By Karl Wixon
KONO NZ LP is one of New Zealand’s most successful Māori Food & Beverage companies and is home to brands Tohu, Aronui & Kono wines, Tutū cider, Annies bars, Yellow Brick Road, Kono mussels and Kiwa. Now, they are poised for even greater success with the launch of their new ‘K’ icon and brand, which draws on their compelling story of people, land and sea, and their legacy of innovation.
Their name, ‘KONO’, is derived from a flax basket woven to hold food. As a food & beverage producer and exporter of premium wine, seafood, fruit and natural fruit bars, this concept seems very fitting.
KONO is part of Wakatu Incorporation who represent shareholders from four Iwi / tribal groupings located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, a region also referred to as ‘Te Tau Ihu’. That is the name for the prow of a waka, or canoe, and reflects the story of the infamous demi-god Maui who fished up the North Island from the sea from his great canoe ‘Te Waka a Maui’ – one of the Māori names for New Zealand’s South Island.
Wakatu Inc were early leaders in developing Māori stories and brands for market since the establishment of Tohu wines in 1998. That saw them developing a suite of Māori symbols and concepts and stepping into market to test responses and make selection. At that point, most ‘Māori Brands’ were still in their infancy and tended towards images and symbols of self-proclamation, rather than being market responsive. Tohu has grown into not only an iconic Māori brand, but an iconic New Zealand brand, and one that is well recognised in their long-established offshore markets.
Kono’s story draws heavily on their role as kaitiaki, guardians, of people and place. Their responsibility as guardians of people is not only reflected in their commitment to returning dividends to shareholders, but also through Wakatu’s development programmes. Those include scholarships, employment opportunities and an associate director programme for aspiring Directors. Together, these initiatives, reflect their 500 year inter-generational vision ‘Te Pae Tawhiti’ or ‘distant horizons’, a future-focused strategy with no exit plan.
Their role as kaitiaki of place is more than talk, it is reflected in actions, like the current research initiative that explores the potential of Mussel Shell waste from one part of their business, to combat the Brown Beetle that preys on Marlborough Grape Vines, another part of their business.
This sort of kaitiaki-driven innovation demonstrates how the dual attributes of guardianship and ingenuity can deliver some amazing outcomes.
At the end of the day, an inter-generational Māori business like theirs can either survive and thrive or take a dive based on how they act and the reputation they build over time. ‘Mana’ is something inherent and inherited through whakapapa, an authority gained through genealogical connection to place. But almost more importantly for business, it is also earned through how others speak of you, based on how you treat them. Kono identify Manaakitanga as one of their core values and express this through the way they treat their customers and consumers, from how they host them, to the way they behave when they interact with them, understanding that everything they say, do and show will affect their mana.
Their role as kaitiaki and their deep connection with place is reflected quite simply in the mantra they have adopted: ‘love for the land and respect for the sea’, a love and respect that also extends to people.
Developing a new brand for Kono is no easy task, because whilst there is no shortage of rich stories, symbolism and content to explore and share with the world, their brand not only needs to respect and project that legacy, it also needs to project a contemporary image to modern customers and consumers.
Their brand needed to demonstrate the love, respect and integrity they speak of, in a way that will not only work for market, but will also stand up in the face of cultural scrutiny and accountability. That can mean facing a veritable ‘dragons den’ of elders and cultural experts who will be asking is it ‘tika’ (true/correct) and is it ‘pono’ (faithful to who they are and their values).
The design challenge is also an aesthetic one, drawing on the rich Māori visual vernacular where every line and every mark can have, or be imbued with, meaning. The challenge becomes one of alignment between visual and oral vernacular – is the design true to the story?
Based on what has been delivered, they have evidently risen to the challenge of marrying culture, commerce and creativity together in a compelling and sharable brand, and brand story, they can take pride in. In fact, word has it that one team member has taken such pride in it that he has had it permanently tattooed on his skin. Now that’s commitment, and there is a challenge to the rest of you.
Could you develop an enduring brand that you had so much pride in that you would have it permanently etched into your skin?