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Chocolate, fish and silver ferns: how the FernMark helps sell our food, offshore

We may be a small player on the global stage, but when it comes to creating a big impact Kiwi businesses have a unique advantage in leveraging ‘brand New Zealand’. Hundreds of exporters are flying the silver fern with the government-backed FernMark. Here’s why.

When Whittaker’s chocolate left our fair shores to promote its delicious slabs in Asia, they  couldn’t rely only on its 100-plus years’ of heritage to convince consumers to try it. They  needed to tell them where Whittaker’s is from. “New Zealand has a really strong brand reputation in the Asian markets,” says Caitlin Attenburrow, brand manager for Whittaker’s.

“The people we come across, when we start to talk about New Zealand, their eyes light up and they go, ‘Oh, New Zealand is so clean and the lifestyle is so good and the people are so friendly!’”.

“It’s got a very positive reputation and positive connotations, so that’s something that we’re very proud to link to.”

To reinforce that connection Whittaker’s adopted the FernMark – New Zealand’s country-of-origin accreditation programme, designed to communicate the origins of New Zealand products and services and help Kiwi exporters succeed overseas.

By displaying the FernMark – together with a unique FernMark licence number – exporters like Whittaker’s build credibility through the government association, add value to their products, and promote trust in their brands.

The FernMark now appears on more than a billion Kiwi export products and services, and is very recognisable internationally, especially in China where the New Zealand brand is highly regarded for quality, trust and environmental stewardship.

Take our dairy products, for example. “New Zealand milk is really famous for being of the highest quality, particularly in China,” explains Attenburrow. “We use New Zealand milk to make our milk chocolate of course, and that really resonates with the Chinese consumer. So having the FernMark on our products creates some very good synergies there for us.”

Carrying the FernMark on a product, makes it easy for consumers to verify its authenticity: when curious consumers look up the licence number online they’re directed to a brand-specific .govt website, which serves to verify the FernMark association and provide assurance for wary consumers that the product is, in fact, the real deal.

“We believe we’re making world-class chocolate here in Porirua and the FernMark is another piece that adds to that story for us, so we’re very proud to bear the FernMark on our products,” says Attenburrow.

Country of origin can also have a profound effect on consumer purchasing behaviour. As an exporter of $200m of premium quality live New Zealand lobster to China every year, Port Nicholson Fisheries uses the FernMark to strengthen its association with New Zealand’s clean waters and help build international appetite for its product.

Kiwi rock lobster

Asia is a lucrative market for the Kiwi lobster exporter, Port Nicholson Fisheries. But because New Zealand has strict commercial fishing quotas in place, there’s a limit to how much product can actually be put into the market. That scarcity makes obtaining a premium price.

“For us, it’s almost a niche market,” says Campbell Ginn, sales and market development manager for Port Nicholson Fisheries. “Our product is consumed a lot at big functions – weddings, corporate dinners and company lunches, so you might say it’s a prestige product for the host who wants the best of the best to serve his guests.”

Luckily, New Zealand’s reputation for clean, green, sustainably sourced products precedes it.

“From a buyer’s perspective, across the board New Zealand seafood is seen as some of the best in the world, in terms of quality, where it comes from, how it’s sourced sustainably,” says Ginn. “That’s why it can drive such a premium.”

Port Nicholson Fisheries uses the FernMark on its products, websites and even business cards to signal this origin story to customers and secure the best price on its products. With FernMark’s stated values of kaitiaki, ingenuity, and integrity it’s an especially good match for the 100% Maori-owned business.

“New Zealand is a beautiful country and has a reputation for clean waters, not much pollution, the whole nine yards, and that’s understood by both the buyer as well as the end consumer,” says Ginn.

“The FernMark signifies that you’re part of that group of authentic New Zealand products in the global market.”

The FernMark programme is open to all New Zealand exporters who meet the eligibility criteria. Find out more by visiting www.fernmark.nzstory.govt.nz  

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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