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Māori making their mark on the world with FernMark

19 Jun 2018
By Karl Wixon
NZStory honey 25  Q2A7576 A
Credit / NZ Story

We take a look inside four amazing Māori export businesses to understand what drives them and why they chose FernMarkTM.

The FernMarkTM story is one with indigenous pedigree, or whakapapa, extending back to pre-european times. 

In pre-european times Māori had many uses for the native Silver Fern, ranging from bedding, to medicinal uses, to its every day use as a trail marker in the bush – immortalised in the legend of Rahitutakahina, the basis of the Māori ball game Kī-o-Rahi, that some refer to as ‘Māori Rugby’.

So it is fitting perhaps that it was Joe Warbrick of Ngāti Rangitihi and Thomas Rangiwahia Ellison of Ngāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe and Te Atiawa, that are credited with adoption of the Silver Fern as a symbol for New Zealand Rugby.

Joe developed the Silver Fern logo on black jersey for the ‘New Zealand Natives’ tour of 1888-1889.  Tom, a star of that team, proposed adoption of the Silver Fern and black and white uniform by the NZ Rugby Football Union at their inaugural AGM in 1893, and went on to captain their first officially sanctioned international tour to New South Wales a few weeks later, winning 9 of the 10 matches played.

So what does carrying the FernMarkTM represent to some of our leading Māori exporters today?   

To find out, we spoke to four amazing Māori FernMarkTM licensees: 

  • Rachel Taulelei, chief executive of Kono, a multi-award winning vertically integrated food and beverage business based in Te Tau Ihu, top of the South Island, home of many well known brands including Tohu Wines;
  • Richard Manning, owner of Treasure Pot Innovations exporting Fish Maw and Paua (Abalone) to China, who has pioneered new processes for preparing abalone to meet the needs of discerning Chinese consumers;
  • Sera Grubb and Bobby Leaf, the dynamic duo and co-founders behind the Mana Kai honey company located in Awanui;
  • Jim McMillan, a helicopter pilot whose birds-eye view of our stunning back-country spotted an opportunity to airlift bee hives into vast tracts of untouched Mānuka bush, leading to his founding of The True Honey Co. delivering premium Mānuka Honey to the world, and winning a plethora of awards in the process for their stunning brand and innovative packaging design.

We discovered they all aspire to be ‘best in class’ and see the FernMarkTM as supporting that aspiration. “Our vision as a brand was to become the most trusted Mānuka honey brand - having the FernMarkTM brand attached to it provides consumer trust around the world” says Jim McMillan, a sentiment shared by Kono’s chief executive Rachel Taulelei, “It’s our aim to be the best indigenous food and beverage company in the world".

"The FernMark programme is another way to help us communicate the care, excellence and authencity that we pour into all our products”.

They see the FernMarkTM as standing for attributes they want to be known for in the market; freshness, purity, and intergrity, so carrying the mark conveys these attributes to their customers. Rachel says “Our customers and partners in market have an insatiable desire for understanding where their food comes from. It’s important they know about our ingredients and products, where they came from and that they are unadulterated – essentially pure and clean.  The FermarkTM  reinforces our connection to New Zealand, with its strong reputation for food safety.”

They all see value in leveraging, and being part of, a professional New Zealand story and brand programme that aligns with their values and raises visibility of their own brands in market.  Richard Manning, who has 30 years export experience, describes the challenge of entering new products into new markets;

“It’s always difficult to be recognised, the NZ brand story and effort put into it – its strategy and influence is quite powerful, the initiative behind it is sound – it highlights story and brings product integrity when doing business with Asia”. 

That power of story telling is something that comes naturally to Māori, and is something their customers want, as Bobby at Mana Kai explains, “We have learnt from our customers that there is demand for our story.  We get a lot of feedback from our customers who have spent time with us, and stay with us, they want to share their experience and tell our story.  We don’t just have a story – we are the story”.

Being part of something bigger than themselves matters to all of these Māori businesses, and they see being part of the FernMarkTM whānau as supporting not only the growth of their own businesses, but the growth of their communities, industries and the growth of New Zealand.  For Sera and Bobby, growing their business is about a lot more than increasing profit “We appreciate success differently.  We both come from corporate backgrounds – where the thinking and ethos was different – financial success is not why we wake up in the morning, it is about building our whānau and creating jobs in our community”.

Jim McMillan sees the FernMarkTM as helping grow the whole industry, "We are very passionate about the Mānuka honey industry and keen to play our part in it having a long term sustainable future."

"The FernMarkTM goes a way towards building approved trust and authenticity of product – helping New Zealand companies to build a long term sustainable future for the Mānuka honey industry”.

It is clear all of these Māori companies are in it for the long haul and take their responsibility as kaitiaki, as guardians of environment, whānau, community and industry, seriously, something highlighted by Jim McMillan reflecting on his change of focus as a helicopter pilot, “I spent a number of years as an agricultural spraying pilot on marginal terrain for farming – in hind-sight, seeing the severe erosion and loss of top-soil into the ocean from the air, I feel a lot more of that land should have been left in its natural state. Now I can see natural regeneration occuring and scars healing with nursery planting of native species – now I look out and see Mānuka rather than big scars on our land”.

They are all companies that collaborate as part of a wider Māori export whānau, to grow their collective profile, and to drive and share success. Richard Manning says

“It is not easy and you need to draw on that collective support when and where you can – we have to work collaboratively”. 

Whilst he says he cannot prove carrying the FernMarkTM directly translates into more sales yet, he sees that value growing over time, “As more people recognise it, it will grow value over time.  It will really have strength in numbers”, and that is a very Māori way of looking at things, it is about whanaungatanga – building our whānau onshore to grow our whānau offshore.

Joe Warbrick and Tom Ellison would no doubt be amazed to see how the silver fern logo they wore to represent ‘New Zealand Natives’ in 1888 has evolved, and how it is now representing these incredible Māori global traders 130 years later.

If you want to surround yourself with great company as part of a global whānau, we know a place.

Nau mai haere mai ki te whānau o te tohu tētēkura - join our FernMarkTM whānau.

To find out more about the Programme and how you can be a part of is visit: