After spending time in Europe in the early 1980s learning the cheese-making process, Carol and Rick Thorpe began The Waimata Cheese Co. in 1994.
What is your company background, how did you start the business?
Based in Gisborne, the business started small with only 10 staff including Rick, Carol and the current head cheesemaker Chris Duncan. Over 25 years it has now grown to 40 staff, 4 distributors and currently supplies 97 percent of all supermarkets nationwide. Rick and Carol’s three sons, and daughter-in-law now hold integral roles in the operation of the business alongside their parents, and the family is very proud to be the top independent cheese company in New Zealand.
What is the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?
Waimata Cheese specialises in soft white mould cheeses, blue vein, haloumi and feta and has recently released their premium sheep milk cheese range. The cow milk used comes from Gisborne farms and the sheep milk comes from their own sheep dairying farm in Manutuke, Gisborne.
Waimata is unique in that the business remains family-owned and operated, prescribing to a from farm to table business model, which has grown from strength to strength. The business is the true essence of the kiwi No. 8 wire mentality in that most research and development is done in house with machines built, products developed, and processes created by the Waimata team.
All Waimata cheeses are vegetarian, using a vegetable-based coagulant rather than an animal rennet and are also gluten-free, together this means that a wide range of customers can enjoy Waimata cheeses guilt-free. Waimata cheeses are handcrafted using traditional techniques and the many awards won over the years is testament to the high-quality product produced by the mighty cheese company.
Has there been any recent company news?
Waimata launched their exciting new sheep milk cheese range in October 2019 and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The range appeals to those who either aren’t able to tolerate cow’s milk, those who want a product with greater health benefits in regards to amino acids, protein and energy or those who are environmentally conscious with sheep impacting the environment much less than their bovine counterparts.
The Waimata Cheese Co. came away with multiple bronze, silver, and gold awards at the 2020 NZ Specialist Cheese awards, proving they remain one of the top cheese producers in the country.
What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?
Waimata is constantly looking at ways in which to improve their cheese-making process while maintaining the same high calibre products. They have recently increased capacity to produce more blue cheese and have been trialling new methods to improve this range. The company have increased production on our haloumi range as we just can’t seem to make enough of this supreme cheese, which won the Champion European Cheese Trophy at the 2019 NZ Specialist Cheese awards and multiple awards in 2020.
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?
Currently, Waimata cheese is available in most supermarkets throughout New Zealand. One area in which the company wish to expand its presence is in the Foodservice sector. Waimata has a really great range of unique products which are available in larger wheels and would be perfect for that something extra in a café or restaurant.