We began Canterbury Biltong by mistake – really. I just wanted some decent biltong which in 2002 was relatively unobtainable in New Zealand.
Sure there was biltong, but it was pretty average stuff.
A friend had taught me an old family recipe when I was at his farm and I had used it many times to transform, kudo, bushbuck and wildebeest into the stupendous meaty snack that is biltong.
It was time to dust off my dryer which had come with us to New Zealand in the container. After spending three weeks on Durban’s docks it had attracted its fair share of insect life, including one seriously big spider that was way to big for the MAF officers inspection sample bottle when they checked out our container.
After a couple of batches I found that New Zealand friends of ours who had never tried it loved the stuff and a glimmer of an idea was formed that saw us take a large batch of cut up plugs of biltong down to the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival.
A communications error had our product down as dried bulls balls on the programme. People loved it. They stood back and gave it a good once over before stepping forward to try it. Word spread and we quickly sold out.
For the next eight months I would work on the biltong business at night and at the Press newspaper during the day.
The Riccarton Rotary market was a sales outlet every Sunday which saw me putting in 70 hour weeks combining the two jobs.
FreshChoice Merivale gave us our first break when they decided to stock our product in their deli.
Slowly I got into more supermarkets and delis around Christchurch.
It was at this point that I resigned from The Press to give Canterbury Biltong a go.
We had been making our product in a small home bakery, but had now built our house which included a double garage which I converted into a home kitchen to start the business.
This served until 2007 when we felt confident enough to rent our first factory on Ferry Road in Christchurch. Nicole, my wife had left her part time merchandising job to join the business full time and became our first Sales and Marketing manager. I did everything else.
The early days were tough like any start up business. We had no capital behind us and had to slowly accumulate the equipment we needed. We essentially were producing and trying to sell a food product that most people in New Zealand had never heard of. If they had heard of it, it was through reading a Wilbur Smith book.
I had to get on the road to take it to New Zealand and did this in the early days through A&P shows, the Dunkleys Craft Shows and specialist food shows. These allowed us to generate sales as well as an understanding and appreciation for Canterbury Biltong.
I must have hand fed more than a quarter of a million people in the early years, giving them a taste of our products; the taste would more often than not, generate a sale.
Essentially my weekends were taken up with markets and shows as we struggled to fund the growth of the business as well as our home and two kids in the Heathcote Valley.
At the same time we developed our stable of retail outlets to the point where I was able to give up the shows and markets on the weekend and use that time to watch our kids sport or whatever I felt like. It was like a noose being unleashed from my neck, that new found freedom on a Saturday and Sunday.
In 2007 we moved to our first commercial premises in Ferry Road.
The next four years saw us further develop the market for our products, supplying Progressive and Foodstuffs supermarkets nationwide along with delis, ski-fields, outdoor shops and the Armed Forces Canteens in the major bases around New Zealand.
Our commitment to products that tasted great yet contained no harmful additives was starting to pay off. People bought them as snacks, survival food in the bush, for kids lunchboxes and as a healthy treat.
We were starting to get some serious momentum when Christchurch was hit by two massive earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011.
We got through the September one with not too much damage to our building and only lost two weeks production.
February the 22nd was a different story and finished our factory off.
It took us seven months to regroup and find another premises that was suitable in the chaos that enveloped Christchurch at the time.
The new factory in Leeds Street, Phillipstown is almost three times the size and has given us the capacity to expand further, with a network of representation around New Zealand as well as off-shore into Australia.
Investment in new packaging, machinery and a custom-designed drying-room has laid the foundation for our continued growth as well as our commitment to continuous quality improvement.
Our products have travelled to Scott Base in the Antarctic and to Mount Everest in the Himalayas. They travel on fancy boats and get taken on all sorts of holidays; they grace cheese platters and get stuffed into the side pockets of sports bags. Most of all they make people satisfied with that look of contentment you get when you taste something really, really good. Enjoy!!!
All the best,
David and Nicole and all the staff at Canterbury Biltong