WAYNE and Maureen Startup never dreamed the four olive trees in their Havelock North backyard would turn into 17,000.

But that is what happened, after they decided to go full-time with their hobby 15 years ago.

The Village Press, which takes its name from their hometown, is the biggest and most competitive olive oil operation in New Zealand. Its high-quality olive and avocado oils are stocked on shelves around the world - and the business continues to grow.

Mr Startup, whose apt surname originated in Kent, England, is giving us a tour of his site.

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In January the business moved its operation from Sileni Estates to a larger 1800sq m premises on Kirkwood Drive, Flaxmere.

"We needed more room," he says of the move.

The new operation is "a lot bigger" and the equipment has three times the capacity for production.

His staff has grown 50 per cent in the past 12 months, due to increasing sales and a branching out this year into avocado oil production.

It is all hands on deck at the factory - the harvest for olives has just begun and runs to July.

Meanwhile, avocados harvest from October to March, which means the factory will be active almost year-round.

"Now we're able to employ more permanent staff, as opposed to offering seasonal work," he says.

Olives must be pressed as soon as they come off the tree, while avocados need time to ripen.

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Avocado oil has a much higher smoke point, so is ideal for searing meat and frying in a wok, while olive oil is more flavorsome and makes for an ideal dressing. The oil from the avocado is another nutritious, premium product to add to their arsenal.

"It made perfect sense that we'll become a producer of other nutritious, New Zealand oils."

The four trees they discovered in their garden 15 years ago were the remnants of an experiment by Sir James Wattie, who had encouraged his mates to grow the plants to see if their fruit would be viable for canning. However, the bounty proved not to be of a suitable variety.

"We were puzzled as to why no olives were grown in Hawke's Bay. We started growing more of them on our property," he says.

They realised there was a niche for good New Zealand extra-virgin olive oil with a realistic price, and decided to step up from hobbyists to commercial growers and producers, supplementing their expertise with research trips to olive producing areas of Australia, Israel and Italy. Mr Startup says he does not miss his previous working life as a chartered accountant.

They ran trials on various species and imported a second hand press from Italy to set up their processing arm at Black Barn Winery.

An increase in production necessitated a move to Sileni Estate, where they operated for 10 years before their most recent expansion.

Now they have 17,000 trees, covering 30ha, at their groves at Ngatarawa Winery, which they have progressively planted over the years. They export to 12 countries, with a particular focus on the Asian market. Countries such as Taiwan, Japan and Korea are seeing a surge in olive oil popularity as they embrace Western cooking. Free Trade Agreements have given exports a boost, and the business works closely with John Bostock's Asian marketing arm.

They are the third-most sold Olive Oil brand in New Zealand supermarkets, and can also be found in eateries throughout the country, and even on Air New Zealand's business class flights.

As the biggest operation of its kind in the country, they have enjoyed significant growth since they began - their revenue has grown by a factor of 10 over the past six years.

Mr Startup says one of the drivers of success is his vertically integrated business model. He and Maureen oversee the entire production process, from fruit to the bottle. They own the groves, the equipment and the bottling house, so they enjoy a high degree of traceability.

This "unique" set-up allows quality control, and keeps prices in check because they avoid contract fees, Mr Startup says.

"We're probably the only New Zealand company doing everything in-house. It eliminates a whole lot of cost."

Another point of difference is their focus on healthy, nutritious, premium New Zealand products.

They deliver nutrient-rich oils via biological horticulture, a combination of organic and conventional methods, focussed on increasing soil humus levels and improving vitamin and mineral levels in food. "The whole philosophy is that the fruit density is full of the vitamins that were being leeched out of the soil."

Despite having grown in leaps and bounds, the business also maintains a commitment to the Hawke's Bay Farmer's Market, and this regular interaction with customers keeps them grounded.

Mr and Mrs Startup have done "all the hard yards" at farmer's markets and food shows throughout the country.

"We've had 14 odd years of early Sunday starts since the market started.

"We think it's very important. It enables you to get an immediate reaction from the buying public."

These days, they divide their time between Hawke's Bay and Auckland, to be closer to the major domestic market.

Hawke's Bay is an ideal place to grow and process food - it has a pool of people with expertise in the food production sector. It also has excellent growing conditions for olives, such as long sunshine hours and free-draining soil.

The climate does not have the humidity like other regions that cause some disease to the trees.

One of the press's particular olive varieties, the Barnea olive, has proven to grow well only in the Marlborough and Hawke's Bay regions.

Mr Startup says perseverance and a supportive team of shareholders has driven growth.

The team includes Tony and Vicky Casey and their son Nathan, Stuart Webster from Napier and chairman Mark Weldon, former CEO of the NZX, who joined 18 months ago.

The plan for the Village Press is to continue producing quality oils on the world stage, with a view to quadrupling revenue in the next four years.