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Kaitiakitanga through bold visionary change 

From day-to-day operations to strategic partnerships, New Zealand’s first Māori-owned dairy company, Miraka, is driven by kaitiakitanga. The company is propelled by this Te Ao Māori world-view of guardianship for the natural environment, and underpinned by a vision to ensure long-term, intergenerational impact. 


Chief Executive Karl Gradon (Bootcamp IX) says that this kaitiakitanga approach provides Miraka with a unique point of difference in the market. 


“Kaitiakitanga is not just a strategy, it’s a value. It’s how we do everything, and it is what makes Miraka different.” 


Miraka (te reo Māori for milk) is one of New Zealand’s largest Māori export businesses, seeing more than NZD$300 million of premium dairy products exported to markets around the world each year. 


Based 30 kilometres northwest of Taupō, the company is built on a taonga of renewable geothermal energy, where the team of almost 150 people process and deliver milk with the minimal environmental impact possible, including one of the world’s lowest carbon footprints. 


Global partners aligned for value Karl explains that Miraka grew out of collaboration, when several Māori trusts embarked on a bold and visionary move to generate more value for Māori business using their taonga of geothermal energy. 


They partnered with Vietnamese company, Vinamilk, and the Global Dairy Network to form Miraka in 2010, with the ambition of using milk production to bring prosperity to the local community, while applying world-leading sustainable farming practices. 


“As the geothermal steam moves through the processing plant, it is cleaned and reboiled. Miraka’s processing facility has a 92% lower carbon emissions manufacturing footprint compared to coal-fired plants,” says Karl. 


These visionary collaborations paved the way for the closed-loop ecosystem Miraka operates in today. 


Karl explains that the geothermal steam used to power the plant’s boilers is then transferred across the road to heat greenhouses growing premium produce. The offcuts from this greenhouse and other nutrient-rich dairy by-products are then used in a worm farm to make compost. The compost in turn nurtures a native nursery, the trees from which make their way back to the local whenua. It is a unique ecosystem and one that firmly grounds Miraka in the community. 


“We are proud to have strong relationships with local iwi, hapu, marae, trusts and councils. Our long-term aspiration is to have ‘100 suppliers for 100 years,’ reinforcing our focus on strategic partnerships which are grounded in our shared values system,” says Karl. 


Miraka is also committed to incentivising its milk suppliers, paying premium prices based on suppliers’ treatment of the whenua, animals, waterways and their staff. Te Ara Miraka (The Miraka Way) is a Farm Excellence Programme which is underpinned by kaitiakitanga and continually evolves to better meet the needs of farmers as they strive to raise the bar for on-farm practice. 


Accelerating the Miraka journey 

If the Miraka story so far is one of bold ambition, the company’s future plans are just as aspirational, with Te Ao Māori principles continuing to guide the path. 


Karl and Miraka Chairman, Kingi Smiler (Bootcamp III, VII, IV) found Te Hono to be the accelerator needed to remain focused on this journey.  


“Bootcamp gave me confidence that Miraka’s grounding in kaitiakitanga and focus on strategic collaboration continues to be the right way forward for the company. It wasn’t about the food and fibre industry, it was actually about the greater impact we are having as a collective, on the planet,” Karl says. 


“The sector shouldn’t underestimate how the next generation perceives the dairy industry. It is important that as a food and fibre sector, we explore ways to stay ahead of the curve and move up the value chain, through collaboration. 


“We believe it is our responsibility to find ways to actively facilitate growth, empower suppliers and meet increasing consumer demand for products founded in kaitiakitanga and sustainability. 


“Now, for example, we are looking to tap into hydrogen which our shareholder Tūaropaki Trust produces nearby. This hydrogen asset would be the first at scale for New Zealand and could result in the transformation of Miraka’s entire truck fleet to hydrogen,” says Karl. 


Miraka sees the future of the food and fibre sector as a remarkable journey, one where Aotearoa proudly showcases its uniqueness to the world. While some might perceive emerging segments like oat milk as potential threats, Karl discerns them as boundless opportunities to reach new heights together. 


"We mustn't regard these emerging facets as disruptors or adversaries," he emphasises. 

Miraka extends a warm embrace to both disruptors and competitors as catalysts for elevating Aotearoa New Zealand Inc. on the global stage. 

“In New Zealand’s role as a nation renowned for world-leading nutrition, sector leaders are called to champion our exceptional quality, collectively raising the standard across every category and in every market. Together, we forge a path to an aspirational future where our nation's legacy shines brightly, inspiring innovation and excellence in all we do,” says Karl. 

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“Kaitiakitanga is not just a strategy, it’s a value. It’s how we do everything, and it is what makes Miraka different.” 

Karl Gradon 
CEO, Miraka 
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Our long-term aspiration is to have ‘100 suppliers for 100 years,’ reinforcing our focus on strategic partnerships which are grounded in our shared values system.” 

Karl Gradon
CEO, Miraka 
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