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‘Believe … and go for it’ – Turning dreams into reality

Saturday 28 January 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Features, Go Local


‘Believe … and go for it’ – Turning dreams into reality
Matai Price with some of the hardware used to make the product. PHOTOS Al WILLIAMS 23012801

Matai Price is using his spirit of entrepreneurship to turn a dream into reality. From humble beginnings, he is building a range of quality products on Rarotonga and the market is responding. He chats with deputy editor Al Williams.

Price is the man behind Funky Produce, a range of brands including a variety of honeys and sauces, and his latest venture – water in a cask.

He is about to launch ice in a box.

That’s right – ice in a box – four litre boxes in fact, biodegradable boxes which he reckons will keep the ice frozen longer than in plastic bags.

The cask water, three litres, went to market just prior to Christmas, Price has sold it into resorts and retail operations.

He says the operation is now distributing one pellet a day across Rarotonga – 150 cartons.

The packaging is currently 95 per cent biodegradable.

He plans to make it 100 per cent biodegradable when the operation switches to another line of spigots (a small peg or plug, especially for insertion into the vent of a cask) in the next couple of months.

The operation is based from a small facility in Arorangi.

Price says it’s looking like they will have to move soon as the business expands.

Price is of Cook Islands descent and has spent much of his life in the South Island.

He was born in the Cook Islands but grew up in New Zealand.

His parents, his mum from the Cook Islands, and his dad, from the United States are on Rarotonga.

Price came to Rarotonga several years ago, with a background in water infrastructure, he helped construct water treatment facilities here.

“I have been in pipelines all my life, I don’t know how it happened.”

His lists his occupation as a subterranean service engineer.

“It’s all infrastructure work, I worked for various councils as a contractor laying pipes and various things.”

That included a mountain of work which followed the 2011 earthquakes.

“That was a whole different chapter.”

From there he worked on infrastructure projects across the Pacific including stints in Fiji and Tonga before returning to the Cook Islands.

Price says it was only after he completed the water infrastructure project on Rarotonga in 2019 that he realised there were “no” bees on the island.

He set about building hives, catching bees and making honey.

“I got the honey business going, I just built hives and captured honeybees.”

Price estimates he has built about 700 hives.

From there he developed 24 varieties including smoked and hot honey.    

It was a hobby, but has turned into what he says is a lucrative business.      

Funky Produce started supplying locally harvested honey to shops around the island in November 2019 under the brand name Rarotonga Honey.

With more hives, and automated bottling and labelling partly funded through Government’s SMART Agritech scheme, Price has continued developing the business in breeding honeybees and establishing the hives.

In 2021 Price said it was his target to have 500 operational hives by the end of the year which would put the operation in a good position to slow down the import of New Zealand honey.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

“To do this type of thing in New Zealand with the likes of rent, rates and leases, and red tape is a lot tougher.”

Four years on, he reflects on the honey operation.

“The first year was hard, I didn’t understand the climate.

“The second year was interesting, the third year was good, and this year is going to be exceptional.”

Meanwhile, he says the water operation has quickly outgrown the honey distribution.

“I have always wanted to supply water.

“We have too much plastic, I looked into it and said to my son that we could put a significant amount of money into it with sustainable packaging.

“We decided to start with 3 litre casks and we will soon be moving to six litres.

“We are moving to 100 per cent biodegradable as we are working on moving to new vacuum bags in April.”

All the machinery is automated.

The water is put through a reverse osmosis process – a process of purifying water through a semi-permeable membrane to remove unwanted contaminants and molecules.

After that it goes through a UV treatment and filtration process.

“I built it myself, I didn’t think I would be here five years ago.”    

The ice boxes are the next venture.

“More than 5000 bags of ice are sold on Rarotonga each week.

“This is another alternative to plastics.”

Price has no problems sharing his opinion on challenging economic climates.

“What they need to do is let interest rates get to a point and sit there, let it fix itself.

“Eventually people will learn how to be safe.

“I don’t believe in putting interest rates up and up until you hurt people, it should sit and hold.

“Sacrifice becomes natural.”

In terms of building business, he says, “The key thing is to keep believing in your dream and go for it, and find the market.”

“Without the market your dream can’t come true.”