New Zealand’s number one pesto retail brand has moved to source all its basil onshore, exponentially increasing the basil-growing industry and helping sustain it through the challenge of COVID-19 Lockdowns as well as boosting the local economy.
Genoese Pesto, based in Horowhenua, had until recently obtained all the fresh basil that went into their award-winning products from Fiji, having anywhere from a few hundred kilograms to a tonne per week flown in.
However, issues around supply continuity, freight costs, biosecurity, and a concern for the environmental impact of the air miles involved led Genoese to find a New Zealand grower, securing a contract with Southern Fresh Foods in Cambridge, Waikato.
Genoese Pesto co-owner Andrew Parkin said they had been maxing out the volume of supply from the farm the business owned in Fiji, and when the first COVID-19 lockdowns occurred, they knew they needed to look for the security of supply here in New Zealand.
“We’d been doing trials in New Zealand of a collaboration between Genoese and third-party growers,” said Parkin.
“Luckily, those trials coincided with the first lockdowns, and we were able to scale them, so we did actually have a supply available onshore when we couldn’t get it over from Fiji.”
Shortly after, the decision was made to close the Fiji growing operation, and Southern Fresh Foods took the reins of supplying fresh basil for one of the most recognisable, authentic pestos in the country. Genoese’s pesto is found on supermarket shelves, in top restaurants throughout the NZ hospitality sector, and as a key ingredient of other high-quality products.
The timing was also fortuitous for Southern Fresh Foods, as a large stock of fresh basil, destined for NZ hospitality businesses and unable to be used by them due to the most recent Lockdown, was able to be taken on by Genoese.
Southern Fresh Foods sales manager Garth Dunn said taking on the contract with Genoese increased their basil-growing by 30 percent.
“We’ve always been closely aligned with Genoese and are very happy to be supplying them with New Zealand-grown basil,” said Dunn.
“There has been increasing interest amongst consumers about where product ingredients are grown as well as where the products are made, so for Genoese to be able to offer both NZ-grown and NZ-made is a win.”
However, there are some challenges with using NZ-grown basil, said Parkin.
“Fiji could grow most of the year round, but in New Zealand, it’s basically only the summer months, with harvesting from January to March, so we have to bunch up the year’s production, involving up to 4 tonnes of basil into 2.5 to 3 months."
A combination of some indoor hydroponic basil and developing new processes at Genoese to process the herb with high-quality olive oil and freeze it has helped mitigate these.
The company, which began in Levin in 1993, holds 50 percent of the retail market share for pesto. They’ve forged a successful path by sticking to their values and making authentic, fresh, and natural products with no preservatives, hidden additives or substituting basil for other greens.