“Pinoli Ltd was founded nearly twenty years ago in November 1997 by Andy and Barbara Wiltshire. We wondered why nobody was growing pine nuts in New Zealand? Andy is a forester by training and both he and Barb had a strong interest in fine healthy foods. Research began in 1997. We discovered that the best pine nuts (most nutritious and highest wholesale prices) were from the European stone pine (Pinus pinea) and that it was a tree species that should grow well in New Zealand and yield good cone crops especially in drier, warmer parts of the country with weather somewhere close to a Mediterranean climate (warm, dry summers and cool, damp winters).
“We also discovered that most of the world’s pine nuts come from China from Korean pine and several other pine species. At the time, these forests were being unsustainably harvested, and there were – and still are - concerns about safety of Chinese food production systems. European production of stone pine nuts has been under pressure due to a cone boring insect that periodically damages kernel yields. Some pine nuts from the Chilgoza pine are produced from natural forests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India, none of which are very safe and stable places for supply. Despite these seemingly supportive findings for our project, past studies in New Zealand had concluded that growing them here would not be commercially viable. We disagreed with that analysis and so began down a path of developing a food business from the very beginning.
“We bought our first orchard land in the Wairau Valley at the end of 1997, and sourced just a few seedlings of European stone pine from a nursery in Southland. We then looked for someone to prepare the land and plant and tend the trees. This is when we got lucky in connecting with Lee Paterson, a fellow forestry guy with a contracting business in Marlborough. Lee not only did a fine job of establishing our orchards, but also became intensely personally interested in what we were trying to do. Over time, he has taken on more and more tasks as the business has grown and is now our general manager.
“In 1998, it was still possible to import pine seed to New Zealand, albeit under strict quarantine control. Through extensive research and correspondence, we were able to source and import a wide range of different provenances of P. pinea from all around the Mediterranean, including genetic material from multiple locations in each of Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. With the added sources of seedlings from older New Zealand trees (from unknown origins), we believe we have the widest genetic base of the species on any one site in the world. Almost as we finished our last importation of seed, the rules changed, and now it is practically almost impossible to import pine seed into New Zealand.
“Our trees grew well, we added two additional orchards in 2004 and produced our first kernels in 2007, using a relatively simple factory that Lee designed and built himself, after several trips to Europe to understand the process. That plant got us into business selling to a few specialty food outlets in New Zealand. The response from customers was overwhelmingly positive. People love the freshness and quality of the kernels, the superior nutritional analysis of these pine nuts over Korean pine, and the fact that they are local produce from beginning to end, grown, harvested, processed and packaged right here in Marlborough, New Zealand.
“This early success in sales was due to Zoe Thompson, who joined the company and began enthusiastically selling our product at the local Marlborough Farmers Market and increasingly at other markets and to specialty food stores. Zoe has also stayed with the company and is now our sales manager. Success also spearheaded further expansion. We designed and built a brand-new factory in 2013, importing specialty stainless steel food-grade equipment from Spain and Germany, but also using local Marlborough firms to put it all together. That gave us a facility that can meet all highest standards for food safety and food control for domestic sales and for export of our kernels. And we expanded further in orchards in a big way, so that now we have over 550 hectares of planted orchard over seven different locations, all but one in Marlborough.”
What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?
“We sell only European stone pine kernels, in three different sizes of retail package, 70g, 200g and 500g. This is important because we can assure our product is gluten free and free of any cross contamination from other tree nuts or products that might introduce allergens into the product. A very few people do suffer allergic reactions to pine nuts, but this is far less common than allergies to other nuts and pine nuts are often recommended to people to try if they do suffer other nut allergies. Our product is also exhaustively tested for any other food safety risks.
“Our product sells itself to a large extent because it looks so much cleaner and fresher than competing pine nuts from China. Our pine kernels are a little longer in size and shape, a pale ivory colour, and they have a creamy taste when raw that some people really like. For most uses though, they are best lightly toasted in a dry pan, or roasted briefly in an oven or microwave. They burn easily, so need attention! But when lightly toasted, their rich nutty flavour and aroma is very special.
“Our product is an ancient food, truly part of the original paleo diet, and grown now in sustainable orchards. We use no chemicals except cleaning fluids in the factory, only some heat and fresh filtered water. Our products are free of all pesticides. We do no spraying for fungi or insects. We do use some herbicides but only for establishing new orchards and occasionally to control weeds along road sides. Furthermore, our orchards continue to absorb large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (for which we get no official credit!) and will remain potentially as perpetual carbon sinks. Pinoli Premium Pine Nuts are as close to a pure, natural and sustainable product as you can buy.
“Nutritionally, at 34% protein, our kernels far outpace Korean pine, which has only 13% protein. As well, they have a great mix of mostly mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and a rich array of minerals. Independent tests have shown our pine nuts are even better in mineral content than imported stone pine kernels from Europe!
“And finally, we think our customers love the local production story, literally from bare land and seedlings planted to finished beautiful pine kernels.”
Has there been any recent company news?
“Our only management news is that we have added Matt Willis as our orchard supervisor. Matt has long experience at supervising forestry and vineyard operations and is working out very well in keeping on top of our now large orchard base.
“We’re kind of proud of the fact that Lee Paterson is still with us and driving the operations as the General Manager after nineteen years, and that Zoe Thompson is our Sales Manager with ten years and counting, and that the company remains privately owned by Andy and Barb and Lee and Zoe. We’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary this November, but haven’t decided how yet!
“On the sales side, we entered the Australian market this year, starting with a presence at a fine food fair in Melbourne last spring. As anyone who has sold there will know, it’s a big and complicated market, but we’re very encouraged by early results. Not only are we the only producer of pine nuts in New Zealand, we are pretty certain that Pinoli Ltd. is the only producer of pine nuts in the Southern Hemisphere! That may change one day, but for now we are very proud of that.”
What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?
“This is a long, long term business. It takes six years to get any cones at all, eight to ten years to reach commercial scale harvests and then the process of extracting seeds from cones and kernels from seeds and making those kernels ready for consumption is way more complicated than most people imagine. We are established at a small scale, and in the next ten years will ramp up to a much larger scale. We expect harvests to increase to somewhere between ten and twenty times our current volume just based on trees we already have planted.
“We are also examining and measuring things as much as we can in the factory, with the aim of further streamlining and enhancing our production. We have adjusted the way we run the factory several times to maximize kernel yields and product consistency. This is a never-ending quest for continuous improvement. Our product is great today, but can we make it even better tomorrow?
“And we continue to plant trees. This year Pinoli Ltd. plans to plant another fourteen hectares in pine nut seedlings.”
Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability? If so, where would you like to see the product situated?
“Our kernels can be purchased in specialty food stores and some supermarkets throughout much of New Zealand. We still operate a stall at the Marlborough Farmers Market as well.
“We now have a small number of retailers and distributors selling our product in Australia as well. Our next plan is to open up in more supermarkets in New Zealand. We are looking for supermarkets who care to sell local product and are keen to offer consumers a better choice than bulk-bin Chinese pine nuts. Our recommended retail prices are very similar to those at which the Chinese imports are sold, and we want to find those retailers who are willing to make shelf space for beautifully packaged and fresh, local Pinoli Premium Pine Nuts.”