John and Sue Gibb are pioneers of New Zealand’s frozen berryfruit industry. Thirty-two years after starting their Stoke-based business the couple are taking their Sujon brand to new heights.
JOHN AND SUE GIBB ARE PIONEERS OF NEW ZEALAND’S FROZEN BERRYFRUIT INDUSTRY. THIRTY-TWO YEARS AFTER STARTING THEIR STOKE- BASED BUSINESS THE COUPLE ARE TAKING THEIR SUJON BRAND TO NEW HEIGHTS.
When John and Sue Gibb first met in Dunedin in the 1970s the possum fur trade was booming and John had a thriving possum fur buyerexporter business.
Unfortunately ‘bust’ often follows ‘boom’ and when the trade crashed they upped sticks and moved to Hope, on the outskirts of Nelson – purchasing a plot of land and planting boysenberries, blackberries, kiwifruit and raspberries.
The long term plan was to establish a kiwifruit orchard, but after harvesting their first berry crop they decided berries had more flavour and potential. So berries became the primary focus. Initially demand was strong. They sold berry-ingredients to juice, jam and ice cream manufacturers. But an oversupply of international berries eventually saw ingredient prices plummet.
John and Sue decided it was time to create their own future; they began taking samples of berries around supermarkets. Surprisingly all but one said there was no demand for berries, and so with just 3Guys Discount as a customer they started their retail business.
John attended a meeting about branding and marketing, funded by apple growers. He realised brands were the way to go. He told Sue “all we need is a brand; we can do that” and Sujon (a combination of Sue and John) was born.
Starting with boysenberries the company quickly expanded into blueberries and raspberries. Blueberries at the time were relatively unknown and research was only just beginning. The words ‘super-fruit’, ‘superfood’ and “’nutraceuticals’ had yet to be invented, recalls John. One day he came home with 400 kilos of frozen blueberries on his ute. Sue said “what the hell are we going to do with those”? The year was 1984. The Sujon frozen berryfruit business was born.
The milestones came consistently for Sujon.
In 1987 the frozen fruit retail market was launched via 3Guys. Exports of frozen berries and foodservice berries began in 1995, with