Fries business built from the ground up

Last updated 05:00 08/01/2014
jac bleeker
FRY FOUNDER: Makikihi Fries founder Jac Bleeker bought his love and innovation to the potato industry.

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Founder of well-known South Canterbury firm Makikihi Fries, Jac Bleeker, came to New Zealand in 1952 with £23 in his pocket and a love for the potato.

From then he was heavily involved in potato growing and innovation in the industry.

Mr Bleeker died on Christmas Day, aged 84.

Born on October 29, 1930, in Heerhugowaard, Holland, Jacobus Bleeker was the third son of Cornelius and Alida Bleeker. Part of a big family, he had seven brothers and four sisters.

Mr Bleeker attended agricultural college and gained early agricultural experience on his father's farm, which specialised in potatoes and cabbages.

"His love of potato remained but not cabbage," his wife of 57 years, June Bleeker, said.

At age 22, Mr Bleeker arrived in New Zealand in 1952 on the ship Sebaiajk.

To earn money, he worked on a variety of farms, including Mr and Mrs Milmine's farm in Teschemakers. He began shearing and, in 1955, started work at the Pareora freezing works.

While at the works, he met his future wife, June, whom he married in 1956.

Mrs Bleeker said a plot of land was a requirement for putting down tracks and they bought property in Makikihi in 1955.

After badly cutting his arm at the freezing works, Mr Bleeker returned to farming, growing his first crop of potatoes in 1957.

Mrs Bleeker said that, when he was young, he liked to do building and brickwork and had an appreciation for engineering. He used his engineering skills to build a potato harvester, which they called Spudmik, from scratch in 1960.

They needed somewhere to store the potatoes, so in 1962 they made 5000 concrete blocks for the shed, which is still standing today.

They supplied Aulsebrook in Dunedin with potatoes to make crisps.

However, because the potatoes deteriorated quickly on the trip from Makikihi to Dunedin, they built a factory in Makikihi which they leased to Aulsebrook for 18 months.

Mrs Bleeker said her husband always wanted to do his own thing with potatoes and, in the empty factory, started his own french fries company.

The Makikhi Fries company started producing chips in 1983 and was run as a family business, with Mr Bleeker as owner and worker, Mrs Bleeker as secretary and their sons doing the growing.

Mr Bleeker retired at the age of 77, selling the factory to a son and moving to Timaru. He was also the chairman of the Makikihi school board and served on various boards including the now defunct potato board.

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He is survived by his wife and four children.

- The Timaru Herald


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