Thursday, 28 January 2021 11:25

Leaderbrand expands its footprint in South Auckland

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
LeaderBrand chief executive Richard Burke (left) with Sutherland Produce's John Sutherland. LeaderBrand chief executive Richard Burke (left) with Sutherland Produce's John Sutherland.

Leading New Zealand fresh vegetable grower LeaderBrand says it is thrilled to be cementing its roots in Pukekohe, South Auckland.

The Gisborne-based, family-owned business has taken full ownership of another family-owned business Sutherland Produce, after acquiring 50% of the operation in 2013.

LeaderBrand chief executive Richard Burke told Hort News that securing full ownership of Sutherland Produce was a natural extension of the company’s strategic plans.

 “Our initial deal in 2013 was really a step for us into the Pukekohe area, and we’re thrilled to be permanently putting down roots with the completion of the purchase seven years later.”

Burke says the relationship with the Sutherland family is “a vital integrated supply partnership”. The Sutherland Produce business on Mill Road, Bombay grows lettuce, broccoli and silver beet.

Established in 1975 by Murray McPhail, LeaderBrand has farms located around New Zealand, growing approximately 3500ha of fresh produce each year for process, domestic and international customers, with a staff base of 200 permanent staff, and an additional 300 seasonal staff through the summer harvest period.

It grows, packs and exports a wide range of fresh vegetables including broccoli, lettuce, sweet corn, buttercup squash, tomatoes and pumpkins.

Growing internationally acclaimed Chardonnay and Pinot Gris grapes and owning one of New Zealand’s most modern salad production facilities rounds out the scope of the business.

Burke says the horticulture industry is facing the same challenges in all regions: around water, land use and finding staff for summer harvest periods.

He says Covid-19 has brought additional challenges to vegetable growers.

However, LeaderBrand – which does 80% of its business with supermarkets – has come through the Covid disruptions mostly unscathed.

“A positive for our business was that we were allowed to trade during the lockdowns,” he says.

“We take our hats off to our staff for their efforts during the lockdowns.”

Burke expects no radical changes to its South Auckland operations. He says it will be business as usual and the Sutherland family will continue to be involved and the 60 full-time staff are retained.

 “The Sutherland family has a legacy of quality growing, excellent systems and a very well run business, so we’re looking forward to continuing our great relationship with John Sutherland and the team,” Burke told Hort News.

“One of our big strategic drivers is to get consistency in supply, quality and food safety across all of our growing regions in New Zealand and that’s what this deal was always about, so we can offer our customers the same excellent crate of produce whether they’re in Invercargill or Kaitaia.”

Sutherland Produce’s John Sutherland followed in the footsteps of his father Don who established the farm 43 years ago. He says the united approach and access to scale and resources is a highlight of the working relationship with LeaderBrand.

“We’re absolutely passionate about growing quality vegetables and always knew that the vision for the Sutherland family and McPhail family to join forces, harnessing our combined knowledge and common interest in growing quality produce, was a very strong proposition for the industry,” says Sutherland.

While John will be taking a step
back from an active role in operations, he – along with his daughters and nephew – will remain involved in the business.

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