Chatham Island Food Co’s seafood feast box including premium blue cod fish fillets, Pure Pāua mince and crayfish tails

Food producers spanning the breadth of Aotearoa from the Chatham Islands to Akaroa and its length from Southland to Northland were among the champions in this year’s Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards, with Chatham Island Food Co named Supreme Champion 2022.

It’s the first time in the awards six-year history that seafood has taken out the top award.

Established by seventh-generation Chatham Islander, Delwyn Tuanui and his wife Gigi, Chatham Island Food Co has turned the Chatham Island’s distance into a positive. It’s isolation – 800 kms east of the South Island – means a pristine environment which is reflected in the flavour and quality of its harvest. The business processes its marine harvest on the island, freezing in the flavour to share with seafood lovers across New Zealand.

Studying agriculture in Melbourne in the early 2000s was life-changing for Del. He met Gigi on his first day and came to appreciate the love for quality of seafood from the Chathams when cooking it for friends and later supplying it to top Sydney and Melbourne restaurants. In 2015, the pair purchased a rundown fish-processing plant on Wharekauri and Chatham Island Food Co began in earnest. Now they employ 25 staff and work with 30 fishing boats.

In addition to being named Supreme Champion 2022, Chatham Island Food Co was named Seafood New Zealand Water Champion for its Pure Pāua. The judges’ feedback was glowing: “The real deal, a substantial authentic mouthful.”

Announcing this year’s champions, head judge Lauraine Jacobs says she was “Delighted to see both new and old companies and growers recognised as Champions. Consistency is paramount in any product and our winners – for the most part – are from a group that continue to display passion and pride in production, while carefully ensuring their practices never infringe on the sustainability of our land for future generations.” She also says, “2022 had been the most exciting year for the Awards to date. Each year has seen not only growth in the number of entries, but the quality of food continues to rise in every category.”

In another first, this year’s Giesen Paddock Champion was awarded jointly to Middlehurst Delivered, Lamb Short Ribs and Bostock Brothers, Organic Free Range Marinated Butterfly Chicken.

The judges thought Middlehurst Delivered, Lamb Short Ribs were ‘exceptional’ offering ‘melt in the mouth, pure meat.’ Sisters Sophie and Lucy Macdonald founded the business in 2020 to deliver 100% grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free merino lamb from their parents’ farm (Middlehurst Station) in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley directly to consumers.

The 2022 Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards saw the return of 2020 Supreme Champions, Bostock Brothers Organic Free Range Chicken. This year they received two awards – joint winners of Giesen Paddock Champion and Sustainability Champion. The sustainability judges’ said Bostock Brothers had an ‘impressive circular story of the food supply chain and developments in renewable energy, mixed land use and waste.’ Hawke’s Bay brothers Ben and George Bostock pride themselves on letting their chickens grow naturally, feeding them home-grown organic maize and giving them longer, happier lives. Bostock’s chicken is free of chemicals and antibiotics and when it comes to processing their product does not receive chlorine baths.

Hawke’s Bay is home to a second champion – Emerson’s Dairy Champion; Nieuwenhuis Farmstead Cheese, Marinated Cloud, Fresh Goat Cheese in Oil. Nieuwenhuis Farmstead Cheese has been making and selling their delicious goat cheese from their Te Hauke farm since 2018.

Farro Earth Champion; was J.Friend & Co, Frame Uncut Raw Comb Honey. Presented for sale as its harvested from the wild in a wooden frame, the tasting judges said: “Beautiful, gooey, crystal clear, floral. Fantastic presentation. An excellent product which we can’t fault.”

Another return winner is Label & Litho Drink Champion; Hill Road Orange Juice. Gisborne’s Hill Road was the inaugural Drink Champion in 2018. Since then, they have grown their business establishing an online store and growing and selling finger limes (which were also awarded a Gold Medal). Recognising the quality of their pure orange juice the judges said ‘Sharp clean flavour, juicy, vibrant. Excellent.’

FMCG Business New Product Champion is Nut Brothers, Peanut Butter Probiotic Cranberry. Founded by three nut butter-loving mates over a beer in 2014, Nut Brothers now has a diverse range of nut butters with Peanut Butter Probiotic Cranberry being its new addition. The judges said ‘Great peanut flavour and crunchy texture. Fruit element marries nicely with the crunch adding softness and a touch of sweetness.’

Other winners were: Akaroa Salmon received the NZ Life & Leisure Spirit of New Zealand Award; Robbie’s a preserve maker from Gore was awarded Free-From Champion for its Robbies Artisan Collection, Noir Gärlik, Black Garlic Sauce, gluten free; Emerging Business Champion was Opito Bay Salt Co; Wellsford’s Salty River Farm was the inaugural Outstanding Fresh Produce winner for its Lettuce Baby Leaf & Edible Flower Mix; and Coast Kiwis’ Favourite Food Producer was Matangi Angus Beef; while Coast Kiwis’ Favourite Farmers’ Market went to Otago Farmers Market.