Initially offering guided hunting with Avon Valley Safaris, the group developed a package to run alongside it including lodge accommodation and fine dining showcasing local produce.
" We have got to do more about taking the New Zealand story to the world and this is one way of doing that.”
“What we realised in the early stages was our customers wanted to do a whole lot more and we needed to have something that kept our staff busy all year round,” Clifford says. “That’s what took us into more of the agritourism style offering.”
The story of quality food and connection to the land is central to every part of the Clifford’s business.
The working sheep and beef properties run 4000 breeding ewes and 500 beef cows. From their headwaters breed the Cliffords supply to Te Mana Lamb – a premium-quality red-meat brand, high in Omega 3 and polyunsaturated fats, typically found in high-end local restaurants and export markets.
“We absolutely believe that New Zealand can’t continue to sell meat as a large commodity, there has got to be a story behind what we produce, without this we don’t have a position on the world stage,” Sarah Clifford says.
“For us being part of headwaters and supplying to Te Mana Lamb is all about that. We have got to do more about taking the New Zealand story to the world and this is one way of doing that.”
Catering to overseas tourists is a large part of what they do and Darren Clifford was quick to realise the opportunity that offered when they returned home.
“Typically a visitor might go skydiving, go skiing and do a day’s shopping in two or three different parts of the country before they leave,” he says. “What we cater for is a whole new category of spend by providing a specialised agritourism experience, including locally sourced food and beverage, which provides an ongoing opportunity for New Zealand to sell product to the world.”
The Cliffords recently added Premium Game Meats to the business meaning they can serve visitors wild game meats sourced from their property which has been through the correct certification process for food safety.
“From wild meat sausages on the barbeque to an executive dinner with venison back straps or lamb rack we always showcase a number of our own products to the groups that visit, we also use other locally sourced produce like Marlborough Black Garlic and Cranky Goat Cheese,” Darren Clifford says.
Overseas visitors can seek out and buy Te Mana Lamb when they return home and Clifford is working on the wild-food side, hoping to get Premium Game Meats registered for export in the next 12 months.
“Our long-term vision is that visitors can experience our wild game product over and over again when they travel the world,” he says.
“I believe that is what New Zealand needs to do, we need to showcase our beautiful produce here and then make sure people can buy it when they get back home.”
On a local level the breadth of their operation, with two working farms at its heart, gives consistency of revenue and provides year round employment opportunities making it easier to attract quality staff to the team.
A good example is specialised guide Fraser Cooper who, in the hunting off-season between July and February, is kept busy with Winery tours, Christmas parties and corporate functions.
“He keeps our lodge running and hosts corporate entertainment groups which means we can keep a great person like him on our team permanently,” Darren Clifford says.
While the logistics of running a multi-tiered business like theirs is a constant challenge Darren and Sarah believe there is a huge opportunity for New Zealand if the agrisector works together with New Zealand’s growing tourism sector.
“For every person that leaves this country happy telling a great story that is another 10 or 15 potential customers out in there in the world who hear our story and buy our product,” Darren Clifford says.
Briar McCormack is New Zealand editor at bluenotes