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The taste of finals fare

The region’s finalists for this year’s New Zealand Food Awards – Tora Collective and Avatar Mānuka Honey – are buzzing about being in contention.

Caught out on Wairarapa’s windswept coastline, Tora Collective’s live blackfoot pāua and crayfish are nominated for the Primary Sector Award.

Tora Collective operates on a harvest-to-order basis and works seasonally, an ethos co-owner Troy Bramley said is about changing the way the export industry impacts local availability.

“The fishermen would get paid, not even covering overhead, and you’d see that fish get sold back into NZ at export prices.”

Having already reeled in an Outstanding NZ Food Producer Award earlier this year for its crayfish [and for its pāua in 2021], Bramley said the Tora team are all “pretty proud” to be NZ Food Award finalists.

“You’re running with some pretty large business’ when you go into these things.”

The collective’s other co-owner, Claire Edwards, said the application process was rigorous and a sign of the judging standards.

Tora Collective owners Troy Bramley and Claire Edwards.

“It’s big, and you get a really good idea of how legitimate or careful these particular competitions are when you go through the application process,” Edwards said.

“This was a pretty hefty practice with lots of questions and really in-depth questions.”

Edwards said it’s great that their “back to basics” business model has been recognised.

“In our world of ordering online, and having customers wanting things when they want it, it’s old school meets new school and how do we make that work.”

The season is currently closed for breeding, something Edwards said is part of the collective’s mission to operate sustainably.

The second Wairarapa business to make the finalist list is Avatar Mānuka Honey, which is in the running for the Beverage Award with its Mānuka Honey Elixir drink.

The carbonated beverage is made with Mānuka honey that’s high in MGO [the compound associated with its antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties] and is harvested in South Wairarapa.

Avatar’s new manuka honey-infused drink has got the South Wairarapa business in the running for the NZ Food Awards Best Beverage.

The idea to develop a drink came to owner Brendon Redfern and his team after wondering what to do with excess product due to falling international demand.

“There’s a whole myriad of things that has basically caused a depression in the market,” Redfern said.

“Essentially we’ve got a bulk stock of this 500 MGO honey sitting in our inventory, like almost every other beekeeper around the country.”

After gathering customer research on how people are using their honey – neat from the jar with a spoon, on toast, or stirred into tea – Redfern said they decided to conjure up a new Mānuka honey-infused beverage.

“Having the product in a jar was tying the use of our honey to someone’s kitchen, so we thought it would be good if they could consume it while out and about,” said Redfern.

“It has been exceptionally well received. We’re really encouraged by the reaction, and we sold quite a bit of product at the Auckland Food Show.”

Redfern said each can has five teaspoons of MGO 500 and additional vitamins and caffeine for an energy kick.

“We’re only a small company, so at this stage, we don’t have the economies of scale that other drink companies have.”

Redfern hopes that the drink will soon be seen on the shelves of local grocery and hospitality outfits.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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