Ngāti Porou Seafoods lands the big one with AHIA

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Ngāti Porou Fisheries' AHIA Freshly Smoked Kahawai Manuka Honey has been awarded Seafood NZ Water Champion, after receiving a GOLD award from judges at the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards 2020. 

According to the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards, the judges were won over from the first bite saying, "Beautifully moist. Moreish. Couldn't fault on flavour or texture. Would definitely buy."

The kahawai reflects Ngāti Porou Seafood’s environmental focus.

The company has moved away from bulk-processing, creating diverse products from sustainable species.

Chief Executive Officer of Ngāti Porou Seafoods, Mark Ngata says that 90% of employees are Ngāti Porou, explaining that because of these connections there is a much deeper sense of pride and connection affiliated with the work.

“We entered last year but didn't get top award, so went away and did the work to get our products up to the standard. It’s something we’ve kept all of our staff involved in. They feel very proud," says Ngata.

Their efforts have been rewarded, evidenced by the judges' comments that include, "Good amount of smoke. Judges are excited by this. A good honest Kiwi fish celebrated and treated with love."

The name 'AHIA' for the smoked fish range by Ngāti Porou Fisheries was born through discussions between the late Ngāti Porou leader Dr Apirana Mahuika and Ngāti Porou Fisheries Chairman Whaimutu Dewes.

Ngata explains that "AHIA" is an abbreviated term for 'Te Ahi a te Ariki', or fire of the gods. The term, ‘Te ahi a te ariki’, is derived from the traditions of Ngāti Porou and Tapere Nui a Whatonga, one of the traditional whare wānanga or Māori schools of esoteric lore, located in Rangitukia. Mahuika is the goddess of fire, responsible for its maintenance and providing fire for the people.

“We went back to get the feel for the name, so it follows a long tradition of stories and these sorts of things within producing kai that our people can eat and providing for our region," says Ngata.

The Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards recognises the best of the country’s locally grown and made food and drink products. Twenty-five judges and eight stewards worked in panels to assess a record 225 food and drink entries at AUT School of Hospitality & Tourism. Following the judges’ assessment of aroma, appearance, taste, texture and quality which accounted for 75% of marks, products were assessed for sustainability and brand story. Winning products will be recognised with the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards Champion, Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals—a guarantee of product quality.

The Tūranganui a Kiwa (Gisborne) kaimoana-based operation has also made waves with a number of other Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards:

- AHIA 'Freshly Smoked Gemfish & Citrus Spread' - SILVER award

- AHIA 'Freshly Smoked Trevally Horopito & Pepper' - SILVER award

- AHIA Freshly Smoked Hoki' - BRONZE Award - BRONZE Award

- AHIA Freshly Smoked Hoki and Saffron Spread' - BRONZE Award

As an essential service, operations in the factory remain up-and-running at Ngāti Porou Fisheries during COVID19 Alert Level 4.

“Half of our staff are working from home, and fourteen are on site. Our staff really feel that they're doing they're part to help NZ economy and the supermarkets", says Ngata. 

The operation supplies around 80 supermarkets in terms of smoked products, and are currently still processing export product for some partners such as Moana New Zealand.

The retail shop that sells seafood directly to customers, however, was closed when the nation moved from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 4.

“We’ve complaints that people can’t get our fish, hopefully, we can open the shop again next week when we go down to Level 3," says Ngata. 

In terms of the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards, Ngata says they will be back next year with more succulent seafood on offer.