Leaderbrand - Salad House

June 2022

A $20m salad house is helping a Gisborne-based company to protect its market position, secure jobs and cushion the impact of climate change.

LeaderBrand grows broccoli, lettuce, sweetcorn, asparagus, squash, salad leaf, baby leaf, cut salad and slaw, producing about  30 percent of New Zealand's bagged salads. Each week it processes and packs 40 tonnes of iceberg lettuce, 20 tonnes of green cabbage, 10 tonnes of red and 30 tonnes of spinach. In winter time, about 300,000 head of broccoli are harvested each week from its fields in Gisborne, Bombay, and Ashburton, packed into about 10,000 crates. It is by any measure, a sizeable operation.


A $20m investment in their ‘Salad House’ is one of a number of innovative approaches being made by this Gisborne-based company, to protect its market position, secure jobs and cushion the impact of climate change on the business. By taking these steps, the family-owned group is ensuring its nationwide vegetable-growing operation has a sustainable future.


LeaderBrand was founded by Murray McPhail in 1975. Still an owner, he has two sons in the business, Gordon, who is general manager of farming, and Richard, general manager of processing.

Murray started the business after the death of his father, when Murray was only 18. Three years later, Murray had to make the decision to buy the family business, a sheep and cattle farm at Waingake Valley, with 40-odd hectares of flat land on which he grew his potatoes. After travel through North America, he came home and decided to launch LeaderBrand.


LeaderBrand has farms in Gisborne, Waikato, and Canterbury, growing about 3,500ha of fresh produce each year for process, domestic and international customers. Supplying partners including Countdown, Foodstuffs, and Subway, LeaderBrand employs 450 permanent staff, with an additional 300 seasonal staff through summer harvesting.


In 2017, LeaderBrand spent $20 million building their new salad processing plant - now one of the country’s most modern salad production facilities - naming it The Salad House. 


Richard McPhail sums up the demands of supplying a fresh, secure, continuous pipeline of food to customers. “This is a warehouse, in and out. We don’t want produce sitting around,” he says.


That’s important in-store because consumers tend to switch off their greens if they’re not available. And losing supermarket shelf space is costly. Whether you lose it to a competitor or to other produce, once you lose it you essentially have to buy it back, through promotions or discounts, for example.


Virtually every product group is year-round, except seasonal squash and corn. Productivity targets never stops – a  big day of spinach harvesting yields 10 tonnes, for instance.


In Gisborne, heavy soil is too wet for winter groundwork, while at Matamata it’s too light to turn over in summer. So the solution is to prepare those soils in opposite seasons. The regional climate variation gives the company a buffer against the elements.


Matamata’s light, free-draining soil makes it a great environment for growing tasty, sprawling salad leaf. LeaderBrand’s Matamata farm grows around half its salad leaf, providing daily supply to the Gisborne Salad House.

Around Gisborne, LeaderBrand’s plots can be as large as 40ha and many of them are planted in corn and squash over summer. Flat, open fields help the company to harvest produce efficiently and quickly for processing, keeping it as fresh as possible. 


To meet customer demand, LeaderBrand leases a substantial amount of its Gisborne land, working with leaseholders on long-term improvements to leasehold property, including soil testing for Ph to assess optimal cropping conditions and levelling works to improve drainage and productivity.