2 August 2018

What is needed to thrive in the world of primary export?

One of the great privileges of my vocation, is that I get a chance to look into many different industries from behind the scenes. Collective Intelligence now covers 70 plus professions and industries across New Zealand, and they all have their own strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies.

We are a nation of exporters, with a history of primary based produce making up a great deal of the export earnings. This is changing to a far broader base, and our expertise is spreading to emerging and exciting industries like IT and yachting, with an international reputation building as innovators.

What the most dynamic industries have in common is that they are all market oriented, and very responsive to the market’s needs. They are like this because, if they are not, they disappear.

And on Friday evening as a sponsor of the North Island Young Winemaker awards in Hawke’s Bay, I got to see this market led mindset being expressed so vividly.


One of my personal “work ons” at present is to become more aware of what is going on, what is unique/different and transferable from one industry to another. So, what I noticed on Friday night was a total lack of parochialism, and instead a delight in wine. What I also noticed was a focus on what the market needs, other people’s products, and a knowledge base that was hard to fathom.

Let me try and describe what I saw. The event was held at the beautiful Church Road vineyard, who did not have any wine featured that evening. They were simply the host venue. In fact, the wines featured on our tables were not just from New Zealand, but around the world.

We had a wine tasting competition for the guests as a bit of fun during the evening, which showcased to me the depth of knowledge present in the room. There were two whites and two reds. We were asked questions like what type of wine it was, where in the world it was produced, what year, on what soil – and I was still identifying between red and white. Some varieies of wine I had never heard of before. Thankfully the competition was between tables, and we had some serious winemakers at our table. Here’s what blew me away – our table got 80% correct, others were more like 90% correct. Absolutely stunning as it showed a deep passion of what was going on around the world in their industry, unbelievably developed palates, and they were fascinated when they got the answer wrong.

The other stand out of the evening, was a category for the real contestants (remember the young winemakers), where they had each been asked to blend a Rose for the Sainsbury chain in UK. Stunning example of not making your best wine – but make it for this market.

They were also judged on the ability to speak… this is part of winemaking that is easily underestimated by the likes of me. They need to be able to tell the story of the wine.

And all this made me reflect on a number of things. Firstly, this is why this industry is flourishing in New Zealand, and may they continue to grow and do fabulous things on the world stage, outperforming against all odds. Very proud to have been asked to sponsor – thanks to Sophie Harris of Te Awanga Estate.

Secondly: this month I had been asked to talk at the Omega Lamb producer farmers meeting in Timaru. This project has been running for 10 years, invested around $25 million in R&D, to produce a lamb that has the equivalent Omega 3 levels as a fatty fish. Not only that, it tastes superior and is easier to cook. While I was there they had a blind tasting between 3 different lamb, of different origins, one of which was their own.

What a contrast to the winemakers. The farmers could not clearly identify the difference between their lamb and others, and these farmers are way ahead of the national average on knowledge of product. If they developed the palate for their product, what a marvellous story they could tell.

Thirdly: the strong wool industry has been declining for about 30 years, even though it is one of the most environmentally friendly raw products to grow. I hear they hold wool summits and get all hot and bothered about the state of things, but I have not heard them get really interested in WTF the market wants, and then set about producing a type of wool to satisfy that market. There are exceptions to this: Icebreaker, Allbirds, and Lanaco for example who are super connected to their markets, and are world leaders in each of their fields.

This is not intended as a beat up of farmers, but rather an illustration of what is needed to be an exporter on the world stage.

All industries are going to be disrupted in the future (some already are) and I hope that more people take notice of our wine industry, because they are a shining example of what’s needed to succeed.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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