Robert Dawson comes from a long line of hunters and gatherers and he learnt at an early age how to catch tuna (eels).
After 45 years at the freezing works, he set up a small business selling live eels for export, with his wife Bev.
The business became known as Moko Tuna and initially Robert sold the live eels to an exporter, but a return of $5 a kilo was barely enough to pay for the fuel. He set up a small food processing unit in his garage and started smoking and packaging the eel in branded 200 gram packs, and got a much better return.
Now Moko Tuna eel can be found at regional farmers’ markets and at high-end restaurants throughout the country. Last year the business was named Best Food Producer from the River or Sea in the 2011 Taste Farmers’ Markets New Zealand Awards.
But like any small business, finding time to market the product is tough. Just catching and processing the eels and heading to the markets every weekend eats away the hours.
Dawson believes the Ahikā Kai initiative is changing that.
“It has been great for us and our business, it has given us exposure and impetus. It’s an effective marketing tool and we have been able to use it to approach other distributors and increase business. He believes a real value of Ahikā Kai is that it lends authenticity to his product and differentiates it in the market place.