During the hot summer months huge numbers of people consume icy cold Coca Cola and Pepsi carbonated drinks, they are incredibly cheap and available so widely it is impossible to miss the display chillers and advertising.
However another player in the carbonated drinks market is rapidly growing its share of the market, but at the quality, natural end
The drinks produced in Nelson by Pete’s Natural are no more expensive (in cafes) than those produced by the multi-national giants but they are made from natural products using the juice from fresh fruits rather than concentrates and the result is outstanding quality.
These drinks also fit with my philosophy of drinking less but drinking better quality; rather than spending a dollar buying a can of fizzy drink spend three or four dollars on real-fruit drinks that are packed with natural flavours.
A few weeks ago, while Pete was busy bottling latest his brew, I spent some time talking with Marleen, Pete’s wife, about their products and as we talked it was obvious these guys have a total focus on creating a brand we will all come to recognise as a premium producer.
The Pete’s Natural website tells the story about how Pete’s Lemonade came about and is well worth reading but in short “he got the undeniable urge to start brewing his own lemonade, he pulled out all the buckets and pails he could find and started mixing all the ingredients he could possibly come up with.”
Pete and Marleen started with just lemonade, a year later they added a blackcurrant lemonade and another year later orange was added to the range, there are now seven different brews with more in the pipeline due to be released early this year.
So what makes Pete’s Natural soft drinks different to those produced by the big multi-national companies?
Like any craft product it is all about the ingredients, Pete’s Natural drinks are made using natural products without additives, the lemonade for example contains only lightly carbonated water, freshly squeezed New Zealand lemon juice, organic fair trade raw sugar, white vinegar, and New Zealand grown hops – nothing else.
They are one of the few companies in New Zealand using only New Zealand grown fruit that is freshly squeezed to make their soft drinks, they buy fruit from growers all over New Zealand and squeeze most of it themselves using a machine they imported from Italy, “pressed fruit gives bitterness so we found a machine to gently squeeze the fruit and that is a really important contributor to the quality of our drinks” says Marleen.
The fair trade philosophy is also very important to Pete and Marleen, they embrace fair trade at home and “support the local farmers and not the ones overseas who say they are very small farmers, but on the other hand they have the equipment to make concentrated juices from any fruit imaginable.
“The fruit growers here in New Zealand see a direct return from the fruit we get from them and not some organisation that redistributes the profits that they receive doing fair trade overseas; a quick google show’s how concentrated juices are made and shows you all the additives they use to make the juice stable to ship overseas.”
While they like to buy fruit as close to home as they can they also buy oranges from Hawke’s Bay, Keri Keri, & Gisborne because they don’t grow in the Nelson climate, other fruit comes from Golden Bay, Upper Moutere and Tapawera while chillies for their Chilli Lemonade are grown in both Hawke’s Bay and Nelson.
Pete’s Chilli Lemonade has a whole red birds eye chilli in each bottle and comes with a use by date of 18 months but the longer you keep it the hotter the drink will be so if you keep this for a year it will set your taste buds tingling, Marleen says it is really good as a mixer, especially with tequila.
Something else that I think is special about the range of Pete’s Natural craft sodas is the fact they have about 50% less sugar than those made by the big corporates so are much healthier as a soft drink choice for about the same price if you buy them in a cafe.
This lower sugar means the drinks are really refreshing on a hot day and you aren’t left with that sticky sugar after-taste in your mouth.
“The big producers are now also coming out with less sugar in their drinks but we were doing that when we started seven years ago, and we don’t take the sugar out of the drink as the big guys do, we developed a yummy drink using less organic raw sugar from the beginning.”
From an initial production 1100 litres, or 3500 bottles, of lemonade that they started with Pete’s Natural has grown to the stage they are now selling that amount every day.
They set up their own facility about a year ago, which was another big step for the business but a really good step because they now control everything from squeezing the fruit to bottling the finished product, “quality is really important and we can produce what we want when we need it rather than relying on bottling line space with someone else.”
“It is about us having control of the whole process, now we have the perfect situation, if we are running low on something we can schedule the production in, everything is on one site rather than moving product around for no good reason other than to put it in bottles, so we save on transport and time costs and that is important for a small business.”
Having their own bottling line in their own production facility also gave them the opportunity to expand production, they are no longer limited by the capacity available at someone else’s bottling plant.
“We are still growing, production was 50% up on last year, mainly because we have our own facility and, as well as being able to make more product for the New Zealand market, we sent our first export shipment to Malaysia in August last year and are now selling in Hong Kong too.”
Marleen says the region here is wonderful for food and drink producers, we have everything here in one region, probably more than any other region in New Zealand for variety of product and producers that are mainly artisan producers bought up to a bigger scale but still made in an artisan way.”
One of the biggest challenges Pete’s faces is that they don’t have the marketing budget like the big companies so it is much harder for them to tell their story which in turn makes it harder to let people know what makes their drinks different.
So where to from here? “We are just a small craft producer of quality drinks and we must be doing the right thing because some flavours we developed are already being copied by the big companies, two other companies have come out with a chilli drink about six months after ours was on the market but they use a chilli concentrate not whole chillies.”
As a business the Pete’s philosophy is all about building a New Zealand business, “helping New Zealand farmers get a fair price for their fruit, helping the New Zealand economy by getting (almost) everything from New Zealand, looking after our own people first is really important to us.”
“There is still plenty of scope to grow in New Zealand so we are concentrating on sales here and hopefully we will outgrow our new facility and will need a bigger one.”
I love a positive attitude and I’m sure Pete’s Natural will need those new premises sooner rather than later. www.petesnatural.co.nz