New Zealand Manuka chief executive Karl Gradon says the company's win at this month's ExportNZ BOP awards comes down to its focus on innovation.

"We've disrupted the industry at every point along the way," said Mr Gradon. "Our most compelling innovation is the whole way we work with our community, our employees, and our final products."

NZ Manuka, which won the Page Macrae Engineering Innovation in Export Award, has in particular invested significantly in farming manuka trees. The company has been propagating and planting seedlings, grown in partnership with Rotorua research institute Scion, which will be mechanically harvested. This year the company plans to plant 4.9 million manuka trees, 25 times the number planted last year.

"No one planted manuka before the way we are planting it, so we had to go and invent the machine to plant it," said Mr Gradon. "No one had done the intensive trimming and maintenance of manuka plantations, so we had to find ways to do it."


The company was set up by manuka honey pioneer Phil Caskey and is engaged in a variety of activities, including processing seaweed into laboratory grade agar and bio-media, producing a range of UMF Manuka Honey and natural health products, and turning manuka leaves into a range of essential oils and bio-actives. Based in Awakeri, the company has a processing operation at Opotiki and works with an array of stakeholders, including beekeepers and landowners via partnership arrangements, in particular Maori trust groups in the East Cape.

The judges praised NZ Manuka for connecting local communities and their natural resources with consumers worldwide for highly differentiated, prized essential oils, and health and well-being products that were uniquely New Zealand.

Mr Gradon said the way NZ Manuka worked with its community underpinned everything.

"We're willing to work in ways that the Maori trust landowners get a fair share going back to them, which is a sustainable business model for them, not just us," he said.

- See Friday's business page for a profile of Phil Caskey, who won this year's BOP Export Achievement Award.