Young Southeast Asian
entrepreneurs explore NZ f&b scene

Seven young Southeast Asian entrepreneurs spent a whirlwind week in New Zealand last month getting to know the food and beverage scene here and visiting some of this country's more innovative businessess.

Watch this video to get a taste of the entrepreneurs Wellington visit

The group were in New Zealand as part of the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (ASEAN YBLI), which looks to build connections between emerging business leaders in Southeast Asia and New Zealand.

In Wellington’s Leeds Street, which has transformed from a semi-industrial back alley into a hub of innovative food and beverage businesses in recent years, the entrepreneurs took in a tour of Wellington Chocolate Factory, where they heard from co-founder and managing director Rochelle Harrison.

Harrison spoke about establishing her business and building it into a thriving ethically-minded company, which is looking to increase the business it does with Southeast Asian cocoa farmers.

They also met Fix and Fogg chief executive Roman Jewell and visited his unprepossessing peanut butter shop tucked away in a side alley off Leeds Street.

It was an opportunity for Harrison and Jewell to strengthen their existing relationships with Southeast Asia and reconnect with the YBLI programme. In 2015, the two of them took part in the YBLI trip to the Philippines. On the trip they met farmers working in the cacao, coconut sugar and eco-tourism industries and learnt about the local food and beverage scene.

Visiting Ripe coffee roasters gave the group insight into a NZ business that works extensively with Southeast Asian suppliers

Hang Do, vice-president of business development at Seedcom – a Vietnamese investment firm focused on retail, logistics, agriculture and food and beverage – says it was little surprises like Wellington Chocolate Factory and Fix and Fogg that particularly piqued her interest.

“It was quite a surprise; I would never think in New Zealand the Kiwis are developing such cool, artisan food products that can potentially be very popular abroad,” she says. “Very high quality, good design, good stories…It is quite an enlightening learning experience.”

The group also visited Ripe coffee roasters in Petone and watched the roasting of a batch of beans before sampling a brew.

Ripe's connection to the YBLI programme dates back to 2014 when a coffee tasting at the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington brought together Ripe co-owner Jason Hall and visiting Indonesian YBLI member and coffee entrepreneur, Indradi Soemardjan.

Four months after their meeting, Soemardjan sent his first shipment of West Java beans to Ripe, and shortly after representatives from Ripe visited Soemmardjan in West Java to see his operation in action. Ripe continues to import beans from Soemardjan.

The busy day ended at the Foundation’s offices with an Asia After Five networking event. Bakery chain owner Talita Setyadi, who had earlier spoken at the Wellington Le Cordon Bleu graduation ceremony, and Alan Goh, Oddle (Singapore), spoke about their respective journeys growing food and beverage businessess in Southeast Asia.

It wasn't all work and no play for the YBLIs - they also took in a bit of sightseeing

And that was just Wellington. From there the group moved north visiting Hamilton, Bay of Plenty and Auckland, visiting food and beverage businesses from those regions, including manuka honey producer Comvita, Tatua dairy company, Zealong Tea Estate and Enzed exotics – growers of Kiwano, also known as horned melon. The week culminated with the two-day Auckland Food Summit conference.

ASEAN YBLI project manager Adam McConnochie says it’s pleasing to see the networks and connections made through YBLI growing and strengthening.

“For example, on this visit we visited several companies working together because of previous YBLI connections. This is good for New Zealand’s economic growth and it really plays into the Foundation’s mission of equipping New Zealanders to thrive in Asia.”

Since 2012, the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative has brought more than 70 dynamic entrepreneurs and business leaders from Southeast Asia to New Zealand, building business connections and facilitating trade links. The initiative has also enabled New Zealand entrepreneurs to participate in sector-specific programmes in Southeast Asia, including a food and beverage tour to Indonesia, an agricultural visit to the Philippines and a tech visit to Thailand.