Indigenous | Japanese

Business owners forge ties with Japanese clients at international expo

Māori business owners are showcasing their products at one of Japan’s biggest food expos with plans to build on the similarities between te ao Māori and the Japanese culture.

“They have hapū, they have iwi and they have a hierarchy that’s similar to what we find within Māoridom,” says one of the businesspeople, Joe Harawira. “I think all of that translates to the foundation of a really great relationship.”

The food and beverage companies taking part include Kaai Silbery of Go Wild Apiary, Thomas Netana Wright of Ao Cacao, Timmy Smith of Pause for Tea, Joe Harawira of Wai Mānuka, Baden Woodman of Lone Bees Wine and Steve Bird of Steve Bird Wines.

They will be taking part in the Japan International Food and Beverage Expo (JFEX) during a week-long tour hosted by the North Asia Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence. The six business owners will set up a hub together, among 900 other exhibitors and 27,000 attendees, from 70 countries.

Joe Harawira, of Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Te Rangi, is the chief executive and co-founder of Wai Mānuka, a premium non-alcoholic beverage that infuses mānuka honey with lemon juice and sparkling water.

“This trip is hugely important for the business because we have a small export trial in Tōkyō at the moment and that’s gone really well. So this is really an opportunity to build off an existing partnership to really accelerate growth of our product and brand within the market,” Harawira says.

“In addition to that, there are so many similarities between Japanese and Māori culture that I’m really keen to learn more about, and hopefully that leads to those values being the founding aspects of any long-term partnership.”

Oren Dalton, of Ngāpuhi, is the Creative founder of Lone Bee Sparkling Honey Mead. Mead is the oldest alcohol beverage known to humankind and predates wine and cider. Dalton’s product is made from New Zealand’s finest clover and mānuka honey.

“This opportunity is so great because we will be sharing our product with potential customers and gaining that exposure… Giving them a taste of our product is key. So hopefully we can share a lot of Lone Bee with those potential customers.”

Thomas Netana, of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua and Te Whakatōhea, is the owner of Ao Cacao. He made his start in the chocolate business, learning under his teacher from Osaka, Japan, and has primarily worked with indigenous producers and Pacific farmers.

“Chocolate has a dark history where Indigenous people were the bottom one per cent and, as an indigenous man myself, my goal is to bring us up to the top one per cent, and to indigenise the industry in a way that is the right way, and it’s all about whenua; it’s all about culture.”

The owner of Tarahina Honey, Kaai Silbery, hopes to open a channel to market her honey made in the Chatham Islands.

“It’s the first time Chatham Island honey has come to market. I’m looking forward to that, and learning all the legalities, and how we can export from there.”

Products that have a ‘point of difference’

Silbery, of Tainui, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Rākaipaaka, says Tarahina Honey prides itself on healthy bees by providing a disease-free sanctuary.

“By finding those solutions and working with other apiarists and other companies to help fight diseases and things like that for our honey industry. Not just for New Zealand, but throughout the world.”

Timmy Smith is the owner and founder of Pause for Tea, selling sugar-free sparkling tea. Even though Japan has tea in cans, Pause for Tea’s point of difference is sugar-free carbonated drinks.

“We do a full team experience where we take people through the whakapapa of the different teas and we really connect the story to both Papatūānuku and Ranginui and how our ngahere was actually a gift,” says Smith.

“So we really lean into the whole pūrākau (story) of having our teas as an entity that will give beyond just the presentation.”

Shared values

Potential Japanese clients are likely to show interest in Māori-owned products because of the values that Māori and Japanese share.

“There are lots of reasons why there’s this really great connection that extends beyond trade itself. It’s more around a spiritual relationship connection,” Harawira says.

Harawira says meeting potential clients in person is also going to be beneficial.

“Any sort of business or trade relationship isn’t transactional. Whether you’re dealing with Māori or Japanese, there’s no such things as sitting around a table and nutting out a business deal and signing it off and getting it done. You have to do that whanaungatanga piece, you have to really understand on a personal level that particular partner right down to: Are our values aligned? Is this focused on the long term?”

Steve Bird Wines is a small family-owned and operated wine business built on manaakitanga. Owner Steve Bird has more than 20 years of experience in the industry making ultra-premium New Zealand wine for the export market. During the trip to Japan he hopes to close a deal with a client he’s been in touch with for over a year. Meeting in person is going to be important culturally.

“We like the cultural element that comes with the Japanese businesses that they tend to be very stable, they’re around for a long time and, once you develop a partnership, it tends to last. That’s quite important for us,” Bird says.

“There seems to be a general affection for the type of people we are and for one thing it’s the lack of pretence. You see what you get, you get what you see. The integrity is there, the authenticity is there, and we know, for the Japanese that we are dealing with, authenticity is everything.”

The six businesses taking part in the trip were chosen by the North Asia Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence. Senior adviser Laura Bunting says priority was also given to those in the earlier stage of export, who would unlikely have the opportunity otherwise.

“All six of these businesses are special due to their unique brand stories, representing not just themselves and their products, but also their ancestry and values which comes through in all respects of their business. This is particularly important in Japan, where business relationships come first. It also strengthens them to stand out in a highly competitive market,” Bunting says.

CAPE’s senior adviser of Māori engagement, Rachel Kingi, is also looking forward to the success of participants.

“I hope that they are able to make the connections needed to expand their business into the Japanese market. It is also important to me to be a part of this journey to share our unique way of doing business especially our stories with the world. It is exciting to see how brave Māori are in the current climate – daring to test a new market.”