Unique Māori values drive international success

Looking for a place where culture inspires world-class products? We take a look at Kono, one of New Zealand’s most successful and innovative businesses, to see just how it’s done.

Kono is a Māori family-owned food and beverage company based across Te Tau Ihu, the top of the South Island. As part of Wakatū Incorporation, Kono has more than 4000 shareholders – all of whom are whānau or family.


While Kono is a whānau business, it is most definitely not small scale. They are one of the region’s largest private employers, and have grown into an internationally successful artisan producer. Today, the extended Kono whānau includes its stakeholders, suppliers, partners, and consumers around the world.

‘Kono’ is the Māori name of a woven flax food basket, and chances are you’ve sampled something from the company’s kono – if you haven’t, you really should. Brands include Tohu, Aronui and Kono Wines, Kono mussels, Tutū cider and Annies Fruit Bars. Kono is also involved with, lobster, apples, pears, kiwifruit and hops. Their award-winning products are enjoyed here in New Zealand, but are primarily exported around the world to more than 25 destinations including US, the UK, Europe and Asia. The sense of kinship or whanaungatanga that is so ingrained in Kono has been important in forging those international relationships with distributors and customers. As it turns out, the world loves being part of something good – something with heritage and story.

"They’re so happy to see you, talk with you, and learn about your life. You really do feel like you're part of the family. " Neal Horgan, GM Wine & Spirits, Total Beverage Solution (TBS), USA


Many would argue that products are only as good as the people and place they come from – and that might just be the secret behind the success of Kono. At the heart of the business is a strong sense of identity; of where they’ve come from and where they’re going. Their ancestors were kaitiaki, or guardians, of the land and sea – farmers, orchardists, fishermen, planters and providores – and today as kaitiaki they’re committed to passing that land and its resources on to future generations.

"We have to make sure that what we do now creates a positive opportunity for those who will follow behind us." Rachel Taulelei, CEO, Kono

Of course, it’s all too easy to write up company values, stick them on a wall and promptly forget about them. But Kono works hard to make sure theirs are lived by, and lived out: Rangatiratanga, leadership and excellence; Whanaungatanga, kinship with others; Manaakitanga, kindness and hospitality; Kaitiaki, guardianship of the land; Pono, integrity and openness; and Hihiko, innovation and improvement. Even better, you can see these values playing out in everyday business.


As a vertically integrated company, Kono owns the orchards, the vines, the marine farms and the boats. It’s their people out harvesting, fishing, transporting and marketing. It’s an incredibly transparent way to do business, and it allows the team the freedom to explore and innovate, like launching a cider brand from their own Fuji apples or recycling mussel shells to protect their vines (reducing leaf damage by 75% in the process).

"Kono has always been at the avant-garde or front end of a lot of enterprise, development and fresh thinking." Rachel Taulelei, CEO, Kono

Kono vineyards and winery sites are certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, an important tick of approval for both local and international consumers. The company also runs a long-standing initiative to replant native trees and flax, rebuilding natural habitats for native wildlife. And when it comes to innovation, their internationally-renowned Tohu Wines recently won the Wine Industry Innovation category at the Cawthron Marlborough Environment Awards.


Customers want to have trust in the people they are working with, and know they won’t disappear over-night. Well, Kono has a 500 year business plan called Te Pae Tawhiti, or the long horizon, to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s centred around their promise to the world – love for the land and respect for the sea – and together with their commitment to innovation, diversification, and strong relationships, it means they’re here for the long haul.

"They think so long-term, they think generationally. They are in it for the long haul. We don’t have a lot of trading partners that give you that real holistic approach to business. We might have a one or two year plan, but Kono think in terms of hundreds of years. For me that's really engaging." Dave Pardus, Founder & CEO, TBS, USA

Looking for a place to fill your food-basket? We know a place.

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