Commercial food and beverage production in New Zealand has changed greatly since its beginnings in the 1860s. Initially hundreds of local family businesses produced a small range of goods, usually by hand. In the 2000s relatively few businesses made a wide range of products in much larger, highly-automated factories. Some production has shifted to Australia. Many originally family-run companies have been purchased by multinational corporations.
From the 1880s two major influences on commercial food production – canning and refrigeration – were introduced. Household refrigerators appeared in the 1920s, but these were only for the rich. After the Second World War they became common, and by 1966, 91% of households had one. Domestic deep freezers were rare until the late 1950s. They were common by the 1970s, and in 1982 nearly 75% of households possessed one. Home refrigeration and freezing increased the foods that could be stored at home, such as ice cream, ready-made meals or frozen vegetables – increasing product and marketing opportunities for manufacturers.
For decades home-bottled fruit and vegetables were more popular than tinned varieties. Before 1940 housewives tended to avoid canned food because the quality was inferior to their home-made preserves. As the quality of canned products improved, so did their uptake.
Changing women’s roles
The growth of food and beverage manufacturing has been influenced by changes in society. In 1926 only 3.5% of married women worked full-time in paid employment, but by 1981 the figure was 35.8%. Many housewives spent days baking and bottling, making their own jam and other foodstuffs, but as more women entered the workforce there was greater demand for processed foods, ready-made meals and snacks.
The influence of immigrants on local diet was important – especially after the Second World War. New Zealand’s culinary tradition had largely been imported from Britain. It was bland, focused on quantity and had very little diversity. Immigrants had different cuisines and provided new products. For example in the 1950s Dutch immigrant Johan Klisser brought Dr Alfred Vogel’s Swiss wholegrain bread recipe and began making it. In the early 2000s Vogel’s bread remained popular.
Imports and exports
Foods and beverages are exported, particularly to Australia, a move encouraged by the Closer Economic Relations agreement (CER), in place since 1983. Many processed foods and beverages are also imported from Australia. As eating behaviours and food tastes changed over the 1970s and 1980s there was an influx of imported foods from round the world. Kiwis also embraced new foods manufactured in New Zealand.
In 2008 almost 75,000 people were employed in food and beverage manufacturing industries nationwide, nearly 4% of the total workforce.