From small-town start to the world

EMMA BAILEY
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013
michael barker
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ

ENTREPRENEURSHIP RECOGNISED: Michael Barker after winning the supreme award at the South Canterbury Business awards in 2009.

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They have taken Geraldine produce to 1600 supermarkets in Australia. Barker's managing director Michael Barker tells business reporter Emma Bailey about the successful brand his family has built over the last 43 years.

How did Barker's come about, what is its history?

My parents, Anthony and Gillian Barker, were farmers who diversified into making fruit wines. In the 1970s we made elderberry wine, strawberry wine, negus, ginger negus, creme de cassis liqueur and many other delicious wines.

Then in the 1980s we started processing the local blackcurrant crop and launched Barker's Blackcurrant Syrup which went on to become the No 1 blackcurrant syrup and outsell Ribena. The Barker's of Geraldine range of jams, chutneys and sauces followed.

Meanwhile, we have been developing New Zealand's leading range of fruit fillings, toppings, chutneys and condiments for the baking and hospitality industry.

When has been the biggest periods of growth for Barker's and when?

We have grown our business in each and every year over 43 years, but the largest gains have been over the last 10 years.

What are the toughest aspects of your business?

Building any business is hard work because only the best businesses keep surviving to fight the next round. If you want to succeed you need huge personal commitment and you have to develop and build your personal resilience to cope with the constant challenges.

How many products does Barker's produce?

About 80 products are sold to supermarkets in New Zealand and Australia and we also make a wide range of fruit and vegetable-based products for food service and bakery customers.

What have been the challenges?

Transitioning from a small entrepreneurial family business to a larger organisation is a major challenge for all growing businesses. During this transition it is critical that you retain the same values and the same factors that made your business successful in the first place. We are continually searching for the best people to enable us to compete internationally.

What have been the highlights?

We receive a lot of really positive feedback from customers and that motivates us to keep developing more exciting new products that will keep the accolades flowing. The whole team at Barker's got a real buzz from winning the Supreme Award at the inaugural South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce Business Awards several years ago.

How many staff do you employ?

Approximately 170.

How many hours a week do you work?

Far too many. Seldom less than 60 hours per week.

Where to from here?

We are developing our business in Australia, where Anathoth Jams are now available in 1600 Coles and Woolworths supermarkets and we have three sales staff based in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane promoting our bakery and food service range.

We are also developing new markets in Asia with work underway in Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, India, United Arab Emirates, China, Hong Kong and South Korea. Meanwhile, we are focused on training and developing our staff to improve the processes and efficiency within our factory.

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Barker's managing director: Michael Barker

What is your age? Mid 50s.

Where did you grow up? Born on a farm at Pleasant Point and grew up on the farm at Pleasant Valley where our business is based.

Although most of this farm has been sold we are proud that our factory is still located on a corner of the old family farm.

What is you education?

Bachelor of horticultural science at Lincoln before joining the family business back in 1980.

What is your favourite food?

Anything cooked by my wonderful wife, Brigitte, and, of course, it must be accompanied with a Barker's condiment such as my favourite blackcurrant and red onion jelly and washed down with a glass of Berrylife or our very latest health tonic Vegelife.

What is your favourite song?

When my daughters are not monopolising the airwaves, I still get a great buzz from those magnificent rock bands of the 1970s.

If the world ended tomorrow, what in your life so far would you be proudest of?

Building an iconic New Zealand brand and making great tasting products that are loved by so many fellow New Zealanders.

Who is someone that has inspired or mentored you?

I am continually inspired by all the people who I work with. Their skills and commitment have complimented and supplemented my families' efforts to create a lasting business.

- The Timaru Herald

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