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Pitango Innovative Cuisine Ltd is a unique, fast-growing business that truly lives up to its name. Innovation in food, flavour combinations and business strategy is matched by an equally creative commitment to sustainability.

Using premium organic and free-range ingredients, the Auckland-based food company operates in the chilled segment of the ready-to-eat market, specializing in tasty, healthy and affordable soups, risottos, curries, pasta meals. From humble beginnings in 2000, the business now employs 45 staff, and have established export markets in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Caledonia. The brand commands an impressive 30% of the New Zealand market for chilled soup and have doubled their business over the last four years. General Manager Wade Gillooly attributes Pitango’s success to having the “right product at the right price. We’re meeting consumer needs and pushing the organic and health message”.

Pitango has accumulated an array of awards for business innovation and export achievements. At the Westpac Enterprise North Shore Business Excellence Awards 2006, the company was a finalist in the excellence in innovation and excellence in export categories, and was named Best Emerging Business. Furthermore, Pitango won the Auckland Emerging Exporter of the Year 2006 at the Export New Zealand (ENZ) awards and Organics Aoteoroa Organic Exporter of the Year in 2007. At the 2010 New Zealand International Business Awards 2010 they took out the Best in Business Operating Internationally under $10 million award, and was a finalist for Most Innovative Approach to Business award.

However, there is more to Pitango’s success than rapid market growth and export sales. A true champion of the triple bottom line, Pitango’s commitment to upholding environmental values and sourcing organic and ethical produce form the basis of its compelling brand story.

Several studies, including a 2003 investigation by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs in the UK, confirm that organic farming “can produce positive environmental benefits”, and is less water and energy intensive than conventional farming.

Pitango uses 100% natural certified organic ingredients that are not treated with chemicals, synthetic pesticides, or growth hormones, and are GMO free. Avoiding irradiation, industrial solvents and chemical food additives not only keeps flavour and nutrients in and toxic chemicals out, it also ensures that Pitango establishes long-term sustainable supply chains that uphold the laws and systems of nature and maintain harmony with the environment.

Food production is energy-intensive. From farm to table entails several phases of transport and an average of 1,500 food miles per food product. Conventional farming methods demand substantial water, energy and synthetic material inputs, as does processing, packaging and distribution. Chilled or frozen foods require even more energy for storage, a figure exacerbated if products are exported great distances.

Despite these challenges to the chilled food industry, Pitango were the first fresh meal manufacturer in New Zealand to gain a carboNZeroCert TM certification. The carboNZeroCert TM programme is managed by Landcare Research and complies with ISO 14064-1. It provides individuals and organisations with tools to measure, manage and mitigate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and thus reduce their contributions to Climate Change. To gain carboNZeroCert TM certification Pitango adheres to three steps:

Firstly, Pitango’s GHG emissions are measured at every step of the supply chain, from farm-gate to processing; and then distribution to in-store display within the supermarket “Certification starts at farm gate right through to to the retail customer,” says Wade.

Secondly, emissions are managed and reduced by implementing a sustainable business plan. Features of the Pitango plan include:

  • Freight: Pitango’s most effective carbon reduction strategy was the decision to switch from air to sea freight for exports to Australia, cutting emissions by 60 percent.
  • Travel: Installing video conferencing as an alternative to traveling to meetings has saved on time, money and emissions.
  • Ingredients: Supplier’s emissions data is surveyed and included in carbon footprint analysis. Organic produce tends to result in lower emission outputs.
  • Education: Pitango implements a company-wide education programme to increase staff awareness of Pitango’s reduce, reuse and recycle policy.

Finally, for those emissions that cannot be avoided, Pitango mitigates output by purchasing verified carbon credits from Landcare accredited renewable energy schemes. This is a voluntary carbon off-set and is a significant cost to the business.

As Pitango forges on into new markets with its vision of becoming the leading chilledmeals manufacturer in Australasia, the flourishing company continues to prove the triple-bottom-line skeptics wrong. Businesses can make substantial profits without compromising on product quality or environmental commitments. Organic certified products can be sold to a broad range of consumers at affordable prices. Businesses can offset emissions and still leave conventional competitors in the dust.

Pitango’s success is in part due to its ability to harness New Zealand’s ‘pure advantage’. The country’s abundance of organic raw material has allowed the business to price affordably, putting organics into the mainstream and helping to break the Kiwi consumer’s perception of organic food as too ‘greeny’ and expensive.

“The days of organic food costing 30% more than conventional food are gone” – GM Wade Gillooly.

In overseas markets, New Zealand’s globally renowned green profile and strong food heritage provides a perfect branding backdrop to positioning Pitango as a premium New Zealand-made organic product.

Furthermore, Pitango has leveraged its small size, flexibility and proximity to Pacific-rim markets to keep up with international food trends, which are shifting towards healthy organic products, ethnic flavour combinations and convenience meals, as well as gluten free, dairy free, meat free and low fat alternatives. Pitango’s entry into Asian markets in particular, comes at a time when demand for healthy organic products is on the increase in places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

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