by Chris Tobin
Geraldine institution Barker’s celebrated 50 years in business last weekend, but the company’s sights are very much focused on the future.
“We’ll definitely be in Geraldine and be bigger and hopefully we’ll be expanding with more product,” Barker’s processing chairman Michael Barker.
Mr Barker’s late parents Anthony and Gillian Barker founded the business in 1969 on part of their sheep and cropping farm 8km from Geraldine, initially producing elderberry wine.
Mr Barker said he started working for the company when “he was a boy in short pants”.
After years away for schooling and university studies he returned to the farm in 1980, soon after which the company decided to start producing pure natural blackcurrant juice.
“This was the turning point.
“I was young and had no fear and got stuck in. It changed the business.
“The McFarlanes, growers from Clandeboye-Orton, spoke on Saturday about their 39 years’ growing blackcurrants for us,” Mr Barker said.
After moving into blackcurrant juice, the company expanded into fruit fillings for bakers, then jams, sauces, chutneys, cordials, fruit compotes and spritzer, the emphasis being on quality and maintaining a cottage industry feel and Geraldine focus.
Four years ago French multinational corporation Andros bought a majority stake in the company but it has been largely “business as usual” since then with the Barker’s factory operating on the original farm site.
“We are respected as one of the most innovative food companies in the country and we’re very proud of that,” Mr Barker said.
“The current management are very committed socially and environmentally.”
More than 400 people, many of them former staff, attended Saturday’s celebrations. The event included the formal opening of a new eatery next to the former St Mary’s Church Vicarage, which Mr Barker has been developing into a boutique accommodation lodge.
French ambassador to New Zealand Sylvaine Carta-Le Vert and Timaru mayor-elect Nigel Bowen were among the guests. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered her congratulations via video message.
Mr Barker said the celebration also acted as a reminder to those working for Barker’s of their obligation to each other and to maintaining the special family culture.
“We’ve got to keep that culture alive.”
Special long-service awards were presented to staff members at the function and memories of Mr Barker’s parents were often recalled.
“They would have been thrilled to bits that their vision has been kept on and realised.
“They gave it the strong roots and culture that has been retained to this day.”
As part of the celebrations, Mr Barker’s book Barker’s of Geraldine: 50 Years Preserved was launched
“It was a lot of work and a labour of love,” Mr Barker said.
“I did it as a tribute to the around 2000 people who have worked for us and for my parents.”