Daniel Forsyth’s labour of love with food started in 1993, when he trained as a chef at Auckland Institute of Technology.
Although he grew up in West Auckland, his links to the Cook Islands are strong.
His granddad on his mum’s side was born in Tamarua, Mangaia and his grandma is from Ma‘uke.
“Mum was born in Rarotonga and spent her childhood growing up in Mangaia,” he says proudly.
“My dad is of Scottish descent and was born and raised in Foxton, New Zealand.”
Following on from completing his chef’s qualification, he jumped on a plane and travelled around the world working with renowned chefs for the first two years of his OE, both in Sydney and London.
Later on, he opened and ran a fine dining restaurant on a one-year contract for an established family in Madeira, Portugal.
In 1999, he returned to work in Auckland just in time for the America’s Cup in 1999 and then moved to Sydney for the Olympics in 2000.
But the call to return to where his mother grew up was too strong for him to ignore, in 2001 he moved to Rarotonga and worked at Sails Restaurant for three years.
Not long after relocating to Rarotonga he met his soon-to be wife Maire Porter, they joined forces and ran the Windjammer Restaurant for six years.
“I looked after the kitchen and Maire looked after the dining service and managed our accounts,” he says.
“It was a great experience and tough at the time as the low season saw very few tourists.”
In 2008 the couple welcomed their son Daniel Jr.
At that time there was a near monopoly on food supply in the Cooks.
It made it harder to run their business successfully as the quality of ingredients had diminished and prices had increased.
Many other restaurants, businesses and retail customers at the time were suffering the same fate and Forsyth and his wife were encouraged by many to full a niche in the food industry and provide much-needed competition.
During Christmas 2008, the founders of Prime Foods – the Forsyths, Tia Porter, her partner Astor Estall and her brother Winton Porter decided to give it go.
They were young, full of enthusiasm and each brought value and experience to the business.
The Porters grew up in the grocery business as their parents owned and operated Meatco Ltd.
Throughout their childhood they learnt valuable skills to run a successful retail/grocery and food service business.
Astor was an electrician and specialised in refrigeration, which was a vital part of the business.
“Because I had spent 15 years working as a chef around the world and in Raro I had developed a knowledge and appreciation of food and built relationships with many of the chefs, restaurateurs and foodies on the island,” Forsyth says.
“We were confident that together we had the recipe to successfully run and operate Prime Foods.”
From that first meeting in 2008 it took the team a year of finalise their business plan and register their business.
One of the most important things they had to decide on was why they wanted to start the business in the first place.
Financial security was high on the list but to each of them it was much more than that.
“What motivated us was knowing that we could make a difference in not only our families’ lives but also in the lives of our employees and their families, our customers and our community,” Forsyth says.
“We wanted to build a company based on culture akin to family, where we support each other by working together as a team.”
Most of all they wanted to create a company that was in a position to give back to the community by supporting schools, cultural events and sporting codes.
“This is what drives and motivates us to this day.”
Meeting after meeting with suppliers left Forsyth feeling deflated.
Being told “no sorry we cannot supply you” was discouraging – some were even nasty and sniggered at the idea of supplying such a small business going up against the big guy in Rarotonga.
“Our competitor had landed the top brands but I knew there were suppliers that were second best in the line and were just as hungry as us to grow their business,” he says.
“We finally locked in a major supplier and after a lot of number crunching we were ready to approach the banks to finance our operation.”
Financing Prime Foods was difficult – personal loans from the banks, savings, land down as security and borrowed money with interest from family and friends – but they managed to put shares and much needed cash into the business.
Because they had a major supplier to back them, they were able to negotiate payment terms.
That was the lifeline that would help with cash flow when they planned to open our doors in late 2009, just in time for the Christmas rush.
It wasn’t to be. When they were threatened with legal action over a bulk freezer, that latest setback was enough to delay plans to open.
On top of that their major supplier pulled out.
Suddenly the dream of opening Prime Foods was at a crossroads – there was no more money, no bulk freezer, no main supplier and cash flow advantage.
“It was a dark time for us, but with the encouragement of family, friends and potential customers we decided we would not go down without a fight.”
Banks were again approached and more money borrowed to build the bulk freezer.
Astor with the help of friends and two original staff members Stewart Pita and Tua Rapoto managed it build the freezer in record time and save the company.
On April 17, 2010 Prime Foods opened their doors.
The next hurdle was finding suppliers in New Zealand.
“I had approached all the top meat works and out of all of them only of one of them said yes – Riverlands Meats who supported us in our opening years,” Forsyth says.
The only problem was that cash had to be paid for all purchases up front.
It took five weeks to start turning purchases into sales.
For their second shipping container of food they had to knock on the bank’s door again.
“I approached a friend (Ali Napa) at another bank that understood our position and his bank agreed to fund the cash on the prerequisite that we sign over our business debt to them,” he says.
“Of course we agreed and we were given the funds to buy our second shipment and keep our doors open. To this day we remain loyal to the team BSP.”
The Forsyths had originally planned to finish the lease with the Windjammer Restaurant as soon as Prime Foods opened, but the company couldn’t afford to pay his salary at the time. For nine months Forsyth worked both jobs clocking up to 100 hours a week without a day off.
Through hard work and building lasting and loyal relationships with suppliers and customers, over time the business grew.
Funnily enough, Forsyth says there have been many suppliers who had dismissed them at first that began calling and asking if they could start suppling to Prime.
“I politely reminded them with glee of our first meeting and said we were loyal to our current suppliers, but I also advised them we would consider their offers if they brought value to our business and our customers,” he says.
Now Prime Foods has suppliers from the US, Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa.
“We pride ourselves on building our relationships with our valued suppliers, we see them as an integral part of our Prime Foods family.”
Prime Foods started from humble beginnings with only eight staff.
Today, 10 years on, Prime Foods has grown to 70 strong team and continues to build on the same values.
“We are a family and like all families we might not always get a long but we always pull together when challenges face us,” he says.
“I am very grateful and proud of my Prime Foods Family. Our vision is to continue our legacy for many more years to come.”