Beetroot meringue roulade might not be what the average consumer is thinking about when they’re planning weekly meals for the family.
But for Gordon McPhail, providing solutions for busy consumers is exactly why this improbable-sounding dessert is on the website of his company, LeaderBrand Produce, one of New Zealand’s most recognised horticultural businesses.
Identifying problems and finding solutions permeates every level of the company, which grows approximately 3,500ha of fresh produce each year on four farms near Gisborne, Waikato and Canterbury for sale to processing, domestic and international customers.
GM Farming at LeaderBrand Produce Ltd
“Recipes get the attention of consumers and educates them on our products - and consumers want ideas on what to eat,” Gordon explained.
“These are real problems and providing a big range of recipes is one solution we’ve identified to help solve them.”
LeaderBrand’s core business is supplying fresh healthy vegetables year-round, including fresh packaged salads, broccoli, lettuce, and seasonal products like corn and squash, to the domestic market. With more than 300 permanent staff and up to an additional 300 seasonal workers, the company has grown to be a completely vertically integrated business managing every step from seed to market.
LeaderBrand adopted vertical integration after identifying it as the only solution that could meet its aim of being truly responsive to customer and consumer needs. Controlling every step of the process allows the company to react with precision to changing requirements – an essential ability when the company’s brand is on retail shelves throughout New Zealand.
“Farming and marketing are very different skill-sets, so it was important we were at a size that could sustain a sales and marketing team for our core products,” Gordon said.
“Key for us has been having the right ecosystem of products. It’s not always about size, it’s about the most efficient system, finding out what you’re good at, what products work well together, and focusing on those.”
At its extreme, this approach may even mean discontinuing traditional and profitable product lines if they don’t fit with the company’s “ecosystem” or ethos.
LeaderBrand has applied this talent of understanding and responding to changing consumer needs in its response to COVID-19.
“Apart from keeping our people safe, we lost some markets such as our food service and Quick Service Retail for two months, so we had to look harder to build sales in existing channels and look at new ways to get product to market,” Gordon said.
“We relied on staff to come up with solutions and they were fantastic, developing effective approaches to hygiene, social distancing, picking, marketing and more. Farming throws up constant challenges and, in some ways, COVID-19 is just another disruption that affects consumer behaviour that we need to adapt to.”
While solving problems is at the heart of the LeaderBrand business, having engaged and motivated employees is the cardiovascular system that brings these solutions to life.
“Many farmers say they don’t want the hassle of staff, but for me developing staff is probably the most fun and rewarding thing I do, and we literally can’t run our business without them,” Gordon said.
“As an industry I think we need to make agriculture more attractive for potential employees.”
“By no means are we perfect, but we have several hundred employees and I have seen they respond well to a culture that gives them accountability and an opportunity to grow.”
“I’ve also seen people reflect their workplace environment. People might come here because we have comfortable facilities or they can drive the latest John Deere tractor, and when they drive a clean tractor or have lunch in a tidy room they reflect that environment in the paddock or packing sheds.”
“They take care in what they do and take pride in their work, and that’s very empowering for them and rewarding for the business.”