The efficient processing premises which the Tasman Bay Food Group now occupies in Brightwater is a far cry from the company’s modest beginnings back in 1985 when fruit juice was its main focus. And although pressing apples for fruit juice is still a significant part of the business, over recent years this successful local company has diversified so that it now offers a range of innovative food products including dairy and organic bakery items.
In his role as chairman, Brian Hirst remains committed to the business he established some 35 years ago, initially with the Robinson and Smith families, but it is his daughter, Marina Hirst Tristram, who holds the reins on a daily basis. As managing director, she is responsible for the running of the company and its 50 employees, a mix of part-time and full-time, some of whom have been with Tasman Bay Food Group for many years.
“I grew up amongst Mum and Dad’s boysenberries and grapes in Ruby Bay,” recalls Marina, “and although Dad was quite keen for me and my sister Ainslie to eventually join the business I went to university first. Then I did my OE, but I was always going to come back to the Nelson Tasman region.”
Tasman Bay Food Group is all about innovation and getting its products as far afield as possible. The company’s popular Juicies and Moosies have been selling well into schools around Australia for some years now and can also be found in more than 20 other international markets, including Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
“We’d really like to be selling into the USA in the next few years so we’re working on a plan for that,” notes Marina. She adds that all the products that Tasman Bay is selling internationally were ‘born and bred’ here in Nelson and wherever possible they continue to evolve. An example of this is the new Coconut Juicies, which were recently added to the range of these enormously successful frozen treats.
The Tasman Bay team has also been busy developing the Zesti range of products, delicious snacks in the form of organic fruit bars, organic cookies and biscotti. Marina says that in the case of the bakery products it was an opportunity to make quality snack products, the proper way – using locally grown organic apples, Fair Trade ingredients and whole grains – that taste like baking used to taste. She adds that they knew they were on the right track when someone called in to their office to tell the team that the company’s cookies taste just the way he remembers from his childhood.
“I particularly like that we’re trying new things here all the time,” says Marina. “We’re quite nimble so we can develop, test and get products to market really quickly.”
As for the future of the business, she is in little doubt that at least one of her children will be involved. “My eleven-year-old son has been drawing machine designs for the factory since he was about five.”