A ‘Food Entrepreneurship Celebration’ event was held in December 2020 at the Australian High Commission in Fiji. The event brought together chefs, food entrepreneurs, agribusinesses and producers to celebrate Fijian innovation and entrepreneurship.
Over the last few years there has been a concerted effort to increase the amount of local food served on restaurants and hotels menus. One of impacts of COVID-19 has been an increase in the number of food entrepreneurs bringing their tourism expertise to the Fiji food scene.
Partly by necessity, as people turn to entrepreneurship to make ends meet, the markets in Suva are now filled with pesto, various dips, quiches, jams, chutneys, sauces, dumplings and boutique burgers.
So what are some of the challenges that food entrepreneurs face? And what solutions have they found?
Many food entrepreneurs start by selling at markets once or twice a month. This usually allows home bakers and producers, particularly women, to fit in their production around their home management schedule. When they do want to scale, it’s quite a big leap in terms of compliance requirements to produce and sell on a fully commercial basis.
Nakita Irvin from Tasty Island Treats is trying to solve some of these issues with the launch of her co-working kitchen space. She knows first hand that it is difficult to scale from regular selling at markets and through direct deliveries to a fully commercial operation.
‘Tasty Kitchen Collective, by having a fully commercial and compliant kitchen, can offer a space to food entrepreneurs wanting perhaps to rent the facility for a day a week or just a few hours. This can help create new ideas and support entrepreneurs to get over the very large compliance hurdles to fully commercialise.’ ‘We recently held a Food Talanoa event to get people interested in a coordinated approach to developing the food industry in Fiji. Some great ideas came from the discussions that will really help in strengthening the collaboration in the food entrepreneurship space/ she added’.
Chefs have been working on this issue for a while and are critical in helping to shape the perception of local food. ‘When we serve our tourists imported food, we are not just missing an opportunity to support our farmers, we are implicitly telling our people that our food is not good enough.’ shared Robert Oliver of Pacific Island Food Revolution. The TV show has brought Pacific chefs and food innovation to homes across the region. Season 2 winners Pio and Krystelle provided guests at the Australian High Commission in December 2020 with a curated menu of local dishes inspired by the other entrepreneurs that were also present. Pork was infused with Fiji’s only ginger beer, Ginger Lei. Dessert shots were inspired by Tasty Island Treats chill pops.
And it’s been great to see some of the more established vendors take the plunge of scaling at a time when business uncertainty is at its highest, creating opportunities for their suppliers and employees in the process. Soon after participating in the Fiji Enterprise Engine business incubation programme, Waitika Farm has secured a regular Suva market at a local cafe. KokoMana, which were badly impacted following the loss of tourism revenue from farm tours, have switched to direct selling to Suva and exposure to Suva networks and markets through events and markets has been critical to their ability to do that.
Using this time of paused international tourism to expand the variety and quality of local produce is an important strategy for import substitution. There is certainly a deeper awareness among domestic consumers of the importance of their spending in supporting local businesses and employment. And when the tourism industry recovers, there will be many more innovative small businesses that the industry can source from. We look forward to seeing tourists sipping their Fijian ginger beer and snacking on kumala chips, eating soursop, mango and guava ice pops, spreading rosemary infused honey on their breakfast toast and enjoying incredible Fijian chocolate as part of their next Fiji holiday.
This blog is based on a Food Entrepreneurship Celebration held in December 2020 at the Australian High Commission. AgriFood enterprises present included:
Marama Niu, Mama’s Mushrooms, the Fusion Hub, Waitika Farm, the Wainuqa Farmers’ Cooperative, The Mad Hatter Hut, KokoMana, Tasty Island Treats, GingerLei Beer, and the Pacific Island Food Revolution winners Sikipio Fihaki of Niu Grillz and Krystelle Lavaki of Lady Kupcake.