys some very long-term relationships that have been a big part of LeaderBrand’s growth,” Mr Burke says.

Crops produced include broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and babyleaf salad crops 12 months of the year, and buttercup squash, sweetcorn and watermelons in season.

It has broadened its operational base to farm in Canterbury at Ashburton, where it has 700 hectares producing buttercup squash, broccoli, peas, broad beans and asparagus, and at Pukekohe where it farms 400 to 500ha of broccoli, lettuce and silverbeet.

LeaderBrand supplies Subway, Foodstuffs NZ Ltd, (which supplies Pak’nSave, New World, Write Price and Four Square) and Progressive Enterprise Ltd, which operates the Countdown supermarket chain.

“As a district we have to decide if we are serious players and want to be part of a bigger picture,” Mr Burke said.

“It should be easier for people to do business here. We need to make it easier and that’s something that’s up to both central and local government.

“It is not as easy to do business here as what it could be if the key drivers were about economic growth not return on investment.”

Improved infrastructure

LeaderBrand is the largest grower, packer and shipper of buttercup squash in the world.

It is the largest grower, packer and shipper of broccoli, lettuce and fresh sweetcorn in New Zealand. It also operates the country’s most modern salad production facility at Parkinson Street in the industrial subdivision.

Mr Burke says improved infrastructure is the key to further development of the business in Gisborne.

“We believe there is more potential for the Eastland Group, for example, to put money directly into improved infrastructure rather than just concentrate on a return to its stakeholders.”

How do the group’s investments in power generation and, previously, aircraft businesses outside of the region, for example, benefit this region, he asks, other than just benefiting the stakeholders?

Transport links were a key area where improvements were needed, but so too was the power supply to the city and district.

“We had two power cuts during our main processing season this year, for the second year in a row.”

Gisborne’s soils and climate mean the company can maximise the best that Gisborne has. “Murray McPhail has been quite visionary and is certainly one of the pioneers of the broccoli industry, for example, which has grown into one of New Zealand’s staple vegetables.”

LeaderBrand works hard to develop crops that will produce higher-value returns, like squash, he says. “LeaderBrand’s drive is always about fitting Gisborne’s attributes around the right sorts of crops. There is no point trying to do something that’s done better and easier in other regions, because it is difficult to compete.”

Mr Burke says LeaderBrand’s investments in Pukekohe and Canterbury were about better-securing their national produce supply. “Both Canterbury and Pukekohe have different weather patterns to Gisborne. Developments in those places gives us the ability to better balance our supply.”

Wine production

LeaderBrand diversified into wine production several years ago. Its Ashwood Estate hand-crafted chardonnay won gold at the 2013 Air New Zealand Wine Awards, and at the 2012 New Zealand International Wine Show awards.

“The wine displays layers of creamy, nutty, fruit-filled complexity that develops mouth-watering aromas, with a mineral acidity, lemon citrus freshness, and sweet, peachy finish,” was how the judges put it.

Ashwood Estate also makes a pinot gris. “Ashwood was really developed by LeaderBrand to support the other great wines and wineries that operate out of this region,” Mr Burke says.

“Gisborne needs these types of wines on display to reinforce that the district is a supplier of high-quality wines.”

The key to the development of LeaderBrand in Gisborne has been knowledge of the local environment and maximising the returns, he says. Gisborne is considered ideal for crop production with its rich, fertile, alluvial soils, a good supply of clean water, and its high level of sunshine hours each year.

“LeaderBrand is focused on Gisborne, and we’re here to stay,” he says.

The difficulties the company faces in Gisborne have been brought into focus more by the operations it has going in the other two regions. “You recognise the issues we face in Gisborne more.”

Mr Burke says there are some great businesses in Gisborne. “But we’ve been very commodity-based in the past, and Gisborne struggles to deliver quality, niche and value-added products.

“We’ve got to change our thinking a lot about what we are and who we are. It’s not easy, but that’s the challenge.” He says if the district wants a more robust economy, certain problems must be addressed.

“We need to have good, strong regional leadership and good infrastucture. There also needs to be a more business-friendly and more proactive environment.”

Founded in 1975 by Murray McPhail, LeaderBrand has gone from a “tractor and a bit of land” to one of New Zealand’s largest and most diversified horticulture and fresh food businesses.

“Innovation and development is perhaps what we are best known for and I’m proud to see the next generation bring on their ideas and make their mark,” says Mr McPhail, whose sons Gordon and Richard are heavily involved in the LeaderBrand operation.

Mr Burke says serious transport issues must be dealt with to make the most out of Gisborne’s advantages when it comes to the supply of fresh produce.

“Gisborne has got a lot of things going for it, with a lot of natural advantages and a lot of really good people,” says Mr Burke.

