By Lice Movono
Technical advice can go a long way to making people and organisations work more efficiently and in the foodie space it creates the kind of confidence that transforms agribusinesses and chefs into innovators. Several food entrepreneurs were celebrated for their innovative food products and services on 9 December at a food-tasting event hosted by the Australian High Commission in Suva. For many, receiving targeted business advice and support has given them the confidence to take their businesses to the next level.
Coconut based ice-cream maker Kylie Patterson from Marama Niu said it best: “It’s so important because a lot of us SMEs aren’t really in the know. We don’t know who to contact for development. We are limited by our finances. So, having technical advice helped us and I’m sure some of the developments would have happened eventually, but we got there fast. It’s been really important for us to be able to get to where we are where we can take that leap of faith and act on dreams we have. It connects us to bigger markets.”
The Suva based mum got into the cold confectionery industry when she needed to make non-dairy alternatives for her children. After she succeeded at using a coconut base for ice-cream she decided to go sugar free and looked further at the tree of life for a sweetener. PARDI and SPC researchers worked with Kylie and her business partner Jojina Ah Yuk to find producers of coconut syrup, which is made from the nectar of the coconut palm flower, ultimately sourcing from Rabi Island in Cakaudrove. They now use coconut syrup in the production of their ice cream, ensuring it is vegan friendly, and sell packaged syrup as an alternative sweetener in the market.
Marama Niu along with a group of other visionary Fijian food entrepreneurs were hailed at the food tasting event for their innovation and commitment to quality, along with other businesses giving momentum to Fiji’s growing foodie scene, particularly in the wake of the impact of COVID-19 on the Fijian economy.
In addition to Marama Niu, the group included Mama’s Mushrooms, the Fusion Hub, Waitika Farm, the Wainuqa Farmers’ Cooperative, The Mad Hatter Hut, KokoMana, Tasty Island Treats, GingerLei Beer, and the Pacific Island Food Revolution winners Sikipio Fihaki of Niu Grillz and Krystelle Lavaki of Lady Kupcake.
The event, while organised to celebrate the efforts of small and medium enterprises in light of the challenges and the hard work and creativity which has exploded in Fiji, also gave businesses the opportunity to launch new products and services to the market.
Tasty Island Treats makes healthy popsicles from fresh fruits. Owner, Nakita Bingham Irwin who received Australian Government funding to set up a communal commercial kitchen to support businesses like here own, said the event was inspirational for foodies. She said there are different levels of food entrepreneurs from grassroots to trained commercial kitchen workers who have a variety of experiences with food. She says, the idea behind her communal kitchen was to create, “a safe space where entrepreneurs can feel safe and express themselves freely. We’re trying to create an enabling dynamic space where women foodpreneurs can thrive”.
“This shared commercial kitchen is for them to take their own culinary adventure to the next level, outside of the hotel, outside of the kitchen and create their own brand and create something out of the misfortunate that is COVID. We want them to see the potential in themselves.”
‘Agribusinesses and entrepreneurs are critical in connecting farmers and producers to markets. Supporting these businesses to grow their enterprises supports the farmers and producers who depend on these value chains. And it is great to see small businesses pushing the boundaries. Consumers can play their role in consciously buying products that are showcasing the best of Fijian food and working with producers in this way’, shared Marita Manley from the Pacific Agribusiness Research and Development Initiative.
The event was organised through the Scaling Frontier Innovation programme in partnership with the Pacific Island Food Revolution, the Fiji Enterprise Engine, ygap, and the Pacific Agribusiness Research and Development Initiative (PARDI).