Whanganui food enterprise Kaitahi wins national award

By Jessica Tyson

Iwi-owned enterprise Kaitahi has proved to be one of the country’s most innovative food suppliers after winning a top award at the FoodStarter Pressure Cooker Pitch.

Kaitahi, led by Arohaina Owen of Ngā Rauru, beat 217 other entrants, coming away with the FoodStarter Small Suppliers award.

“The calibre of the finalists was mind-blowing and we’re so humbled to be recognised in this way," Owen says. "The wairua of Kaitahi will go to the next level with the help of the FoodStarter partners. The ‘Kaitahi effect’ has really come to life and we can’t wait to get going.” 

Kaitahi works collaboratively to grow and source native plant foods and transform them into healthy food and beverage products, with the financial returns invested into the community. Its frozen superfood smoothy drops combine nutritious fruit and vegetables with traditional Māori ingredients such as pūha and kawakawa.

During the final last week, judges got the chance to taste, hear and ask questions of each of the finalists about why their products should be chosen.

“What we do is we get all the kai, we mix it all together, we create droplets and we snap it frozen. So all you have to do is get a shaker, put in your liquid and that’s it. We do all the mahi for you," Owen says.

“You can either do just the smoothie drop with the liquid or you can put in different kai like this morning. You put in a banana, some berries, shake it up, Done, ready to go.”

Owen says she and others from her iwi came up with the idea a couple of years ago.

“The whole concept was about what can we do to look after our land and have intergenerational business," she says.

“We had all of these amazing uri. We all got together came up with this idea and here we are a couple of years later... The pūha and the kawakawa we get from our own rohe within Ngā Rauru so that is a way of us being able to provide employment but also ensuring that we’re holding the mana of that kai."

The prize package includes the opportunity to range its products in the New World supermarket network across Aotearoa, product development and manufacturing support from New Zealand Food Innovation Network and more.

“We will be in every New World in the country and we’ll also be supported by some businesses in terms of our innovation.”