Redwood Family Mussel Farm

June 2005
Whereas his forebears farmed the land, Chris Redwood is farming the sea. For the past 26 years he has been involved in mussel farming in the Sounds, but only recently have he and his wife Trish set up a high quality mussel processing facility, PHR Processing. The facility has the ability to export chilled, vacuum packed cooked mussels in shell to gourmet markets around the world. They were the sole Australasian finalists in the Prix dElite Seafood innovation competition for new products at the worlds biggest and most prestigious seafood event, the European Seafood Exposition, held in Brussels and they won.

Chris Redwood is the fifth generation of a Marlborough pioneer farming family. His forebears arrived in Nelson in 1845 and were involved in flour milling. Chris's father farmed Forsyth Island at the top of the Pelorus Sound. It was very steep and arid and although they had a flock of ewes it was very hard to make a living. The only flat paddock they had was the sea. His father knew about boats and taught the children at an early age.

They started mussel farming in 1979,when they put in about six long lines over a period of months. The lines were synthetic ropes about 110m long situated about 50 m offshore. Over the years the operation slowly expanded, with mussels being graded on the boat and sold in bags to factories.

For some time Chris has wanted to vertically integrate, and a few years ago the high value of the dollar and consequent low returns was the stimulus needed for him to make that change. Chris and his wife Trish turned their attention to processing, aiming at the high value market.

Prior to their current venture they were like the rest of the NZ mussel industry - producing mussels in a half shell with a minimum length of 85mm. The smaller mussels were simply dumped. Chris decided to focus on the smaller size because it would give a more rapid turnover and allow greater tonnages to be grown. Currently they produce between 1000 and 1500 tonnes per year.

The first step was to convert part of the old PPCS freezing works at Blenheim into a high quality food processing factory and, after considerable effort and expense, have their process approved by the Food Standards Authority. They are now able to export to the USA, Asia and Europe.

They started processing only about 10 months ago, and now employ a dozen fulltime staff. Processing involves tumbling the mussels to clean them, grading them into different sizes, and taking the "beards" out of them. Then they are weighed into half kilo or one kilo lots, vacuum packed and retort cooked, then chilled to below four degrees Celsius. At that temperature the packs have a high quality storage life of 12 months. The process uses special plastic and exacting heat conditions to kill pathogens and 'seal in the flavour'.

Currently most sales are in New Zealand but they are also being sold in Hong Kong, and the company is aiming at Europe.

Unlike his father who farmed the land and played with the sea, Chris is fully focused on farming the sea. The family has sold the Island, and he and Trish now own a farm near Seddon. However, their new venture recognises Chriss fathers contribution in its name PHR are his initials.