In South Canterbury, the story of how Anthony Barker first began making elderberry wine in 1969 in a converted cowshed, drawing on his mother’s flair for preserves and his own innate inventiveness, is the stuff of legend.
So, too, is the story of how this small rural enterprise kept on innovating over five decades to create an ever-growing range of authentic fruit-based products, from the ever so popular Barker’s Blackcurrant in 1981 to today’s eclectic range of sauces, preserves, dressings, chutneys, fruit compotes, spritzers and more. Barker Fruit Processors Ltd makes 700 product lines in total, including products for the food service industry both in New Zealand and beyond. In 2015, the company sold a majority stake to a collegial French investor to strengthen its international reach, but Barker’s continues to operate and innovate the same way as ever in its picturesque home in South Canterbury.
‘I always knew my father was extraordinary,’ says Anthony’s son Michael, who followed him into the business and steered its course for many years. ‘Everyone in the district found him fascinating and held him in such high esteem. My Mum, Gillian, was all about people and being hospitable and welcoming and between them they created this huge culture of friendliness, innovation and respect for other people.’
That culture is very much front and centre in the new Barker’s Foodstore & Eatery, which had its soft opening last month ahead of the official opening on 19 October to celebrate the company’s 50th year in operation.
Purpose-built by Timaru’s Shore Construction, this new offering is so much more than a café. It is poised to lift Geraldine’s profile as a destination by providing something completely new and exciting for visitors wanting to sample all the wonderful tastes and flavours that Barker’s brings to the food and beverage scene. Designed by NB Architects and with fit-out by Spaceworks Design, the new building seats 100 inside and 35–50 on the deck and surrounds.
‘We see this as a way to build our brand and provide consumer education, so we will be doing demonstrations, workshops and tastings, along with product displays to help people better understand how to use them at home,’ says Nicky Donkers, Barker’s Corporate Commercial Director. ‘As well, we plan to trial new products and gather feedback on those to guide our future product development.’
Visitors can explore a large beverage line-up of all Barker’s products, supplemented by Allpress Coffee and Zealong Tea, both chosen because of their close alignment with Barker’s values that include giving back to the community. As well as selected craft beer, the eatery will be serving wine from North Canterbury’s 27Seconds, whose profits go towards helping end modern day slavery. Tastings are part of the experience. People can choose any Barker’s syrup they wish to try at the on-site beverage bar.
All food on sale at the eatery will include or be accompanied by a Barker’s product, with the option to add complimentary sauces, chutneys and dressings. The foodstore is a beautifully designed space, tastefully finished with artwork from prominent local artist John Badcock, while the children’s menu has lovely illustrations from Year 4 students at Geraldine Primary School and the outside fence will feature murals by Geraldine High School students. ‘We’ve really gone to that next level,’ Nicky says. ‘People who have already been through say this is just so modern and fresh, reinforcing Geraldine as a destination and a must-visit.’
Adding to the company’s 50-year celebrations, Michael has compiled a book called 50 Years Preserved that includes contributions from current and former staff and many photos to illustrate Barker’s’ interesting evolution. It will be launched on 19 October at the official opening of the new foodstore and eatery.
‘Barker’s has always strived to remain relevant and, on average, we have grown at 11 per cent a year over the past 25 years,’ says Michael. ‘What I wanted to do in this book was pay tribute not just to my parents but to all the people who made it work and to the great award-winning products developed over the years.’
The company has long punched above its weight. At the time of writing, Barker’s had been named a finalist in the Westpac Champion Canterbury Business Awards. As a first-time entrant, this has been a real source of pride for the company, which also won gold and silver awards at the 2019 Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards. As well, its Zealong-based Peach Tea has been named a finalist in the 2019 NZ Artisan Awards.
Meanwhile, Michael and his wife Brigitte have just finished renovating Geraldine’s old vicarage to provide boutique luxury accommodation. The Vicarage Accommodation (as it is known) is located beside the new foodstore and eatery, as you turn off the main street in Geraldine and head to Tekapo. Together they provide a superb boost to the town.
As well, there are plans to promote a walkway along the adjacent Waihi River to further enhance the experience for visitors stopping in Geraldine.
Words Kim Newth