Starting at the marketplace and working backwards has been fundamental to Maori-owned berry exporter Miro's successful investment in blueberry production.
Inugurated by 29 whanau shareholders, Miro was started two years ago with a plan to use high-value horticulture as the vehicle to create wealth for its people.
Miro CEO Liz Te Amo told the 2019 MyFarm Investments Symposium "The world loves blueberries and it can't get enough of them, and Miro decided to be part of the solution."
However, Miro has been extremely strategic in its approach to positioning itself as a global supplier.
"For New Zealand to be successful in a crop like blueberries, the only path we could take was to mirror Zespri's model. That meant generating a premium based around plant IP, packaging, brand and New Zealand's reputation for safe, high quality food."
After undertaking global market research and validation and raising $10m in capital one of Miro's first moves was to form a partnership with Plant & Food Research to develop plant IP. "We haven't quite landed on owning a PVR yet, but we will do eventually."
Taking cues from the market has informed other key strategic decisions in Miro's short life. "We know Chinese people understand blueberries to be specifically good for eyesight, and brain function. But they link the product's value with their freshness. 'Frozen' blueberries do not carry weight. As a result, Miro knows it will be airfreighting its berries to China for a long time yet to obtain a point of difference over South American rivals, who sea-freight which takes 41 days".
Miro is also being cautious about how it positions it's brand in international markets. Te Amo says "Miro is probably not a brand you would take to market on a punnet. Brands are about what is important to consumers. That said, there is an international fascination with Maori culture and there is an awareness of the authenticity of our people. But we have to make sure it is relevant to the consumer, not relevant to us."
Miro has access to world-renown varieties from Australia's Mountain Blue Orchards, one of the four notable breeding programmes around the world.
Miro has orchards on nine sites in New Zealand with blueberries grown under tunnels and in pots to take the wind and soil risk out of the business. It applies intense precision agriculture, with everything measured going in and out. The bushes grow to about three metres high and are in pots between 7 and 9 years. Miro has between 3,500 and 4,500 pots per hectare.
Te Amo is under no illusions about the challenge of positioning Miro berries as a premium New Zealand product, particularly without a production point of difference. "With our global marketing partner BerryCo we are constantly looking at the emerging global volumes and pricing in market. Despite wrapping a NZ story around our berries and trading off New Zealand's reputation for safe, high quality, fresh, clean and green food products, we are still going to be competing with Chile and Peru, and of course there are lots of berries grown in China. We will get a premium in China – the question is how much."
Partnerships have been the other factor central to Miro's fast growth. Te Amo says "If you want to move fast and learn fast, you have to partner."