Tongan exporter's impressive growth in NZ


New Zealand’s significant Pasifika population is a substantial consumer of root crops imported from the islands. However, this produce has tended to be restricted to the informal distribution and retail network in geographical areas with large concentration of people from the Pacific Islands. <!--more-->

[caption id="attachment_7524" align="alignleft" width="138"]<a href=""><img class="size-full wp-image-7524" src="" alt="Melesisi Finefeuiaki with packaged frozen Taro bound for New Zealand." width="138" height="104" /></a> Melesisi Finefeuiaki with packaged frozen Taro bound for New Zealand.[/caption]

Consistency in the quality of produce, packaging and consistency of supply have been issues that supermarket networks have had to deal with in stocking and selling produce from the islands.

But one produce exporter from Tonga, Lotopoha Export Trading, is now supplying New Zealand’s Supervalue supermarket stores in the Auckland suburbs of Mangere Bridge and Otahuhu, where many Pacific Island communities have traditionally shopped owing to large concentrations of their populations there and nearby suburbs.  Frozen taro, yam, cassava and giant taro are available to New Zealanders in new packaging with a professional look and feel from the Kingdom of Tonga.

Pacific Islands Trade &amp; Invest (PT&amp;I) NZ started working with Lotopoha Export Trading in 2013 and assisted the company with the development of its retail barcodes through collaborative workshops led by Pacific Islands Trade &amp; Invest, GS1 New Zealand and the Ministry of Commerce, Labour &amp; Tourism in Tonga. PT&amp;I also helped with packaging solutions through the Tongan Government’s National Packaging initiative, a collective packaging solution (‘Kingdom of Tonga Packaging’) for produce exporters from Tonga.

In 2014, the company had the capability to export consistently to New Zealand. Therefore PT&amp;I successfully introduced Lotopoha Export Trading to Supervalue. Subsequently this has resulted in three trial shipments before securing a full container order earmarked for retail in South Auckland.

These are two areas where PT&amp;I has added value to Lotopoha Export Trading. “The main benefits were the link to Supervalue and the assistance to complete the bar code for the business,” says Lotopoha founder Melesisi Finefeuiaki. “It is also the capacity and PT&amp;I’s ability to connect us to appropriate businesses.”

Now Ms Finefeuiaki employs more people to assist with the peeling and packing process. What began as a growing operation in a small area of her ancestral village has now grown to include other villages around the main island of Tongatapu. “This link to Supervalue has allowed us to engage more than 50 labourers at different times during the trial shipments and the first full order,” says Ms. Finefeuiaki.

The new Kingdom of Tonga packaging has stood out in the freezer and has given this exporter a competitive edge in the market.

Deep Giarn of the Supervalue chain says he is happy with the quality of product, its packaging and consistency of supply provided by Lotopoha Export Trading. “The quality is consistently good and the bags, unlike that which similar produce coming from other island nations, is excellent. The national branding also establish credibility,” he says.

Supervalue says it is increasingly confident about the ability of Lotopoha to increase production and exports. It has recently added Wellington to its distribution destination for Lotopoha products. Mr Giarn says, working with PT&amp;I did help establish the business relationship with Lotopoha in a constructive and definitive manner. From an LCL shipment less than two years ago, Supervalue now imports container loads from Lotopoha.