A dairy giant’s former factory is now home to a sustainability-focused food company – and it just received a million dollar loan from the government to continue its good work.
Kāpiti Sustainable Foods makes plant-based foods and meat alternatives, and in an announcement at the plant on Tuesday, Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash said it would receive a loan of up to 1.25 million from the government’s Regional Strategic Partnership Fund.
CEO Justin Lemmens said the company has gone from strength to strength, growing more than 850% since 2019. It was named in the top 10 at the Future Food Asia Award the year last and supplied products under the Plan*t brand to the likes of Countdown, New World, Pak’nSave, Hell Pizza, Burger Wisconsin, Tank Juice and Gorilla Burger.
Fonterra left the Te Roto Drive factory two years ago, cutting 65 jobs but increasing production at a larger factory in Taranaki. Kāpiti Sustainable Foods moved into the factory last August, creating more than 20 new jobs. Rosa Foods, also owned by Lemmens but run by chief executive Jason Crowe and located in the same building, created 70 jobs, half of which were now filled by locals.
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Appetite for plant-based foods is on the rise, but the company had not escaped the effects of Covid-19. Initially, revenues were split 50/50 between retail and wholesale. “During the lockdown periods, especially the first one, we went to 100% retail,” Lemmens said. “It’s currently hovering around a 75/25 split in favor of retail as the hospitality industry rebuilds.”
“We still have 2 billion people joining the planet by 2050. Our current systems are not sustainable,” Lemmens said. Plant-based foods use fewer resources, take up less space and produce fewer emissions.
Its hemp chicken, a world first, was already an ingredient in My Food Bag and is set to be introduced to the public during the Food Show at Sky Stadium this weekend.
Kāpiti’s location allowed them to be close to suppliers in Horowhenua and Wairarapa, as well as hospitality customers in Wellington, and Lemmens envisioned that the building would eventually be fitted out to be more sustainable, with water harvesting rain, solar energy and on-site biomass conversion.
The government loan would allow the company to scale up production to meet rapidly growing domestic market demand as well as begin sourcing ingredients locally and eventually exporting its products.
The overseas market was huge, growing and “already extremely competitive”, Lemmens said. “For New Zealand to succeed, innovation and collaboration are key.”
Nash described the company in a statement as “leading the charge to promote sustainability in the food and beverage market with its field-to-table approach.”
The investment in a Kāpiti Coast business was part of a broader government strategy to develop a low-emission, high-skilled economy, Nash said. This is the fund’s third investment since its inception last year.
“The investment supports innovation and sustainability in the primary production and food and drink sectors while providing economic security for businesses and workers in the New Zealand region,” Nash said.