Heartland Potato Chips

July 2012

A South Island potato grower is producing his own chips in his own factory

A South Island potato farmer is producing his own potato chips, in his own factory, from his own potatoes.

Heartland Potato Chips was formed when Bluebird decided to close down its Washdyke factory near Timaru. The Bowan family had been long term suppliers to Bluebird and when it was announced in 2009 that the Timaru factory was being closed down, they decided to leap in and ‘spend the retirement money’ on buying the building and installing new gear .

Raymond and Adrianne were 2011 South Island Farmers Of The Year.

They farm 1214 hectares in Orari and 197 hectares at Coldstream on the North Bank of the Rangitata River. With 95% of their farm irrigated they grow potatoes, cereals, barley, maize and grass seed.

Increasingly they are wintering dairy cows and last year 2,500 cows wintered on their property. Ray is a director of Grainstor and of Seedlands and is an original member of the Rangitata South Irrigation Scheme.

In 2009 when a potato chip factory in Washdyke closed down, the Bowans bought the factory and established Heartland Potato Chips which employs 15 people.

The Bowans have been farming for over 40 years and now their family is involved in the day-to-day running of the properties with their son working on the farm, one daughter working in the office and a Christchurch-based daughter who helps out with marketing. Raymond started out on a dairy farm growing spuds as a sideline for the local fish and chip shop.

Raymond and Adrienne Bowan bought Fallgate Farms nearly 40 years ago. It was named over 80 years ago when a previous landowner discovered many farm gates on the property hanging off their hinges. Raymond says the soil is naturally perfect for growing potatoes – free draining, little to no stone and land which can be irrigated.

Fallgate Farm runs some livestock in addition to the 250ha of potatoes that are planted every year.

Potato planting begins in late August through to early November. Raymond has trialled numerous varieties of potatoes and has found that out of the many varieties available there are only about five types that produce good quality potato chips. He’s worked with Plant and Food on a variety or two over the years. This includes a cultivar called “Fraser”.

The annual rotation starts in June with the paddocks being worked over and then tested. They’re ploughed and ridged in September and the crop gets planted. From November through to February the crop is monitored for moisture and pests. By January the first of the new season crop gets lifted.

Farmer’s DiaryRaymond BowaRaymond is your true kiwi – a hard-working, quiet achiever who has a heart of gold and a generous spirit Some days it can be as little as 12 hours from the time a potato is dug on the farm in Orari to when it is packaged.

There’s been no significant sign of pysllid this far south.

The Bowans were the main suppliers to Bluebird’s Washdyke factory and its closure in February 2009 created huge uncertainly for their business. Bluebird relocated to the North Island and the tonnage the Bowans supplied reduced significantly.

At a time when many of their peers were contemplating slowing down on work or retiring, the Bowans took a gamble and bought the factory.

Raymond knew a lot about growing potatoes but little about manufacturing and marketing to an end product.

Former Bluebird plant manager Bill Cockburn, who worked at the factory for 21 years, was a key person. Armed with his expertise, the Bowans were able to install a new state-of-the-art production line which they sourced from the Netherlands. They also lined up a sales manager who is a 20 veteran of the industry.

One of the challenges they faced was to create a point of difference. There are after all a large number of chips on the market. The name of the chips was an important factor in this. Bowan says “Heartland” suited the product, which is 100 per cent local, gluten free, and does not contain any palm oil. Securing the name “Heartland Potato Chips” was a bit of a coup.

In October last year, the first bag of Heartland chips hit supermarket shelves.

There are five flavours of Heartland potato chips – plain, salt and vinegar, chicken, onion, and sour cream and chives.

The main focus now is increasing market share.

There are 10 full-time and temporary staff employed at the factory. Manufacturing is not daily at this stage but as orders increase, so will production. In the South Island, the chips are stocked in most New World supermarkets and a large percentage of Pak‘nSave supermarkets and SuperValues.

Today, Fallgate Farm still supplies Bluebird in the North Island as well as Talley’s and Mr Chips.