Nelson Naturally is a business name you probably haven’t heard much about but I can almost guarantee you will have seen products they produce on the shelves of your favourite food store.
The product that started this local success story in about 1990 was mustard, then a chilli relish and now Nelson Naturally produces and distributes some 350 products under different brands, mainly Village Green, Hellish Relish and Adventure Kitchen. The only product they stock but don’t make themselves is liquid smoke marinade that is imported from America, it is simply too expensive to set up the complicated systems to produce the product for a small marketplace (New Zealand that is, not just Nelson).
Nick Morris was born in the UK, moved to New Zealand when he was young, attended schools here then travelled back to the UK and Europe where he operated market stalls in Portobello Road for two years and at Marchet de Montreuil in Paris for six years.
On relocating back to New Zealand and settling in Nelson his love of outdoor markets drew him to the Nelson Saturday Market where he set up a stand selling all manner of things. Nick thrives in the open market environment, was always looking for something else to sell and he was a bit frustrated by the lack of a good mustard when he was shopping so he developed his own range. Nick isn’t a chef but loves creating things and mustard was a reasonably simple thing for him to make and by making different flavoured mustards he had a nice range to sell at his favourite Saturday market.
Nick says he felt an obligation to keep developing new products, thinking about what goes with this, what will make this taste better, what else can I make? The result is the range of condiments he now produces; he says “condiments are a niche product with a huge market, we all use salt, chutneys, sauces and spice flavouring; condiments contribute to making a meal or to enjoy with a meal, they are the things that make a meal exciting.”
When I sat down to talk with Nick about this family business it became obvious the passion for what he does is still there as the conversation quickly moved from his background, to the Nelson market, making products, how leftovers from the processing can end up as a new product (the residue from trying to make a jalapeno oil evolved into a jalapeno sambal), designing labels, how to structure a new web site, what products taste like, how he got into making relish with the late Colin Harrison and the fun they had making processing mistakes in the early days, who buys the products, how he sells them and dealing with corporate supermarket buyers; the man’s enthusiasm for what he does is infectious.
So what makes a good product? Nick says he sources the best ingredients he can at the very best price he can to keep his costs under control and therefore his products affordable for you and me to buy. He loves inventing new things and this means many Nelson Naturally products are novel but they still need to be familiar enough for customers to want to buy them when they see them on the shelf. A good example is the mustards he started with, we all know what mustard is so are familiar with it when we see it and are prepared to try some of the flavoured mustards he makes. Making unique flavours in a familiar way is one of the keys to his success.
As the business has grown Nick has faced all of the usual growing pains suffered by small family businesses, needing bigger and better processing space and equipment, needing more staff and especially learning how to let other people do the things he has always done. While he still loves creating new things he has to leave his kitchen staff to get on with the job of making them on a large scale and he thinks letting someone else do the cooking was one of the hardest things he had to do.
The move to a new factory space a wee while ago means they have some display space set up in the office and you can drop in to 106 Vanguard St to buy them, the only sign on the building is the street number but don’t be deceived by the simplicity, the products being produced here are fantastic and widely available. You can also buy them on-line at www.nelson-naturally.co.nz
To this day you will still find Nick at the market every Saturday doing what he loves most, handing out tastings, talking to people, enthusing them about his range of hand crafted food condiments and talking about the best ways to use them.