If you’re going to set out to make the world’s finest dairy from a converted shipping container in the Bay of Plenty, it goes without saying you’re not taking the most conventional route. But conventions have never been something we’ve been much of a fan of anyway.
Madness, we thought. That here in New Zealand, a country which doubles as any self-respecting dairy cow’s dream home with its endless rolling green hills, we were importing butters all the way from…Europe! Absolute madness. Surely the country making the world’s best dairy produce, had to be the one given the greatest head-start by mother nature.
So we quietly set about restoring natural order to the world, bought ourselves an Italian butter churn and set it up in a converted shipping container. And from that shipping container, in Lewis Road, in the Bay of Plenty, we began our quest to make the world’s very best dairy. Madness, they said. Absolute madness.
It’s a funny old world isn’t it? Sometimes progress isn’t progress at all. Instead of making things better, it makes them an imitation of what they once were. At Lewis Road we’ve found some of our greatest innovations have been by going back, way back, to how things were done before compromise crept in.
We don’t ask how to make something cheaper, or how to produce as much of it as possible, we only ask ourselves this: How can we make it as it should be?
That one simple question is the driving force behind every single thing we do, from the people we hire to the packaging we use. Because real progress for us, is what it should be for everyone; making things better.
As you’re no doubt aware, we love new ideas as well. In fact, from the very beginning we’ve created an environment fuelled by exploring what’s possible; and quite frankly ignoring the rules set down by others of what can and cannot be achieved.
Our head office isn’t built around a boardroom table or a reception desk. Its main feature is its kitchen. There you’ll find there’s always some new idea simmering away on the stove, or being whisked together on the bench. And if it’s good enough, one day that same idea will make it onto your kitchen bench as well. If you’d like to be part of the Lewis Road kitchen, you can. From time to time we share new products and initiatives with our VIP friends for their honest feedback (don’t worry, we can take it) to make sure they meet your high standards, as well as ours.
As the sharp eyed among you will have noticed, our shipping container was decorated with the architectural drawing of a planned butter plant. We never did get to build it as events somewhat overtook us!
While we started with butter, we realised that other dairy products, milk most particularly, were also attention. Again, why should New Zealanders not have access to permeate free milk, or old fashioned non-homogenised milk, or real double cream, for example? We quickly found that there were passionate producers willing to work with us, to bring those products to market. And so Lewis Road grew as producers of dairy the way it should be, not as manufacturers. That has meant that we are free to look to new opportunities to create products New Zealand can be proud of, rather than focus on what we are able to manufacture.
The difference might appear subtle but the implications are significant. We are free to choose, work with, encourage and reward partners, so that our growth benefits many. Without over-egging it, we think this way of working is a real blueprint for the next generation of companies in the primary sector.
And our ability to keep growing is limited only by our imagination.
Lewis Road Creamery sells two ranges of milks. One, Organic, the other Premium. Both permeate-free. Our Organic milks (which make up the majority of the milks we produce) are sourced primarily (and usually exclusively) from Green Valley Dairy farms via the Organic Dairy Hub, a group of farmers whom we have supported from the start of their co-operative.
This is for us, the desired option as we have a good knowledge of the farms, the farmers and the milk. During periods when either demand is unusually high or production unusually low, GVD will obtain milk from other sources, including Fonterra organic milk for ‘top up’. This is very much the exception to the rule. But in all cases, what is done to the raw milk, including not using permeate, is a key point of differentiation. You can really taste the difference; it is quite remarkable.
We take our milk very seriously.
Part of the enjoyment of our business is working with and helping other like-minded businesses. Lewis Road Creamery suppliers make up is a little ecosystem of people who are equally committed to helping us provide the best possible products.
Core to our business is dairy and the core to dairy is the milk we use. We have two key partners here, Green Valley Dairies, an independently owned bottler who have their own farms which provides a substantial quantity of our milk and the Organic Dairy Hub, a group of farmers who have formed a co-op to foster the growth of organic milk. Lewis Road Creamery and GVD have been foundation partners of the Organic Dairy Hub.
Between GVD and ODH, we are able to keep a close check on every aspect of the process, from the farm to the bottle.
In addition to these partners, Lewis Road Creamery engages with a number of other, largely small, independently owned New Zealand companies to help us produce our range of products from bread to Chocolate Butter.
Our number of partners is an ever-growing one and covers everything from development, to production, to packaging and distribution.
But the one thing they have in common, is a passion for great food, the way it should be.
For us, grass-fed dairy in New Zealand is a no-brainer. Around the world, dairy from pasture fed cows is second only to organic for its perceived value. New Zealand should be famous for its grass fed dairy.
Yet that potential is completely compromised by some farmers’ use of Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE), the by-product of palm oil production. Even the smallest amount of PKE in the system removes New Zealand’s ability to claim its dairy is grass fed. And to make matters worse, the country’s usage of PKE is going up!
It isn’t just New Zealand’s reputation that is at risk through the use of PKE. Palm Oil production is responsible for some of the world’s worst environmental disasters including the burning of vast areas of native forest in South East Asia. Along with trashing rainforests, comes the risk to the livelihoods of local people and wildlife, such as orangutans.
From the outset we celebrated the fact that our Lewis Road Creamery Organic Milks were PKE free. And while we are confident our more affordable Premium Milks are more than likely free from PKE, we can’t guarantee it until we see the use of PKE stopped on all farms throughout the country. Same goes for our butter and ice cream.
Ideally we’d like a world without PKE. We’re not a big company but we can add our voice to this issue. And you could help by encouraging PKE producers like Wilmar International from exporting it to begin with. Check them out. Same goes for importers like Fonterra from bringing it in.
We’ve survived without PKE in the past, and we can do it again. Indeed, hats off to Landcorp, the country’s biggest farmers, for instituting a PKE free regimen across all their farms. If Landcorp can do it, so can everyone else.
Let’s put a stop to its use, and future-proof New Zealand’s reputation as a trusted producer of dairy products from cows grazing on green, green grass - nothing less.
We’ll keep you posted when we take our next step and hope we’ll get your encouragement.
Animal welfare is of paramount importance here at Lewis Road Creamery.
We source our organic milk from the Organic Dairy Hub and Marphona Farms (which is part of Green Valley Dairies). Both practice AsureQuality certified organic and ethical farming operations. The farms and the farmers take all comprehensive measures to ensure the optimal and healthy well–being of all calves and cows on their land, and apply good animal husbandry allowing the animals to exhibit innate behaviour.
These organic farms are committed to the safe and humane treatment of calves in line with the Animal Welfare Act. Calves are provided access to shelter, and fed fresh colostrum and milk until weaned, along with grass and hay. This treatment is for all calves whether they are being reared to become future dairy cows or reared for sale.
Farm fresh non-organic milk is supplied to Green Valley Dairies for our non-organic milk products largely from Marphona Farms and a small number of independent 3rd party farmers. Lewis Road Creamery, with Green Valley Dairies seek assurance from these independent suppliers also that humane welfare practices are employed for all animals and we will impose sanctions for any variations to this commitment.
We take animal welfare seriously. Our company strongly stands behind farms that practice ethical and safe farming methods - nothing less.
After all, happy calves and cows mean happy milk!