“But it has its drawbacks, particularly when it comes to infrastructure, and particularly transport in and out of the district.

“As a company we feel Gisborne does not get the support required from central government.”

Transport limitations

Mr Burke says LeaderBrand has serious issues transporting its fresh produce to market.

“The district’s transport options, apart from roading, are quite limited,” he says.

“Yes we have a port that has potential but in terms of supplying our export markets with fresh products, it’s actually very limited.”

The company farms approximately 2300 hectares of land in the Gisborne region, predominantly on the Poverty Bay Flats.

“LeaderBrand receives a lot of support from local land owners and enjoys some very long-term relationships that have been a big part of LeaderBrand’s growth,” Mr Burke says.

Crops produced include broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and babyleaf salad crops 12 months of the year, and buttercup squash, sweetcorn and watermelons in season.

It has broadened its operational base to farm in Canterbury at Ashburton, where it has 700 hectares producing buttercup squash, broccoli, peas, broad beans and asparagus, and at Pukekohe where it farms 400 to 500ha of broccoli, lettuce and silverbeet.

LeaderBrand supplies Subway, Foodstuffs NZ Ltd, (which supplies Pak’nSave, New World, Write Price and Four Square) and Progressive Enterprise Ltd, which operates the Countdown supermarket chain.

“As a district we have to decide if we are serious players and want to be part of a bigger picture,” Mr Burke said.

“It should be easier for people to do business here. We need to make it easier and that’s something that’s up to both central and local government.

“It is not as easy to do business here as what it could be if the key drivers were about economic growth not return on investment.”

Improved infrastructure

LeaderBrand is the largest grower, packer and shipper of buttercup squash in the world.

It is the largest grower, packer and shipper of broccoli, lettuce and fresh sweetcorn in New Zealand. It also operates the country’s most modern salad production facility at Parkinson Street in the industrial subdivision.

Mr Burke says improved infrastructure is the key to further development of the business in Gisborne.

“We believe there is more potential for the Eastland Group, for example, to put money directly into improved infrastructure rather than just concentrate on a return to its stakeholders.”

How do the group’s investments in power generation and, previously, aircraft businesses outside of the region, for example, benefit this region, he asks, other than just benefiting the stakeholders?

Transport links were a key area where improvements were needed, but so too was the power supply to the city and district.

“We had two power cuts during our main processing season this year, for the second year in a row.”

Gisborne’s soils and climate mean the company can maximise the best that Gisborne has. “Murray McPhail has been quite visionary and is certainly one of the pioneers of the broccoli industry, for example, which has grown into one of New Zealand’s staple vegetables.”

LeaderBrand works hard to develop crops that will produce higher-value returns, like squash, he says. “LeaderBrand’s drive is always about fitting Gisborne’s attributes around the right sorts of crops. There is no point trying to do something that’s done better and easier in other regions, because it is difficult to compete.”

Mr Burke says LeaderBrand’s investments in Pukekohe and Canterbury were about better-securing their national produce supply. “Both Canterbury and Pukekohe have different weather patterns to Gisborne. Developments in those places gives us the ability to better balance our supply.”

Wine production

LeaderBrand diversified into wine production several years ago. Its Ashwood Estate hand-crafted chardonnay won gold at the 2013 Air New Zealand Wine Awards, and at the 2012 New Zealand International Wine Show awards.

“The wine displays layers of creamy, nutty, fruit-filled complexity that develops mouth-watering aromas, with a mineral acidity, lemon citrus freshness, and sweet, peachy finish,” was how the judges put it.

Ashwood Estate also makes a pinot gris. “Ashwood was really developed by LeaderBrand to support the other great wines and wineries that operate out of this region,” Mr Burke says.

“Gisborne needs these types of wines on display to reinforce that the district is a supplier of high-quality wines.”

The key to the development of LeaderBrand in Gisborne has been knowledge of the local environment and maximising the returns, he says. Gisborne is considered ideal for crop production with its rich, fertile, alluvial soils, a good supply of clean water, and its high level of sunshine hours each year.

“LeaderBrand is focused on Gisborne, and we’re here to stay,” he says.

The difficulties the company faces in Gisborne have been brought into focus more by the operations it has going in the other two regions. “You recognise the issues we face in Gisborne more.”

Mr Burke says there are some great businesses in Gisborne. “But we’ve been very commodity-based in the past, and Gisborne struggles to deliver quality, niche and value-added products.

“We’ve got to change our thinking a lot about what we are and who we are. It’s not easy, but that’s the challenge.” He says if the district wants a more robust economy, certain problems must be addressed.

“We need to have good, strong regional leadership and good infrastucture. There also needs to be a more business-friendly and more proactive environment.”

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