Its frozen smoothy drop, branded Kaitahi Smoothy Drops, is made from native vegetables and botanicals from the taonga species, including kūmara, pūhā, kawakawa and rewarewa honey.
The product, coming in three different flavours, can be consumed just by melting the frozen drops in liquid. It was first retailed in 2018 after winning the Fine Food Most Innovative New Foodservice Product Award in the same year.
The company behind the product is Kaitahi As One, a food and beverage business of the Maori tribe Ngaa Rauru Kiitahi.
Expanding the product’s retail presence will be a focus for the company amid two recent award wins.
Last week, the High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge awarded research funding worth NZ$54k (US$38.5k) to the company.
On the same week, its frozen smoothy drop also took home the Small Suppliers with New World award during FoodStarter – a nationwide competition that awards innovative food and beverage products.
The competition is supported by domestic supermarket chain New World and the Ministry of Awesome which aims to drive start-up and innovation growth.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Arohaina Owen, who leads the Kaitahi Working Group, said the focus at the moment would be to expand its supermarket retail presence, as well as exploring the organic foods store channels.
In the past 11 months, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Owen said the product’s retail presence grew from 27 stores to 80 stores.
It is commonly consumed as a dessert or snack for children and is popular amongst the health conscious. On social media, the company noticed that it has garnered the most interaction from women in their 20s to 30s.
“Our focus of the business is on retail now, so we are going B2B2C at the moment to increase brand awareness and to be able to have the ability to take control of the smoothy consumption at home.
“Currently, our products are sold in supermarkets. One of the things that the HVN research will allow us to do is to be able to look at health stores.
“We don't currently have organic claims because not all of our products are organic, which is a big focus in New Zealand for health and wellness foods. We need to overcome that before we can target that market, but it is part of the plan for sure,” she said.
At the moment, the products do not have any health or organic claims, but the benefits of each ingredients are highlighted on the product label.
The HVN research fund will first focus on validating the nutritional benefits of the ingredients and products and move on to bioactive identification at the next stage.
With the research findings, the smoothy drops may be able to make nutritional or functional health claims.
In addition, the company is exploring export opportunities and has identified Australia as a potential destination.
“When we think of exports, there are regulatory restrictions, so we need to overcome those to each country, but the dream is definitely to go global.
“We are focused on the sustainability of our ingredients, so we need to ensure that we can meet demand as well as ensuring that we are giving back and that we maintain sustainable products for our tribe and our country,” said Owen.
The scientific research project is conducted with the Riddet Institute Centre of Research Excellence at Massey University and consulting organisation Smart Regulatory Solutions.
“Kaitahi is an example of a progressive and competitive Māori enterprise invested in their iwi by providing employment in a valuable industry,” said Joanne Todd, High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge Director.