Celebrating 50 Years

Barker’s of Geraldine is delighted to celebrate 50 years in business. 

Founded by the entrepreneurial spirit of Anthony and Gillian Barker in 1969, the business started from humble beginnings based on instinct, ingenuity and hard work.

The story began when Anthony had a need to diversify away from farming and embarked on a bold new adventure to make elderberry wine.  The berries were gathered in local farms and riverbeds by an enthusiastic bunch of locals who were paid 10c per pound. 

“Our star elderberry pickers were a retired couple who regularly brought in 100kg per day. The pickers would generally arrive just before dinner time and we would weigh their fruit and pay them in cash.  Quite a crowd would gather as everyone turned up to deliver their harvest and discuss their day in the field. Sometimes Anthony would offer them a drink and they’d stay a little longer”, recalls Michael, current Chairman of the business and son of Anthony.

Although it started with elderberries, the venture broadened into the making of other fruit wines.  The natural spin off was learning how to source and process many different fruits, which planted the seed to keep exploring the preserving of fruits.

“At the time it was innovative and exciting.  We got written up about in every newspaper and magazine in the country.  Dad was considered a bit of a nutter perhaps, but a very innovative one.  He made great products and it was a story that people talked about,” says Michael.

Anthony’s insight and innovative streak was evident in everything he did.  In the late 50’s a retired Christchurch Tram No. 101 was purchased and restored (with his father’s help) to become a holiday bach for the family.  It’s set back from the shores of Lake Ohau and still remains as a place of significance for the family today. 

Remembers Michael, “Dad put down a well which delivered water, if you worked the pump handle back and forward. When connected to the shower one person had to keep pumping while the other showered behind the curtain.  There was huge temptation to wait until Celia, my sister was all lathered up then disappear into the bush!”

Anthony’s ingenuity and practical skill set led to the building of his first winery using an extraordinary range of repurposed home appliances – two laundry coppers for cooking the wild berries and vacuum cleaners acted as blowers for the diesel burners.

But ultimately the business was a family operation. “As Celia, Esther and I grew up, we would take our turn to serve customers, competing with each other to ensure no customer left empty handed.  Dad had laid a pneumatic strip across the driveway which rang a bell inside the house. Due to the cunning way he laid it on the road, we could tell if the car was coming or going. When 10 or 20 cars arrived in convoy for a group tour, you had to block your ears. Thank goodness we were closed on Sundays!”

It was Anthony’s wife, Gillian who was at the helm of the first Barker’s shop which guided the business to value the natural ways of rural hospitality, which still remains at the core of the business today.

Barker's Wine Tasting   
In the 1970’s Anthony responded to large local plantings of blackcurrants as it presented opportunity to produce the first ever pure blackcurrant juice.  Barker’s Tru-Fruit launched into New Zealand supermarkets in 1981 and Barker’s is still the top selling blackcurrant juice syrup in supermarkets today. 

The journey continued with Barker’s knowledge of fruit processing growing.  Fruit pulp was packed into pails and sold to bakeries and caterers as a convenient filling solution for fruit pies, slices and crumbles.  This launch in the mid 80’s of a fruit filling for bakers was the first of many innovative solutions for the baking industry which laid a strong foundation for future growth into Food Service and Food Ingredient channels. Barker’s is proud to partner with many other food producers and Barker’s products are used as a key ingredient in many packaged food products and listed on cafe and bar menu boards. 

New markets and new customers fuelled growth.  In the early 90’s, Michael realised an opportunity to compete with UK made gourmet preserves in specialty retailers.  Anthony Barker’s Preserves was launched with great success, but ten years later the strategy changed and the range was relaunched through New Zealand supermarkets under the Barker’s brand. The natural move was to then look across the Tasman where Australian exports were a major focus and have continued to grow steadily since.

Recent business expansions were possible due to investment from French family-business Andros in 2015. Barker Fruit Processors is now also proud to represent French produced Bonne Maman jam and other selected products from their global family like the popular Dulce de Leche made in Uruguay. These premium imports sit alongside and complement our locally made brands; Barker’s of Geraldine and Anathoth Farm.

In 1996, the Barker’s Shop in Geraldine was shifted from the farm into Geraldine and welcomes both locals and travelers on the popular Christchurch to Queenstown tourist route.  An online shopping portal has since been adapted to support brand growth nationwide.

The Barker’s shop has just been replaced by a new hospitality venture in the heart of Geraldine, the Barker’s Foodstore & Eatery.  The site on the banks of the Waihi River in the centre of town is shared with The Vicarage Geraldine boutique accommodation, a restoration project undertaken by Michael and wife Brigitte Barker.

“Growing up, I roamed the Te Moana riverbed, eeling and fishing, building huts, trapping, skinning and tanning possums, shooting pukekos and all the regular farmer boy pastimes”, says Michael.  It’s that same fresh country air and Four Peaks mountain range that inspires the Barker’s team each day. 

The rural location means the business relies heavily on the natural resources of the land.  Water is pumped from two wells, wash water from the factory is irrigated onto local pasture, we treat our own effluent in constructed wetlands, fibre optic cable has been laid up 5km of country roads to provide high speed internet and we had to erect our own mini cell phone tower to provide mobile coverage to the farm site.

There is pride in calling Geraldine home and the business continues to invest in this special rural location. The culture of the business was defined by the personalities of Anthony & Gillian and the rural community we are part of. We continue to value and nurture this special Barker’s family culture and ‘The Barker’s Way’ has proudly lived on in the business with the long-standing team enjoying the benefits of living, working and playing in the paradise that is South Canterbury.

Parts of this blog were taken from the soon to be released book, ’50 Years Preserved’ – Our story of innovation and industry on the family farm, written by Michael Barker.  Look out for it in booksellers nationwide from 1 November 2019.