Tasman Bay Food Co

April 2022

A company using sustainable practice to manufacture a variety of packaged foods.

Tasman Bay Food Co. has developed into a leading food product and contract manufacturer based in the Nelson-Tasman region. It has grown significantly since founder Brian Hirst first planted grapes and boysenberries in Ruby Bay in the 1970s, and, after a number of business iterations, is now run by Brian’s daughter’s, Marina Hirst Tristram and Ainslie Pomeroy. 


Marina and Ainslie were educated in business and commerce, business administration and entrepreneurship, and worked in a variety of companies before joining Tasman Bay Food Co. They admit there are pros and cons in working with a family-owned business, but one critical advantage is the ability to be highly flexible in responding to markets, and another is to have direct and strategic influence over the company direction. And it appears to be paying off.


A variety of well-known goods are produced from the factory in Brightwater. Among which are Juicies, lunchbox-sized frozen cylinder packs, made from frozen pressed apples flavoured with fruits & berries. TBFC has been supplying Juicies to schools around New Zealand for more than 30 years, and exports to Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, as well as the UAE and many Pacific nations. They also make Moosies – a frozen milk snack with natural flavourings, and their own brand, Zesti, comprises a range of baked goods, biscotti, sunflower snacks, fruit bars, organic cookies, fruit & Christmas pies.


Tasman Bay Food Co also has a contract manufacturing arm to the business, with the capacity for medium to high volume production of individually wrapped and baked goods. They offer a range of packaging options, such as flow wrapping, automatic weighing and bagging, volumetric filling, and skillet cartooning. Among the products produced are long-life fruit bars, designed to provide nutritionally dense food rations for armed, emergency and relief forces in the Asia-Pacific region.


The factory can press fruit, pasteurise it and fill 3L bags for bulk supply to food product producers, or press juice for local cider companies. The company also produces a bulk chutney sauce base, a tomato chutney sauce, and apple sauce for further manufacturing by external companies.


Sustainable practices are at the core of business at Tasman Bay Food Co. Managing director Marina Hirst Tristram says, ‘I hate seeing things going to waste – even at home’ and that ethos and approach has been woven into the company’s fabric and practice.

While alert to the opportunities for further improvement, Marina explains several initiatives are already underway, with more being actively investigated – and all under ongoing review. 


One of their frozen products, Dr Feelgood frozen pops, was initially packaged in cardboard boxes but in Sept 2021, that was changed to home-compostable plastic wrap. Reducing plastics use in the food industry is a complex business. Marina says while a cardboard box was more environmentally friendly, there were challenges keeping the quality of the food high – as cardboard cannot be made completely airtight and there were instances of ‘freezer burn’ which led to unwanted food waste.


However, there are many other opportunities to ‘do the do’ of sustainability at TBFC. At the Brightwater factory, recycling of cardboard, plastic pellet wrap, steel drums, chemical contains, factory & engineering waste steel, polystyrene, office paper waste, cans, electronic waste, and batteries are standard operational activities. Cardboard cores and packaging are repurposed for local school and art projects. Food and apple pomace waste goes to local pig and dairy farmers. Plastic buckets, jerry cans, bottles, wood pallets, including broken pallets are collected and used by the Menzshed, the nationwide charity that provides a place for retired men together to work together on practical building and making projects. Food leftovers, paper towels and green waste from the office and factory team are composted. Short-dated products, over-runs, excess stock are donated to Kai Rescue, Salvation Army, as well as some sports & community groups, for fundraising. All one-way plastic pallets have been eliminated from the business supply chain, being no longer accepted from suppliers.


The factory has its own water bore, with systems in place to ensure a clean & safe supply.

Water used carefully at the factory, and carefully managed to reduce unnecessary use.


Marina explains they are currently exploring ways to reduce or deal with more difficult challenges, such as used plastic wrap & film, liquid waste in factory, used gumboots, disposable hairnets and boot covers.


An environmental project on land made available at the factory site is managed by Marina and Ainslie’s father (and company founder) Brian Hirst. He produces thousands of native seedlings that are gifted to native bush regeneration projects for riparian and other planting projects in the nearby Appleby Hills, and beyond. The company supports Brian and his team of volunteers, providing the land, some tools, potting mix, water and seeds. Currently, seedlings are being prepared to be sold for charity.


One of the company’s many success stories has been the rise of ‘Speedway Sauce’. It arose from their pursuit of low-waste manufacturing. “When we realised how good the apple pomace was was as base for sauces and chutneys, we decided to manufacture a cooked apple pomace base and see if it was of interest to other sauce and chutney producers”. And it was - particularly as the density of apple pomace as a base reduces the need for additional thickening additives, and its neutral flavour makes it a good base to take other fruit flavours or spices and seasonings. Speedway Sauce is sold in 5 and 20L bottles. It appears to appeal to consumers for several reasons, including its consistency (the thick base means fewer drips from sausages or hotdogs onto t-shirts) and being reasonably priced, is seen as value for money. While initially sold to food vendors through wholesale outlets, it is now available in 5 litre bottles to retailers, including the Mad Butcher stores.