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This little pork company went to market

Linda and Ian McCallum-Jackson took their pork products to the Otago Farmers Market to see if their business could fly. It did  and now theyre hard-pressed to keep up with demand.

It was an idea born on a red napkin over a bottle of wine in a Dunedin restaurant. He was a Scottish-born pig farmer with a talent for breeding bonny weaner pigs. She had an extensive background in the human resource industry.

The idea was to deliver prime pork products direct to market on a paddock to plate business model.

Ian and Linda McCallum-Jackson had seen what goes on within New Zealands pork industry, which currently imports around 40 percent of product, and results in what they describe as a somewhat inconsistent standard. They were convinced that there was a large market for decent pork products, honest sausages and dry-cured bacon, free from chemicals and produced from antibiotic-free, open-range pigs.

Furthermore the business would have such a high level of control over the distribution of its products that an individual packet of bacon, for example, could be traced back to the pig it came from!

Havoc Prime Pork Products was the name that stuck, and since February 2003 the company has been supplying selected delis and restaurants throughout the South Island, a handful of restaurants in the North Island, as well as selling off the Food Lovers website. (Its own website is scheduled to go live at the start of the year.)

The McCallum-Jacksons picturesque farm (affectionately dubbed Havoc by Ian in reference to Lindas influence!) in the Hunter Hills of South Canterbury, with its free-draining soils, is ideal for raising pigs (there are about 800 pigs in total on the farm) and close to quality grain supplies and abattoir facilities. But the couple first had to seek business guidance from the UK (nobody in New Zealand followed the paddock to plate concept) and then establish a market.

This is where the Otago Farmers Market was to play a crucial role.

The Saturday morning market, held in a carpark next to Dunedins Railway Station, was unique three years ago and the organisers were willing to ignore the fact that Prime Pork Products was based across the border in South Canterbury.

Farmers Markets were a very new idea back then and it gave us the chance to see if the concept would fly, recalls Linda. It was an opportunity to experiment without a huge outlay of money. We wanted to know if people were prepared to pay a little bit more for quality pork?

Thats not to say there wasnt a significant investment to get the business off the ground. A refrigerated truck (Smokey Joe) was needed to get their products to market, and they have also invested in two other vehicles (The Havoc Hog Hawker and Havoc Hog Hauler).

Early challenges

Moving the business forward has not been without its lessons and challenges. The McCallum-Jacksons learnt early on that using an independent distributor to get chilled products to customers just wasnt going to work  so they switched to an overnight courier and never looked back.

The first major challenge came when the company outgrew the local butcher who was employed to cut, cure and pack the sausages. The rush on their famous Christmas hams was one of the final straws. The search was on to find suitable premises for a butchery and the solution was discovered in one of the back streets of Waimate  a purpose-built, old fashioned butchers shop complete with chiller and drying room, and with room for a Factory Shop to cater for out-of-town trade which makes up 90 percent of customers. Linda says the store is very popular with Aucklanders en route to Wanaka or Queenstown.

The next big headache proved to be finding a suitable full-time butcher.

After a great deal of searching around the South Island I finally used my head, admits Linda, I got in touch with a good immigration consultant in the UK whom I knew from my HR days.

Upon asking if the consultant had a butcher on her books, the surprise answer was yes, there was one who was waiting to sell his house. As fortune has it  the house sold the day prior to Lindas phone call, and the gentleman was looking for a job somewhere between Oamaru and Timaru. No prizes for guessing where Waimate is!

Some things are just meant to be, she says.

Where to from here

There is no doubt whatsoever that the McCallum-Jacksons could double, triple, even quadruple sales if they wanted to invest in the marketing. The question is  do they want to?

Not long ago I realised that wed come to the end of our original red napkin business plan, and were not exactly sure what our next step is, says Linda.

She admits that managing growth in the business is their next big challenge and they both would prefer slow but steady business growth. At the time of writing the couple were planning a two-week break over the Christmas period to sit down and talk about the future.

One things for sure, Kiwis taste for locally-raised pork products is not going to go away, and chefs will continue to come to Havoc to give their menus that edge  adding juniper berries to brine is one recent example.

Pork sales are on the rise in New Zealand  three years ago it made up only 30 percent of meat sales; today it represents 40 percent.  Much of this market growth can be attributed to the NZ Pork Boards marketing campaign utilising comedian Mike King.

But one suspects that once word gets around about McCallum-Jacksons paddock to plate concept, the taste for home-grown pork products will push overall pork sales considerably higher. 

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