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Cottage-industry firm grows with a relish

By Graeme Kennedy

Friday 4th July 2003

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Auckland chutney and relish business Cotterill and Rouse, a true cottage industry born in a Ruatoria farmhouse kitchen 14 years ago, expects multi- million-dollar growth following the acquisition this week of Christchurch Middle East foods producer Olive Grove.

Managing director Lesley Cotterill said she hoped to increase turnover, currently about $1 million for each company, to between $5 million and $7.5 million within three years by introducing new products and expanding food service activities.

Greater efficiencies would come from transferring Olive Grove's manufacturing to the Auckland plant and taking advantage of the former South Island company's chilled product distribution system.

Olive Grove produces chilled foods including hummus, falafel mix, dukkah dip and frozen felafels that won a Massey University food award last year.

The company was formed about the same time as its new owner by Christchurch businessman Peter Stokel and his Lebanese-born wife who made Middle Eastern food for themselves and friends before taking it to the supermarkets.

Ms Cotterill started her business making kiwifruit chutney with the help of a government regional development loan after working in the orchard at her husband's sheep and cattle farm and wondering what could be done with the excess fruit.

"I felt if James Wattie could start in his garage, I could do the same in the kitchen to produce good-quality New Zealand products of the sort Fortnum & Mason sells to the rest of the world ­ I'm still working on that," she said.

She was helped in the early days by girlfriend Dot Rouse who although not involved in the business shares the brand name in acknowledgement of her assistance.

"The kiwifruit chutney did not appeal to the New Zealand palate ­ although we are exporting it and two jam varieties ­ so I set about building a brand with other fruit.

"We are best-known in the supermarkets for our chutneys such as mango and apricot, orange and tomato Kasaundi from the Goa region of India and, most recently, beetroot and orange.

"We are a small business so we can move quickly when there are opportunities for innovation ­ beetroot is the in flavour now and we developed this beautiful relish that will revolutionise the Kiwi hamburger.

"New Zealanders traditionally had tomato sauce with everything but that is changing and they have become very receptive to interesting and exciting tastes in food ­ and they want to do it themselves, with a tasty meal they can prepare quickly."

Ms Cotterill said both companies would expand in the food service area, particularly to airlines.

Air New Zealand carried Cotterill and Rouse products on domestic flights until it ended meals with the introduction of Express Class in November but still offers the relishes and chutneys on international services.

And she said the start of Dubai-based Emirates on the Tasman from August 1 was an opportunity for Olive Grove.

Ms Cotterill said the company would launch a new range of chilled product through Olive Grove's distribution chain later this year for the New Zealand quick-and-easy do-it-yourself market and would continue to add more innovative foods to the brands' range.

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