Taupo-based Maori dairy company Miraka took the top honours at this year’s Biosecurity Awards.
The morning session on February 3 consisted of a “wonderful” powhiri at the local marae and the afternoon ended with a board meeting.
The former Fonterra executive told Dairy News he never experienced anything like that before.
“The powhiri gave me a clear sense for the unique culture the whole team at Miraka has – the board, staff, our farmers, strategic partners and the pride and passion they show every day.”
Watson is the second chief executive in the company’s 10-year history. He replaces Richard Wyeth who has taken the reins at Westland Milk on the West Coast.
A former head of Fonterra’s global food service business, Watson says he’s honoured to be taking over where Wyeth left off.
“Richard has helped create a strong business with a bright future,” he says.
Located in Mokai, 30km northwest of Taupo, Miraka is unique within the dairy industry. Using sustainable and renewable geothermal energy, state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, Miraka specialises in powders and UHT products.
Its farming excellence programme, Te Ara Miraka ensures activities are sustainable and have a minimal impact on the environment, including on the 104 supplying farms located within an 85km radius of the plant.
Watson says Miraka is arguably one of the most sustainable dairy businesses in the world and that’s what attracted him to Taupo.
“The strategic horizon of Miraka means it is thinking many generations ahead in terms of the environment,” he says.
Miraka has capacity to process 300 million litres of milk every year and there are no immediate plans to expand the milk supply based or production capacity.
“Our focus today is how we can add more value to our existing milk base,” says Watson.
“That doesn’t mean we are standing still. My role will continue the momentum and create more value from every drop of milk we receive…Obviously we will be looking at product innovation and developing more strategic partnerships.”
Miraka has a strategic partnership with one of its shareholders Vinamilk, a leading dairy business in Vietnam.
While some Miraka products are exported to more than 20 countries around the world, China is the biggest market.
Watson sees an opportunity to connect with customers who value Miraka’s approach to sustainability.
“Through our Te Ara Miraka programme, we incentivise farmers to adopt industry-leading practices in sustainable land management, animal welfare, and supporting staff. It’s important to us that we are producing quality milk in a way that also supports the land, and that we connect with customers who value this approach.”
Watson says he looks forward to interacting directly with farmer suppliers.
“One aspect that attracted me to the role is the ‘from gate to plate’ nature of our operation.”
Miraka has announced a forecast milk payout of $7.30/kgMS for this season, 10c higher than Fonterra’s range midpoint and Synlait. The forecast payout includes Te Ara Miraka premiums.
While not speculating about the payout, Watson believes strong global demand for dairy is likely to keep upward pressure on prices in the short term.
He says Covid remains on the forefront.
For Miraka, the focus during the pandemic has been on the health and wellbeing of its workers and farmer suppliers.
Security of supply to consumers and customers has also been a priority.
Watson says like most companies, Miraka has also faced global supply chain issues.
“But we are in good shape,” he says.
Miraka chairman Kingi Smiler says Grant Watson's appointment marks another chapter in the company's history.
Smiler says Miraka is embarking on expanding consumer products that carry its unique brand stories.
"Grant has a strong history of leading the sales and marketing of brands to global markets and for the past sixteen years Grant has held senior executive roles working across the value chain," Smiler says.
He is also a past winner of the New Zealand Young Executive of the Year.
Recently he led the significant growth of Fonterra's global foodservice business, a position he held since 2015 and prior to that was the director of Tip Top and the former chief operating officer for McDonald's New Zealand.
"Grant brings the skills, knowledge and experience that are directly relevant to deliver on the vision and strategy for Miraka," says Smiler.