27 Nov 2020

Fiji businesses reflect on 2020 in NZ

1:00 pm on 27 November 2020

Fijian businesses are reflecting on a tough year in the market after facing devastating impacts brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and April's Cyclone Harold.

Ironically the disruption of global supply chains presented new opportunities for Fijian businesses, particularly in the New Zealand market where importers were increasingly looking to expand their suppliers' network beyond South East Asia.

Over the past decade, Fiji had been New Zealand's top trading partner in the Pacific, with the two-way trade of goods and services reaching over $NZ1 billion annually.

Fiji exports over $50 million of goods into New Zealand each year including garments, pharmaceutical products and fresh produce.

But this year has been a challenging one with a lack of tourism activity due to Covid adversely impacting the economy.

Bula Coffee is a Fijian industry that predominantly attracts tourists as consumers, as staff member Rachel Wood explained.

Bula Coffee from Fiji

Bula Coffee from Fiji Photo: Copyright 2020. All rights reserved / Fiji Trade Commission Australia & New Zealand

"We have been hugely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as tourism is our main source of income.

"We sell our products in cafes, souvenir shops, resorts, and those are places where we have a lot of traffic from tourists.

Bula Coffee started in 2011 when the founders found coffee berries growing wild in the bush.

Committed to reduce this waste they started working with a small village to pick the beans. There are now 38 villages in Fiji that are growing and processing the berries to beans.

Once the coffee is processed it travels to Sigatoka by horseback to be packaged and sold around the world.

"The company was set up as a social enterprise and one of our main values is helping women into employment, an important group of Fijians who potentially can't get jobs because of the demands they have in their villages," Wood said.

"In Fiji, a lot of the workers in resorts and tourism industry work long days and a lot of women can't leave their village for the day to go work in a resort because they have to look after their family, so we have been supporting them to become organically certified and they can work in their village.

Panpac, one of the leading importers and distributors of Fijian products in New Zealand, is trying to ride out the economic storm.

Since 2012, they have been distributing products such as Bongo snacks and Fijian alcohol beverages; they have recently launched Fiji Sugar into the NZ market.

Rajiv Prasad from Panpac

Rajiv Prasad from Panpac Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

General Manager Rajiv Prasad said Covid-19 affected their supply chain.

"It has been a roller coaster ride for us in terms of supply chain because most of the products that we normally import are from Fiji, so just trying to meet the demands of our consumers was tough at times.

"However, as far as business here in New Zealand, we were not impacted by pandemic. It was business as usual, but we did have moments where we were out of stock in most of our common range," Prasad said.

Over five years ago, Chris Wyllie and his partner Rusila Vere established Tavulomo Coconuts with the goal to re-educate Kiwi about the different types of cold pressed coconut oils.

Chris Wyllie from Tavulomo Coconut Processing Ltd

Chris Wyllie from Tavulomo Coconut Processing Ltd Photo: Copyright 2020. All rights reserved / Fiji Trade Commission Australia & New Zealand

Wyllie said Covid-19 affected his boutique business with slow payments coming to them from clients.

"It really affected us. We were slowly getting paid for example, one client paid us 9 months later, and in Europe, Paris is usually one of our bigger markets, but that's quite slow for us right now," he said.

Tavulomo organically grows coconuts from sustainable plantations in Bua, Vanua Levu. Their products bring financial benefits to two villages (about 20 families) as each shipment involves hand picking over 4000 coconuts.

Tavulomo's processing facility in Raviravi Ba, also creates a unique opportunity for women to become financially independent as they mainly employ female staff to process the coconut water and coconut meat for export.

However, for the owners of Island Style peanut butter they have seen the pandemic-related struggles as an opportunity.

"We couldn't find a natural peanut butter in Fiji, so we took matters into our own hands," Gary Pickering.

"We couldn't find a natural peanut butter in Fiji, so we took matters into our own hands," Gary Pickering. Photo: Copyright 2020. All rights reserved / Fiji Trade Commission Australia & New Zealand

Gary and Heather Pickering's journey with the product began when the family took a holiday to Fiji.

"We couldn't find a natural peanut butter available in the local market, so we took matters into our own hands and decided to create one," Gary Pickering said.

"My sister said, hey there's someone selling peanuts on the side of the road, so we pulled over, bought some peanuts and took it back to her house and roasted it with some Fijian coconut oil she had at home and made peanut butter and it was so good."

Pickering worked in the tourism industry for a few years - up until this year when he lost his job due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We've looked at it as a real blessing as it's allowed for us to focus on our peanut butter business and plan our move to Fiji in January next year to live in Nadi and work.

"We would like to partner with local farmers to grow Fijian peanuts and explore more options to source most of their ingredients from Fiji.

"Ultimately, our business aims to create employment opportunities for Fijian communities and support other organisations who are working with early childhood learning," he said.

The Fiji Trade Commission to New Zealand plays a pivotal role in building and maintaining trade relations between both countries.

The Auckland based team assists Fijian companies, which are export ready, to introduce their products by connecting them with New Zealand's main importers, distributors and retailers, and an example was at this month's Food Show.