Vanuatu workers snap up ‘taste of home’


eight_col_cornelia_wyllie_of_vanuatu_fine_foodsA Vanuatu food company giving overseas seasonal workers a taste of home is set to increase its workforce as sales rise.

Vanuatu Fine Foods which processes local foods like taro, cassava and kumara, has found a strong market for its ‘meal in a bag’ products among ni-Vanuatu working on New Zealand orchards and vineyards.

Cornelia Wyllie set up the company in 2006, sourcing food from 2000 growers of traditional crops around Vanuatu.

“How it started was the families in Vanuatu wanted to send food back to their sons, daughters, husbands and wives in New Zealand that wanted a taste of Vanuatu,” she said.

“The employers also wanted decent nutrition for the staff because they were either eating two minute noodles or cheaper foods and they were having a very high sickness attendance, so having natural food or nutritious food was a win-win for both sides.”

The business grew out of another operation set up by Ms Wyllie and her husband Don, Vanuatu Direct, which supplies fresh indigenous foods with high health benefits produced in an eco-friendly way by growers in Vanuatu.

Equipment from France has since been imported to create products that can last on the shelves and meet New Zealand’s biosecurity requirements.

Pouches of cassava, kumara, and taro as well as smoked spices are among the products on offer.

The first shipment of 1000 packets was snapped up by workers on New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme which hires offshore workers for seasonal work, at least a third of them from Vanuatu.

“They all indicated that they would probably eat three packets a week, so we realised that having a line of women grinding by hand, scratching and grinding coconut, we were never going to make the target and that’s when we bit the bullet.”

Ms Wyllie said investment in the business was continuing, as exports had grown to 74 tonnes a month.

She anticipated further growth after discovering another potential market while exhibiting at the recent Pasifika 2017 festival in Auckland.

She said there was a lot of interest from other Pacific island countries wanting shelf-stable indigenous foods to be ready in case of disaster like cyclones, rather than having to rely on less traditional, imported food like rice.

Ms Wyllie said she was about to start a second shift to meet demand, taking the workforce producing just outside Port Vila up to 36.