BERRY LE­GENDS

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - BY GLENN BAKER

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.

CON­SIS­TENT GROWTH

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

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