The family owned and run pie business that is staying put in Maketu
James Wilson’s grandparents started the family business with a general store in Maketu in the 1970s. Subsequently they built a new service station and workshop and then an IGA Supersaver grocery came along with space for bakery and wineshop. In 1979 James’ parents moved back to Maketu to help in the store.
Grandmother Wilson made pies for their shop because they couldn’t get fresh delivery of pies – everything came out by bus once a week. James’ dad thought it was a good idea and when space came available in one of the shops he decided to start making pies there. Before long he added products like sandwiches, doughnuts and other classic Kiwi baked goods. The business just grew and grew, says James.
“He was selling to local schools, dairies, delivering in back of cars and vans and it kept growing, and today we manufacture about 100,000 units a week and distribute nationwide,” he says.
“I have been involved most of my life. I grew up around the business and worked in it every holiday. After a spell away I came back into it in 2009 and learnt the entire operation again.”
Prior to rejoining Maketu Pies James studied for a diploma in hotel management and worked in hospitality and then in the airline business. Then when his parents wanted a future plan for the business and an exit strategy he decided to return. He was appointed general manager about four years ago.
Today the company employs 48 people who produce between 50 and 60 different product lines including products like the classic Kiwi pie, sausage rolls, savouries, and so on. The two bestsellers are mince-and-cheese pies and sausage rolls.
“We also do quite a lot of contract manufacturing outside of our own brand. Our biggest clients are supermarkets – we are nationwide in Countdown and in most Pak ‘n Saves and New Worlds as well,” says James.
“We supply the service station and other retail outlets but we are 100% wholesale, we don’t have a retail store any more. We need the space for production.”
For the past two years the market has been a bit flat. James says that when the economy is tight people tend to go for the lower end products, but now he sees signs of change with some increases in sales and more people looking for premium products.
“There is a lot of competition because everyone is trying to make a good pie, and I think they are doing a good job,” he says.
“It’s a New Zealand thing and even the good old service station pie is of a higher quality these days. I have judged some of the annual pie competitions where there are something like 4000 entries in many different flavours, and some of them are really ‘out there’ – the one that won this year had a lamb cutlet in it!”
“We applaud those people and that competition is doing great things for the industry but we are in a different market. We are a large-scale manufacturer trying to produce a really good quality wholesale product.”
New Zealand produces about 65 million pies per year using large amounts of meat, dairy and other products. James says that Maketu Pies probably uses more dairy products than most bakeries because cheese features in many of their meat pies and milk in seafood pies, all of which are produced on a large scale.
“We use 70 to 90 litres of milk per day and about a tonne of cheese per month along with six or seven tonnes of diced beef, mince and poultry products. We buy the meat fully prepared from a local butcher,” he says. “Vegetables and everything else are also bought locally wherever possible and we make up the ingredients fresh on site. We pride ourselves on our pastry. It is basically flour, water and fat but we use our own methods to create a nice flaky top and the flavour that people want.”
Another bit of proprietary knowhow involves filling the pies, the most expensive part of the process. The company has developed its own specialised equipment that deposits the fill in the pie casing with accuracy down to 2 or 3 grams.
A modern food processing factory needs to be diligent regarding food safety and Maketu Pies uses stringent practices based on the Food Control Plan. James says that risk of food poisoning or contamination from a cooked product is low. The meat in the pie is cooked, which kills any pathogens, then cooled quickly to chiller. Then it is heated through again by the retailer or end consumer.
The NZ pie market is steadily growing and James also sees good prospects for export.
“We can and do export to Australia and there are some prospects for growth because Australians are big pie eaters too. They love their own pies, which are a different style to ours with more of a crisper pastry and they don’t have as much chunkiness in their beef pies,” he says. “I think New Zealanders are more adventurous with pie flavours, and that shows in the great variety on the market.”