The Pacific's finest

The Pacific is home to an extensive assortment of export grade produce, yet convenience and basic supply and demand principles have hindered us from accessing some of the Pacific’s finest on a large scale. Tatau’s AARON FREEMAN makes a case for buying ‘Pacific made’ products and puts the power in the hands of the consumer.


John Oyagawa was one of the Pacific chefs showcasing Pacific inspired food at the launch of the Small Island States Trade Mission coordinated by PT&I


Our pre-contact pacific diet was comprised  exclusively of organically grown superfoods, fruits and fish. But that fact is often forgotten when pinned against current stereotypes that every Pacific person consumes a diet full of salt, fatty meat and starchy food.


In terms of quality and freshness, produce coming out of the Pacific is almost unmatched on a world-scale. It also travels less carbon miles from producer to plate than the produce regularly sourced by NZ’s largest supermarkets, including bananas from the Philippines and mango from Peru.


In the past few months I’ve been kept busy as a new Ambassador Chef for Pacific Islands Trade & Invest. Aotearoa has been lucky enough to recently host two groups of international trade exporters on trade missions, demonstrating to delegates where Pacific products fit in the local and wider Pan-Pacific market.


The missions also impart knowledge on Pacific grower and producer collectives, to get their produce as close to a finished, polished, consumer product as possible. That will eventually enable them to export, while preserving as much of the profit for the producer.




Earlier this year, Chef Robert Oliver and I were tasked with presenting a VIP cocktail function and dinner for representatives from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands at AUT restaurants Piko and the Four Seasons, alongside talented fourth-year AUT culinary students from around the Pan-Pacific region.


Amazing Pacific produce was on offer including fresh Fijian ginger and crystalized ginger, Fijian eggplant and okra, Samoan dried banana, gluten-free breadfruit flour and Koko Samoa, and Papua New Guinean cardamom, virgin coconut oil and chillies.


Framehein Koteka (Te Winery, Cook Islands) with Pasivao Maani (Tuvalu Coconut Traders Coop)


Most recently it was my great privilege to work alongside Small Island State trade delegations from Tuvalu, Niue, Palau, The Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands, and assist them in meeting with key stakeholders in the areas of retail branding, marketing and distribution, to enable their products to preserve premium value in the market.


Stanley Kalauni, from Niue Vanilla Organic International, particularly impressed with his amazing vanilla pods and value-added vanilla and honey paste products, and an incredible international collaboration with Puff Daddy’s Ciroc Vodka that includes a vanilla infusion. Mr Kalauni’s company has already set up central Pacific distribution points in Auckland and leads the way in terms of what other producers can aspire to and achieve.


Another highlight was a small coconut grower collective from Tuvalu that produced some of the finest quality virgin coconut oil, coconut sugar, coconut nectar and fresh coconut products I have ever had the good fortune to sample.


Celine Tommy and Aaron Freeman, Te Kai Maori Food Festival 2015


The Republic of the Marshall Islands is producing a unique organic com Pandanus juice product, well known for its natural aphrodisiac properties and being high in Vitamins A and E.


Stanley Kalauni from Niue Vanilla Organic InternationalIn the last few years Palau has put serious work into a flourishing aquaculture industry, looking to target the Pacific hospitality/culinary sector with export grade mangrove crabs and giant clams.


I also came across Te Winery. Based in Muri beach, Rarotonga, it is owned by Framhein Te Koteka and specialises in naturally fruit fermented wines, liquers, infused vodkas and vanilla infused extracts.



As consumers, we look to our current sourcing options for produce and often
forget factors like ethical farming,
organic produce or less carbon miles from
producer to plate.

Although perhaps naturally so, since the average person looks to their nearest supermarket for convenience; it’s already washed, butchered, portioned and wrapped; the same as the other 200 items next to it.


But the consumer has more power than corporations give us credit for.


Bernice Ngirkelau from Palau produces a unique organic Pandanus juice product If we don’t buy it, the supplier will not hold that product and will also pass the price on to the consumer end of the market.


On the flipside, if we only purchase, choose or request particular products (like those grown or derived from Pacific produce), then the effect is reversed.


It would give our Pacific products complete domestic market appeal as well as high-end artisan appeal.


An important caveat is that it’s always the hardest at the beginning. Initially these products would possibly draw a similar premium price point to free ranged eggs vs caged eggs.


But once there is significant uptake and
buy-in from the consumer, prices should
normalise to a range that is completely
acceptable and accessible to all consumers.


The upshot is that we would be using more sustainable, local, and ethically farmed produce.


At the producer end whole villages and communities benefit from consumer demand, through an increase in employment and economic prosperity.


There are collectives of growers and producers that unforunately never witness the glory that is their end product, and we as consumers have a responsibility to ensure we are not only consuming ethically, but are also mindful of the larger Pacific communities banding together to make these products available.


Aaron Freeman at Te Kai Maori Food Festival (Cook Islands) pictured with Teremoana Mato of Pacific Islands Trade & Invest“


It’s certainly food for thought for your next trip to fill the cupboards. Next time you pick up some “organic” virgin pressed coconut oil, from your health shop or supermarket, and notice that it is made in the Philippines or Vietnam, think about a more conscious choice that benefits our Pacific region.


Aaron and Heather

For more information follow Aaron and Heather on Facebook and visit their website here.