How Kono has been sharing aroha


Giving back and paying it forward during lockdown came naturally to Kono, whose business values align with kindness, collectiveness and doing things better.

Tukua te wairua kia rere ki ngā taumata – allow one’s spirit to exercise its potential. These beautiful words were the opening to the karakia Kono extended to its customers, partners, and industry peers during the COVID-19 lockdown. As a company that draws on the values of manaakitanga (rise by lifting others), whanaungatanga (together we are more), and kaitiakitanga (duty, heritage and legacy), working as a collective and extending their support to the wider community come as second nature, says Kono CEO Rachel Taulelei. “It’s important for us to talk about our values. Our values were the way we got through lockdown. Our karakia was one of the ways we showed our support to our community during this time – we wanted them to know we were thinking of them,” Taulelei explains.

As a team, Kono truly stepped up to the challenge that all New Zealanders were facing with aroha and compassion. Once they got through the initial shock of realising that many of their hospitality partners wouldn’t be able to operate during lockdown, the Kono team jumped straight into it to come up with new ways to support their business, their partners and consumers, as well as the community and the environment. One of the ways they did this was through a give-back programme, which saw them give 5 per cent of their online sales to restaurants where Kono wines are served, to support the hospitality industry while it couldn’t operate. “The hospitality industry was, and still is, reeling. We wanted to make sure people were feeling less isolated and more as part of a collective, so we wanted to lean in and support. It’s part of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga. There has to be a pay-it-forward ethos, so we get in and give back. We have also done this through our partnership with Trees The Count – where proceeds from a Flox designed tote bag have gone towards planting trees.

Kono CEO Rachel Taulelei

Caring for our carers

Annies has been part of the Kono whānau since 2011. Through Annies, Kono was able to extend their support to New Zealand’s frontline workers. Along with 12 other brands, Annies’ products were donated and included in around 3000 care packages that were given to healthcare workers. “Annies is a great part of our business;
it’s got a neat heritage story. Our Annies Fruit Snacks were able to go into a care package of products along with other local brands like Proper Crisps. The care packages were given to frontline workers who may not have had much time to grab food,” Taulelei says.

Essential connections

As Kono was deemed an essential service, they could continue to operate during alert levels three and four, but they did have to shift gear. They had to dream up different ways of connecting with their customers and their partners, and, the changed conditions got the Kono team’s creativity flowing. Embracing technology was pivotal in connecting everyone from their various locations, and online platforms such as Zoom became an integral tool, along with a closed Facebook group run by Taulelei and a weekly pānui (newsletter). Virtual water cooler sessions were an informal way to catch up with people as you would if you were passing them in the office. The team would talk about baking, their children or pets, or their daily walks. It was also a good way to see different people you wouldn’t normally work with, as well as a great chance to bounce ideas around.

Some of the team’s creativity manifested in connecting with people via Facebook through a series of cooking videos with 2014 MasterChef NZ winners Karena and Kasey Bird as well as a digital dance class with Jack Gray, artistic director of Atamira dance company. “Kasey and Karena are 100 per cent part of the Kono whānau. Their energy levels are so high – people really connect with them. I’d love to see the cooking series continue. For Jack’s dance class, we got notified in our closed Facebook group that ‘it’s on!’, so I told everyone to unleash the leg warmers – a lot of the younger ones asked what leg warmers are!”

Kono ambassadors Kasey and Karena Bird

Yellow Brick Road is also part of the Kono whānau. The award-winning sustainable seafood company works with fishermen who mainly use long-lines on day boats. They don’t work with trawl-caught fish. They must know who caught their fish, when and how. Prior to COVID-19, Yellow Brick Road supplied to restaurants only. When lockdown happened and restaurants weren’t able to open, Kono changed tack and introduced their direct-to-consumer model. According to Taulelei, this model is something the team had been looking into prior to lockdown. When the restaurants shut down and hospitality came to a standstill, and people were looking for options for sustainably caught fish, the time had come to make it happen. Customers could purchase seafood directly from Yellow Brick Road and have it delivered to their door in a safe and contactless way. Often, top chef Martin Bosley, Yellow Brick Road chief fish monger, would deliver it himself. “Martin said to me one day, surprised, ‘Everyone’s really happy to see me!’,” says Taulelei with a laugh.

Keep looking ahead

Kono operates in the context of Te Pae Tawhiti, (meaning the long horizon) an intergenerational, 500-year plan. As part of the Māori family-owned Wakatū Incorporation, they hold the vision of preserving and enhancing natural resources, while providing products and services in a sustainable and ethical manner. By living by their values of rangatiratanga (excellence), manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga, whanaungatanga, hihiritanga (doing things better), and pono (do as we say), Kono was not only able to survive lockdown, they were also able to help other businesses and their community survive and thrive.

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