Pūhoro internship – Māori value propositions on food packaging

Our Pūhoro internship was in partnership with Future Foods Catalyst, FEAST, the Riddet Institute, and Wakatū Incorporation and we were based at Massey University in Palmerston North. We worked together in collaboration with a PHD student – Summer Wright. Dr Meika Foster and Professor Joanne Hort were our supervisors, and we were very lucky to have these exceptionally qualified women to guide us along the way. We analysed Māori value propositions on food packaging and created an excel spreadsheet to document our results. A Māori value proposition is how the business communicates its Māori culture in their food products through marketing. We used content analysis to categorise the messages, which is a research tool used to determine the presence of certain words, themes, or concepts within some given qualitative data. We completed the analysis of 18 Māori food and beverage products and found that provenance, wellbeing, and third-party labeling were the key messages on packaging (in text or graphics). Provenance is the origin of food and in the context of Māori culture, it comes back to their long-standing traditions of whakapapa and relates to Māori values and ideologies.

Figure 1. Māori provenance usage on packaging.

As shown in this figure, Māori provenance is commonly used on packaging. Examples of this are ‘Made in Aotearoa’ and ‘Kaitiakitanga’, which demonstrate to consumers that the business has a connection to Māori culture and may result in consumers who value making ethical purchasing decisions being more inclined to purchase. 

Wellbeing is multidimensional and the messages that were displayed on the packaging involved spiritual, environmental, social, psychological and physiological aspects of wellbeing. Māori culture has a clear focus on wellbeing with their philosophy of health – hauora and the four pillar (Te Whare Tapa Whā) approach. Incorporating wellbeing/hauora as a value proposition into their packaging draws attention to the connection between consuming a product and wellbeing that aligns with and reflects the consumer’s values. Third party labeling was an interesting finding that showed to be a very popular component on food and beverage packaging; the use of awards and certifications were placed on the products to show the authenticity and quality of the food and beverages.

Below is an itemised example of how we would analyse a food product. On first impression, we thought this tea was a Māori-owned product. But once we analysed both front and back packaging, along with looking at the product website, we saw that this is actually produced by an overseas company. 

This example below shows how confusing it can be for a consumer trying to buy ethically or from a Maori-owned business. The product name is in Te Reo Māori and means ‘tea of wellbeing’ in English. They use Kūmarahou, which is a native taonga plant and they have the native kiwi bird as a part of their logo. 

Where to from here?

We can see how non-Māori companies may use Māori culture in their branding for profit. An idea for the future would be to create a third-party label / certification for all officially recognised Māori businesses. This would take time and money but could be an important tool to stop Māori culture from being exploited for financial gain and to uphold Māori traditions respectfully.

Working in the māra kai (community garden)
Looking at the sunflowers

We were also lucky enough to go to Nelson for a 2-day site visit hosted by one of our partner organisations, Wakatū. We presented our findings from our summer internship to Wakatū and received really encouraging feedback. We visited their māra kai (community garden) and learned about how whānau are connecting back to their whenua through this initiative.

We also visited SPATNZ which is a mussel hatchery located in Nelson and learned first-hand the inner workings of this incredible business. Overall, the internship gave us insight into different career options in both research, food technology, and business. We also met so many knowledgeable people who excel in their careers, which was really inspiring and gave us an opportunity of a lifetime. We are grateful to Pūhoro for giving us this opportunity and Riddet Institute and FEAST for taking us on, as a part of their team.

This opportunity has been amazing for both of us as it has given us exposure to the possible careers we can pursue after the completion of our degrees. Working alongside PHD students, professors and colleagues of consumer food scientists has benefited us both in understanding what the industry is like and has aided us to acquire the skills needed for jobs in this field. Efficiency, organisation, and a will to learn are key attributes we learned through this internship. Working with excel is a learning that we can bring into our degrees and has proved to be a very beneficial skill! Having the opportunity with this internship has made us very enthusiastic about our degrees as we now have a deeper understanding of our course because of the work we completed over the summer with the Riddet Institute, FEAST and the Future Foods Catalyst.