Gisborne maize headed to Asia

Gisborne is often touted as a ‘food basket’ of New Zealand, and one name synonymous with that label is Corson. Andrew Ashton explores how the Gisborne-based company went from a one-man band to supplying ingredients for almost every bowl of cornflakes served in Australasia.

Gisborne is often touted as a ‘food basket’ of New Zealand, and one name synonymous with that label is Corson. Andrew Ashton explores how the Gisborne-based company went from a one-man band to supplying ingredients for almost every bowl of cornflakes served in Australasia.

CORSON site manager Wayne Lamont and marketing and operations general manager Paul Naske at the Corson mill in Gisborne.
BROTHERS: John and Thomas Corson continued a family legacy of maize seed development and maize milling. In 2003 they bought Defiance Milling in Queensland, making Corson the largest maize milling company in Australasia.

CORSON started out as a one-man grain and seed broker in Napier, established by Thomas Corson in the 1890s. Operations were moved to Gisborne in 1902 and from here the company has grown into Australasia’s largest maize miller and New Zealand’s major supplier of food-grade maize products. Its focus now is on continued growth into Asia.

Three generations of Corsons have guided the company, with the founder’s grandchildren Thomas and John now at the helm as directors of a sturdy ship which has operations both here and in Australia.

Corson marketing and operations general manager Paul Naske says there are 20 people employed in Gisborne, and a second operation in Queensland employs about the same number.

The company sources “truck-loads” of maize from growers in Gisborne and around Queensland, says Mr Naske. “In New Zealand we buy it at about 20 percent moisture content and dry it to about 14 percent moisture content — and that stock we source in March, April, May is our stock for the year.”

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“Corson is a successful, family-owned company and we have some very long-standing employees who have been here a number of years,” says Mr Naske. “We have long-standing relationships and contracts with customers and suppliers, and together they are the backbone of the company. We like to think of ourselves as a dependable company.”

Following the sale of the company’s seed division to PGG Wrightson in 2010, it is now focused entirely on food-grade products used in everything from cornflakes to breakfast muffins, corn chips and popcorn.

“We are 100 percent focused on our food customers. They have very particular requirements that are very strict in terms of food safety.

"With New Zealand being GMO-free, we have a major advantage over some other suppliers."

“The majority of our business is with large, multi-national corporate giants who operate on a global basis. We sell a lot of our product to New Zealand and Australia, of course, but around a third of our volume is exported to many countries throughout the Pacific Islands and Asia.

“Exports are increasingly a major part of our business. Asian countries in particular are a strategic area of growth.”

The company’s heart is in New Zealand but the aim is to increase the amount of product exported to Asia.

The company’s products also meet the demand of the growing “gluten-free” market. With both Corson’s mills only handling maize, its products are gluten-free — which was a major benefit for some customers.

The company is still looking at more ways to further ensure food safety, and Mr Naske says he expects food safety standards to become increasingly rigorous in future. “Basically the standards around food-grain products are going up, not coming down. That will require professional farming and milling practices.

“I would say that in the next five to 10 years we will be under increasing pressure to provide further evidence about the farming practices used by our suppliers — how clean, green and sustainable they are. It is something I think will gradually be required.

“I can imagine that in 10 years time I will be asking our growers for their carbon footprint.”

CORSON started out as a one-man grain and seed broker in Napier, established by Thomas Corson in the 1890s. Operations were moved to Gisborne in 1902 and from here the company has grown into Australasia’s largest maize miller and New Zealand’s major supplier of food-grade maize products. Its focus now is on continued growth into Asia.

Three generations of Corsons have guided the company, with the founder’s grandchildren Thomas and John now at the helm as directors of a sturdy ship which has operations both here and in Australia.

Corson marketing and operations general manager Paul Naske says there are 20 people employed in Gisborne, and a second operation in Queensland employs about the same number.

The company sources “truck-loads” of maize from growers in Gisborne and around Queensland, says Mr Naske. “In New Zealand we buy it at about 20 percent moisture content and dry it to about 14 percent moisture content — and that stock we source in March, April, May is our stock for the year.”

With New Zealand being GMO-free, we have a major
advantage against some other suppliers.

“Corson is a successful, family-owned company,” says Mr Naske. “We have long-standing relationships and contracts with customers and suppliers, and we like to think of ourselves as a dependable company.”

Following the sale of the company’s seed division to PGG Wrightson in 2010, it is now focused entirely on food-grade products used in everything from cornflakes to breakfast muffins, corn chips and popcorn.

“We are 100 percent focused on our food customers. They have very particular requirements that are very strict in terms of food safety.

“We sell a lot of our product to New Zealand and Australia, of course, but around a third of our volume is exported to many countries throughout the Pacific Islands and Asia.

“Exports are increasingly a major part of our business. Asian countries in particular are a strategic area of growth.”

The company’s products also meet the demand of the growing “gluten-free” market. With both Corson’s mills only handling maize, its products are gluten-free — which was a major benefit for some customers.

The company is still looking at more ways to further ensure food safety, and Mr Naske says he expects food safety standards to become increasingly rigorous in future. “Basically the standards around food-grain products are going up, not coming down. That will require professional farming and milling practices.

“I would say that in the next five to 10 years we will be under increasing pressure to provide further evidence about the farming practices used by our suppliers — how clean, green and sustainable they are. I can imagine that in 10 years time I will be asking our growers for their carbon footprint.”

GM crops and New Zealand

Since the US started growing GM crops around 16 years ago, New Zealand has remained a GM-free food producer. NZ growers have, in the main, realised that GM-free status can add extra value to our already high-value export markets.

New Zealand has stayed away from genetically-modified crops and organisms (GMO), which are being grown in many other countries.

It is a decision that has given Corsons a competitive advantage against some of the world’s biggest conglomerates. Mr Naske says the country’s GMO-free policy is widely respected in Asia, where it is seen as a major advantage.

“The plans for the future are to continue to improve our food safety standards to meet our existing domestic customers’ increasingly stringent requirements, with a real strategic emphasis on growth into Asia.

"That’s where there is a huge demand for our products. With New Zealand being GMO-free, we have a major advantage against some other suppliers.”

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