On the surface, the Miraka factory looks much like any other dairy factory. It has the same familiar stainless-steel milk silos, and a regular stream of milk tankers trucking in and out.

For this company, the distinction runs a little deeper.

Uniqueness here doesn’t come from using different technology, constantly increasing production levels or huge profits. It stems from the values which guide all business decisions, farming practices and factory processes and is elegantly worded in the company motto: Nurturing our world.

Miraka is proudly Māori owned by a group of trusts and incorporations and is situated 30 kilometres northwest of Taupō in Mokai.

The plant has capacity to process more than 250,000,000 litres into powders and UHT products per year and is powered by sustainable and renewable geothermal energy. Milk is supplied by 100 farms within an 85 kilometre radius.

Miraka means milk in te reo Māori, but to Kaitiaki o Te Ara, Murray Hemi, it means more than that.

“One of our mantras within our organisation is 100 farms for 100 years,” he says.

Coming from a mixed professional background Murray entered his role in 2019, with a fresh way of thinking. His role is to ensure Miraka remains sustainable and successful long into the future through regenerative and restorative production practices.

“I realised that until people can swim in the rivers and breathe the air, people aren’t going to make significant change,” he says.

“[At Miraka] we aren’t different in that we use a different truck or different chemicals or a different technical process. We are different from a fundamentally cultural and philosophical position.

“Our thinking and our processing is long term. Our journey and our farm supplier’s journey need to be well aligned.”

This requires a strong vision, and for the vision to be adopted by everyone within the production process he says.

“Miraka is offering an alternative that is meaningful for us from our histories, our traditions, our leadership and our philosophical beliefs.”

These beliefs centre around empowering people rather than solely on production.

“The byproduct [of Miraka]is milk and we can make some money from that, but ultimately what we do here is find great people who can make great choices so they can be great leaders in their work place, great leaders in their family and great leaders in their community.”

Sustainability is another core part of the company’s philosophy. In fact, the Mokai factory was the first whole milk powder processing factory in the world to use renewable geothermal field to run its plant.

The company also has zero waste endeavors and any biological waste created during the drying process is sent to be composted at the neighbouring worm farm.

This is then used to nourish a native plant nursery available to suppliers to use in their riparian planting.

Miraka brought together strands of experience and skills from a seemingly unrelated professional background for Murray but taking on the role felt “morally and spiritually right.”

“It’s part of my upbringing, part of my heritage and part of my traditions as a Māori person that these things from generation to generation always hold true and they always endure. It’s nice, in a modern processing, manufacturing context, to find a space where those traditions and those values have a chance to be expressed and reflected in a modern context.

“It’s really a chance to exercise, expand and extend those long held intergenerational values into a space that’s relatively new and relatively novel for them to exist, but I suspect it’s the evolution of the modern economy.”

Paul Trewin, general manager operations, has worked in the dairy and food industries for more than 25 years in many countries across the globe.

For him, the fundamental difference is working within a forward-thinking company.

“It really does have that family feel and you’re held accountable. It’s a small company. You can’t hide anywhere and that aligns with our values,” he says.

“It’s rewarding for me, having worked for some multinationals. Miraka has the values to drive the paths onto the next generation.”

His goal is creating a world class operation which means management can leave and work on strategy for three months and be assured everything will still be operating at a high level when they return.

“We create an engaged work force and we have measures and processes in place so people can work out a solution to problems we face day to day.

“This isn’t something new – many food companies and manufacturers around the world use a similar process. We aren’t reinventing the wheel but what we are doing is incorporating the Miraka values into our world class system.”