A unique plant milk made from New Zealand grown kabocha buttercup squash has hit supermarket shelves in Asia, thanks to a partnership between a Hawke’s Bay company and the Ministry for Primary Industries.
MPI contributed more than $95,000 through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to help boost Kabocha Milk Co’s efforts to formulate, manufacture, and market a shelf-stable kabocha milk recipe that would appeal to consumers in Japan, Korea, China, and beyond. This has been branded under the name 'Kabochamilk'.
Kabochamilk is a collaboration between Shane Newman, one of New Zealand’s largest buttercup squash growers from the Hawke’s Bay, and Sachie Nomura, a Japanese celebrity chef and the brains behind the world-first avocadomilk.
"Our Kabochamilk uses the un-exported tag-3 fruit, creating a high-value, sustainable and exportable product from produce that would otherwise go to waste," says Shane.
"It's immensely satisfying to have hit upon a new opportunity for New Zealand’s kabocha industry."
Shane says kabocha is a staple in the Japanese and East Asian diet.
"There are no other comparable kabocha milks in any of those markets, and it became a really exciting opportunity to fill that gap."
New Zealand is one of the largest exporters of kabocha to Japan and Korea. By tapping into the strong distribution and retail channels Shane and his family have established from over 40 years of fresh horticultural and export business, Kabochamilk is able to gain access to a large distribution network of around 5000 Asian retailers, supermarkets, and convenience store chains.
"We’ve made agreements with powerhouse distributors in Japan and Korea that have access to thousands of retail stores,” says Shane.
"Our products are already available in Tsurya and Harashin, high-end chain stores in Japan, which is a major coup.
"While all our product will go offshore, we’re using local farmers, local R&D, and local manufacturers, packaging, and domestic logistics companies – so the benefits to the New Zealand economy are considerable."
The story of the kabocha being grown and produced in New Zealand is an important part of the branding. "New Zealand growers already have very high credibility among consumers, so we emphasise the product’s origin story in our marketing,” says Shane.
Kabochamilk is positioned as an everyday 'milk alternative' product that can be consumed at any time of day as a simple, tasty way of introducing healthy nutrients into the family diet.
MPI investment programmes director Steve Penno says Kabocha Milk Co is providing valuable employment opportunities in New Zealand's food sector.
"These opportunities will only continue to grow as the company expands,” says Steve.
"This product promotes a positive story about New Zealand-grown products, which is invaluable for our reputation.
"It’s also an innovative way to extract greater yield and value for our growers from surplus produce.”
Currently, 10 to 15 per cent of kabocha grown in New Zealand is used for stock food.