About 160 of the Bay's leading businessmen attended the Bay of Connections E.A.T. Breakfast & BNZ Bay of Plenty ExportNZ Awards Launch this week to hear a trio of top exporters share their experience.

"It's great for us to be aligned with such an important part of the community," said ExportBOP's executive officer Angela Wallace, announcing the formal kick-off for the awards, which this year will take place on June 17 at ASB Baypark.

Ms Wallace acknowledged the role this year of Bay of Connections, the regional growth strategy grouping, which is supporting the awards for the first time, along with sponsors for the five award categories.

The highlights of the launch breakfast came in the presentations by three leading exporters who shared hard-won wisdom from a range of experience and expertise. The speakers were Sir Graeme Harrison, founder and chairman of ANZCO, one of New Zealand's biggest meat companies and exporters, Tony Ponder, founder and director of Southern Produce and director of AVANZA, and Jacob Kajavala, managing director of Kajavala Forestry and co-founder and director of Switchkites.


Bay of Connections chairman Doug Leder said the group was delighted to be partnering with ExportBOP and noted that the speakers were all achievers. "They've been there, done that and learned from their experience."

Mr Ponder's company exports avocados, apples, kiwifruit and blueberries to markets including Australia, Asia and the US, and he was one of the key figures in setting up the AVANZA and AVOCO joint export marketing arrangements for avocados. Southern Produce had a strong direct to retail strategy, supplying leading supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths in Australia.

He noted that Southern produce had put a lot of effort into managing relationships with the two major supermarket chains, including developing separate branding and using separate staff for each. "That has allowed us to maintain the confidence of each supermarket chain," he said. "For us it's about education, helping consumers understand the difference," he said. Mr Ponder also noted the importance with retailing produce of being able to maintain a 12-month supply.

In conclusion, he noted the importance of strengthening businesses for future growth. "For me and other founders of businesses, it's acknowledging as an entrepreneur that, as the business evolves, you should no longer be everything to everyone. You have to invest in good people."

Mr Kajavala co-founded Switchkites with the goal of developing a global brand of kite boards using an online direct marketing model to offer competitive pricing by cutting out retailers. He noted the difficulty of establishing credibility with customers, which the company had successfully navigated by using top kite board sailors as endorsers, and offering to replace boards if a customer had any query on quality issues. Mr Kajavala said Switchkites now had about 3 per cent of the global market.

"It's all about creating that foundation of trust, that brand validation," he said.