Bay of Plenty-based Heilala Vanilla has won the title of Exporter of the Year to the US - Under $1million, at the 2016 AmCham DHL Express Success & Innovation Awards.

Company co-founder and chief executive Jennifer Boggiss said the American Chamber of Commerce awards win came as the company was changing its US strategy to move towards online.

"The award has given us a renewed confidence and determined focus in the US as we continue our next phase of growth in this market," said Ms Boggiss. "Our strategy going forward for the US market will largely be a digital focus to support and build on our recent successful launch on Amazon."

The Te Puna-headquartered vanilla maker beat out three other finalists.

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The AmCham awards focus on exporters to the United States and the organisers said this year's finalists were some of the strongest the organisation had seen in the past 17 years.

In their comments, the judges said the company had successfully transformed from its beginnings as an aid project into a market-focused commercial enterprise.

"Heilala has aligned with influential food media and high-profile chefs in the USA, and has demonstrated a commitment to innovation through a collaboration with Massey University to create value-added products," the judges said. "The company has also established a foundation to support the local community in Tonga where the vanilla bean crop is grown."

Heilala Vanilla has been recognised by the food industry with multiple awards, but was entering the AmCham awards for the first time. Ms Boggiss said taking part in the awards process had helped the company solidify some key strategic objectives.

"It just exposes you to a whole new set of networks that we hadn't been in front of before and raises your profile."

Heilala Vanilla has been exporting to the US for four years, and had won some great accounts, she said.

"We have had a traditional bricks and mortar distribution model, but the cost is high for a premium, slower-moving product," she said. "We supply quite a few high-profile retailers, but they just don't do the volumes. So we launched on Amazon four weeks ago and it's going really well."

The winners were announced in Auckland last week. The Supreme Award winner, chosen from amongst the category winners, was Douglas Pharmaceuticals.