Leadership Network member
taking Mokai milk to Asia

On an average day at work, Leadership Network member Jason Te Brake is just as likely to find himself in a Chinese supermarket as New Zealand paddock.
Man stands in supermarket beside his products

Jason Te Brake alongside Miraka’s UHT milk products and accompanying marketing video at one of Beijing’s Wu Mart supermarkets.

Jason, who grew up on a Waikato dairy farm, is chairman of New Zealand Young Farmers and is the key account manager at Maori-owned milk processor Miraka.

Located in the small settlement of Mokai some 20 minutes’ drive northwest of Taupo, Miraka’s milk processing plant is about as far away from the mega-cities of Asia as you can get. The plant is unique in the dairy industry for being fuelled by geothermal energy.

Jason’s job is to help get the company’s UHT (ultra-high-temperature processing) milk onto the shelves of supermarkets in China and Southeast Asia.

He says New Zealand leads the pack when it comes to producing consistently good products in an ethical way, which makes his job easier. 

“What I enjoy is leveraging off that New Zealand story to get our products into the market and get better returns for our products.”

Jason regularly heads to Asia to find new customers and build on existing ones. He says New Zealand businesses need to be more present in their overseas market, though he understands it’s not always possible.

“Being in-country is the ultimate best-case scenario. However, the nature of it is that New Zealand companies, apart from a few, have limited resources to be able to place people in markets full-time.”

When he is in Asia, Jason takes every opportunity to learn as much as he can about the culture of the place and what local people want.

“It’s just the little things, like their tastes can be slightly different to ours,” he says.

Being curious about people’s tastes and preferences is his tip for Kiwi food and beverage businesses wanting to sell their products to consumers in Asia.

“New Zealand needs to be always thinking ‘What do the customers want and how can we meet that based on what we’ve got in New Zealand?’ as opposed to ‘This is what we produce and how much are you going to pay us for it?’”

Jason says businesses can also trip themselves up with simple cultural faux pas.

“Like some cultures have certain numbers that mean bad things to them, so you try and avoid using those numbers in contracts or in pricing; or, if we put the wrong colour on there [packaging], then that product could be doomed right from the start.”

Jason will be on familiar stamping ground when he joins thirty other Leadership Network members at the network's Agrihui in Hamilton this month.

The hui will bring together members of the Leadership Network with an interest in the agriculture industry and a group of Southeast Asian agribusiness leaders who will be in the country as part of the Foundation's ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (YBLI). It will coincide with the agricultural expo Fieldays (15-18 June), which particpants will also be attending.

Jason says meeting the ASEAN YBLIs will provide him an opportunity to gain further understanding of the Southeast Asian market for agricultural products.