Chips from their home block
South Canterbury growers Ray and Adrianne Bowan have a bag load of ideas to expand their potato growing and chip factory business, from their travels to Asia and the United States.
The owners of Heartland Potato Chips have decided to grow their domestic business first, before looking at export prospects, after returning from overseas' journeys funded by a $15,000 travel grant, after winning the Lincoln University Foundation South Island Farmer of the Year competition in 2011.
Adrianne Bowan said meeting with the sales teams of large supermarket chains in Asia had enlightened them as to the scale of the retailing business.
"It opened our eyes to how these big businesses run and work. We hadn't dealt with that before and it was a huge learning curve for us and will not be an easy road [moving to the next step of export sales]. We went to Singapore and were excited about talking with these people in the big industry, but quickly realised we have a way to go in New Zealand first, and need to look after our New Zealand business first."
She said they were conscious of making careful planting plans to ensure they had enough potatoes to supply their markets.
The Bowans farm 1214 hectares in Orari, and 197 hectares at Coldstream, on the north bank of the Rangitata River. On the almost completely irrigated farm they grow potatoes, cereals, barley, maize and grass seeds, and winter dairy cows. The Bowans bought a potato chip factory in Washdyke when it closed down in 2009 and established Heartland Potato Chips, produced from their own potatoes. Their chips are sold in all New World and Pak 'n Save supermarkets, and in Countdown's South Island outlets, as well as some of their northern supermarkets.
Instinctively, they captured the home-grown appeal of their chips by illustrating the package with potatoes fresh out of the soil.
Bowan said the overseas' supermarkets quickly grasped the home-spun marketing.
"We thought for a start they wouldn't and wondered how overseas people would think about their chips coming from a potato covered in dirt, yet we were absolutely thrilled by their response with the packaging."
Many consumers wanted to know where their food came from and what was in the product they were eating, she said.
The Bowans went to Singapore in August and returned from the United States in November.
They planned their travels to incorporate the growing and factory business. In the United States, they looked at potato farming, machinery, spraying programmes and irrigation at Presque Isle in Maine, and talked to potato- growing experts.
Lincoln University Foundation trustees board chairman, Ben Todhunter, said the competition had created chances for top farmers to bring back the knowledge they gained overseas to benefit our agriculture.