Miraka - Placing kaitiakitanga at their core.
For Māori-owned dairy company, Miraka, kaitiakitanga (guardianship) is at the core of their business. Strategic partnerships, day-to-day operations, and consumer relations are all informed by a Te Ao Māori world view and underpinned by a vision to ensure long-term, intergenerational impact.
Based 30 kilometres northwest of Taupō, Miraka and its staff of almost 150 people work closely with their supply partners to process and deliver milk with as minimal environmental impact as possible. The company is committed to taking bold steps today that will future-proof the dairy industry and the local communities they serve. This kaitiakitanga approach provides Miraka with a unique point of difference in the market, something they are incredibly proud of.
As Chief Executive Karl Gradon explains: Kaitiakitanga is not just a strategy, it’s a value. We do everything with that in mind. That’s what makes Miraka different.”
Partnering with like-minded and like-hearted organisations.
The whakapapa of Miraka started with collaboration when a number of Māori trusts embarked on a “bold move” to generate more value for Māori business, Karl explains. They partnered with Vietnamese company, Vinamilk, and the Global Dairy Network to form Miraka in 2010.The company’s infrastructure is built on what Karl says is their “taonga”, geothermal energy. Steam is sourced from Tūaropaki and, as it moves through the processing plant, it is cleaned and reboiled, ensuring Miraka has a 92% lower carbon footprint in their processing facility compared to other coal-fired boilers.
These “visionaries”, as Karl calls them, have paved the way for the Mokai closed-loop ecosystem Miraka operates in. This system sees the steam used to power Taupō and the South Waikato District, also power the boilers in Miraka’s plant. This is then transferred across the road to heat the greenhouses for local premium produce. The offcuts from this greenhouse and the DAF, a nutrient rich by-product from Miraka, is then combined and used in a worm farm. From there, the worm farm creates a compost which 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. They are proud to have strong relationships with local iwi, hapu, marae, trusts and councils. A long term aspiration is to have ‘100 suppliers for 100 years’ signalling a long-term focus on strategic partnerships that are grounded in a shared values system.
Miraka is also committed to incentivising their suppliers, paying premium prices based on their core values, including suppliers’ treatment of the whenua, animals, waterways and their staff. Te Ara Miraka (The Miraka Way) is their Farm Excellence Programme which is underpinned by kaitiakitanga and will continue to evolve to better meet the needs of farmers as they strive to raise the bar for on-farm practice.
Accelerating the Miraka journey.
The Miraka journey so far is one of bold ambition and Karl says the company’s plans for the future are just as aspirational, with Te Ao Māori principles continuing to guide their path.
In the coming years, Miraka will look to accelerate their kaitiakitanga strategy, focusing on strengthening their existing relationships and ensuring brand partners can extract value from Miraka’s unique story. They expect their 100-strong supplier base could grow to 140 over the next few years.
The next significant development for Miraka will be to tap into hydrogen which is being produced by Tūaropaki Trust (a shareholder in Miraka). Tuaropaki has partnered with Japanese company, Obayashi, to establish Halcyon Power which operates the hydrogen plant down the road from the Miraka plant. 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.
While he says the company’s approach is not without challenges, and economic and environmental compliance models in dairy are changing all the time, Miraka is proud to be aiming above and beyond compliance to find ways to actively facilitate growth, empower suppliers and meet increasing consumer demand for leadership in kaitiakitanga and sustainability.
He says the sector shouldn’t underestimate how the next generation perceives the dairy industry and maintains it is important that the food and fibre sector explores ways to stay ahead of the curve and move up the value chain, through collaboration.
Karl’s first Te Hono Bootcamp was at Aoraki in 2022, an experience he says was “moving”, and provided him with both a compelling reason to make change and the confidence that Miraka’s grounding in kaitiakitanga and focus on strategic collaboration, is the right way forward for the company.
“It [Aotearoa Bootcamp] wasn’t about the food and fibre industry, it was actually about the greater impact we are having as a collective, on the planet,” he says.
Karl believes it is critical to the industry’s long term future that the food and fibre sector continues to tell the story of Aotearoa as ‘New Zealand Inc’ and what makes us truly unique on the world stage. While emerging parts of the sector – oat milk for example – could be viewed as a threat by some, Karl sees there is significant opportunity to be better and bolder as a collective.
“We shouldn’t see all of these other emerging parts of the sector as competition,” he says. “They are actually there to raise the bar for New Zealand Inc.“