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What is our brand for Otago?

By Anna Campbell

I am often asked when traveling in Asia what sort of food I eat in New Zealand. I am always a bit stymied by this question and mumble a fairly unintelligible answer, because how do you describe New Zealand food?

So it was with great interest I read Saturday’s Otago Daily Times article about North Otago’s food business operators, Fleur Sullivan (Fleur’s Place) and Bevan Smith (Riverstone).

In my mind, these businesses, in their own unique way, are stunning examples of what New Zealand food is and of what people in our region are capable of.

The food these businesses serve up is often a mix of styles but what they both share is beautiful, fresh, seasonal ingredients, and an authentic story and personal experience. Apparently this is what ‘food tourists’ are looking for.

I first heard the term ‘food tourism’ a couple of years ago in relationship to it being a growing sub-sector of tourism – in addition to other sub-sectors New Zealand is known for: eco- and adventure-tourism.

According to food tourism website, food tourism is most simply described as: “the pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both far and near”.

Well, that certainly sounds like my cup of tea – pun intended – as I must add if you are ever up in the Waikato region, it is well worth visiting Zealong tea, a most fabulous example of a thriving export business tapping into ‘food tourism’ and beautiful products targeted at the Asian market.

Tea aside, I need to move on to the main topic of this article, which was inspired after hearing Air New Zealand CEO, Christopher Luxon speak a couple weeks ago.

Tourism is a big part of our region, with Central Otago being the jewel in our crown. By attracting more tourists, we attract greater demand for flights, which in turn is good for other businesses.

In terms of doing this, our tourism identity is about understanding what our key regional differentiators are, pinpointing them and creating opportunities accordingly.

Bear with me, I want to throw something else in the mix. Last month I read in The Farmer’s Weekly that Mid-Canterbury agribusiness consultant Andy McFarlane, ANZCO founder Sir Graeme Harrison, and a group of agribusiness stakeholders, including Ngai Tahu are working together to get a new concept off the ground for the Canterbury region.

This concept is for Canterbury to be branded as ‘The Green Diamond’ based on the United States’ Silicon Valley but with a world agricultural/food excellence twist.

My initial thoughts when reading this was that ‘The Green Diamond’ as a brand could equally be applied to our whole country in terms of differentiating our food, agriculture, and technology.

What is the real advantage in applying more granular regional branding?

The reality is, whether we are in food, education, agricultural production, technology or tourism, we are all competing for people’s time and money –whether that money be sourced from government, tourists or investors.

The advantage of branding or themes in regional areas is that it is a way of encapsulating what a region represents and communicating to people the ‘value offering’.

We know that creating authentic experiences and products is a way to reach people at a personal level, but to reach those people at a personal level, you have to attract them to your region or business in the first place – whether they be visitors or potential stayers.

Like it or not, we compete as a country with other countries and we compete as a region with other regions.

Fellow Otago-ites, my question is… if Canterbury is ‘The Green Diamond’, who or what are we?