By Sourish Bhattacharyya
BRENDON McCullum is New Zealand’s cricket captain in all three formats of the sport, an aggressive batsman, and plays for Kolkata Knight Riders. Stephen Fleming, who made his Test and ODI debuts in India in 1994, is a stylish batsman and the coach of the Chennai Super Kings (they just lost to Rajasthan Royals in the Champions League T20 semi-finals!) and was New Zealand’s most successful Test and ODI captain. What has brought them together now?
When they are not playing cricket, McCullum and Fleming bat for New Zealand products, from wines to Pacific salmon, as directors of the Bangalore-based QualityNZ. The company’s CEO and Director, New Zealand, Geoff Allott, also played for the Black Caps between 1996 and 2000. He was a part of the team that reached the World Cup semi-finals under Fleming’s leadership in 1999 (Allott was also the tournament’s highest wicket-taker) and was elected last month to the board of directors of New Zealand Cricket.
The third Kiwi cricketer who’s also a director of the company is the orthodox left-arm spinner, consistent lower-order batsman and Royal Challengers team member, Daniel Vettori, who was the youngest cricketer in New Zealand to get a Test cap and is one of only three cricketers in the world to play with spectacles. The trio of McCullum, Fleming and Vettori are expected to leverage their Indian contacts to promote QualityNZ products. Topping their list is lamb from the farmer-owned cooperative Alliance Group, whose Pure South logo was on the shirts of the Otago Volts led by McCullum at the CLT20.
McCullum, whose team was edged out by Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians in the CLT20’s tough Group A, joined Allott and Geoff Thin, QualityNZ’s CEO and Director, India, for an evening of New Zealand wine, lamb chops and Pacific salmon on October 3 at the residence of their country’s High Commissioner in India, Jan Henderson.
With Henderson, who actively champions the produce of her country, personally receiving the who’s who of the hospitality industry and celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia donning her other hat, that of brand ambassador of Fisher&Paykel, the New Zealand-based makers of stylish kitchen appliances, it turned out to be a memorable evening with top-notch wines, great food and sparkling company.
“New Zealand,” Henderson said, “is committed to a prosperous bilateral relationship with India, and the two countries share important trade, investment and cultural ties, as well as a mutual love of cricket.” She added: “New Zealand is world-renowned for its high quality food and beverage products and is well-placed to make a difference to India’s industry, with NZ products complementing the Indian domestic supply.”
The discovery of the evening, to go by the overwhelming sentiment at the High Commissioner’s residence, was the wild king salmon (also known as the Chinook) from the Pacific Ocean. Gifted with three times more omega-3 fatty acids than its Atlantic cousins (all of which, incidentally, are farm-raised and pumped with antibiotics), New Zealand’s king salmon is a favourite of chefs internationally for its rich flesh that tops the taste test when pitted against the five other members of this piscine family from the Pacific.
Quality NZ’s other offerings are lamb (naturally lean and full of flavour), the protein-rich green-shelled mussels from the sub-Antarctic waters off New Zealand’s coast, apples and kiwifruit, the famed Manuka honey, and wines from the acclaimed boutique producers Main Divide, Pegasus Bay and Lowburn Ferry.
Speaking to the media, McCullum made two important points. QualityNZ, the cricketer said, is New Zealand’s first food and beverage company to be based in India. The company’s website, in fact, reminds visitors of the time when Indian and Kiwi soldiers fought shoulder to shoulder at the Battle of Gallipolli in the First World War, and of Sir Edmund Hillary’s abiding love for India. The only man to have stood on both poles and on the summit of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund was New Zealand’s High Commissioner in India between 1985 and 1990 and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan posthumously in 2008. Interestingly, the High Commissioner’s residence, where the event was held, is on a road named after the conqueror of Mount Everest. QualityNZ seeks to position itself as an upholder of this great legacy.
“Over the last two years we have worked hard to establish our Bangalore head office and to secure the very best supply chain and logistics provider in India, in order to give us the utmost confidence that our products will arrive to our valued customers on time and in the condition that they left New Zealand,” McCullum said, making the second important point of his statement released on the occasion.
There’s clearly a rising demand for New Zealand food products besides lamb chops (Ritu Dalmia’s restaurant Diva, in fact, was one of the earliest to introduce the delicacy on the menu). Richard White, New Zealand’s Trade Commissioner in New Delhi, said food and beverage exports (excluding dairy) from his country almost doubled in two years to NZ$36.4 million in 2012, compared with NZ$19.1 million in 2010. (NZ$1 = Rs 51.16)
“Indians are already enjoying safe and delicious products from our country, and with the entry of QualityNZ into the market, access to some of the premium products available from New Zealand just got easier,” White commented. Exports of New Zealand wines, incidentally, grew by 16 per cent in 2012.
New Zealand is the world’s largest exporter of dairy products and lamb, and a major supplier of kiwifruit, apples and seafood. Its reputation for high quality coupled with the rising demand in India for specialty foods and cuisine opens up new avenues for trade between the two countries. And QualityNZ clearly has the first-mover advantage in this department.