Fonterra Co-operative Group: 150 Years

By Cooperative Business New Zealand | August 2021
August 22 1871, 150 years ago, the Otago Peninsula Co-operative Cheese Company formed - starting the intrinsic link between the agri sector and co-operatives in New Zealand that we still see today. This set the path for intergenerational, sustainable businesses which help keep New Zealand moving forward.

New Zealand’s first recorded producer co-operative was formed in 1871. While attempts to set up consumer co-operatives have been recorded as early as the 1840s, the earliest record of a producer co-operative in New Zealand reports the formation of the Otago Cooperative Cheese Co. at John Mathieson’s Springfield farm on the Otago Peninsula, near Dunedin, on 22 August 1871. 

Each of the eight dairy farmers purchased shares based on the amount of milk to be supplied, with each share having a value of £1 and representing the supply of ten quarts of milk.

Three enamelled cast-iron tubs, each holding up to 50 pounds of curd, were set in the kitchen wing, while a wooden vat holding 100 gallons of milk was installed in the stone-walled barn across the driveway. By the end of the first season, they had produced three tons of cheese.

This pioneering co-operative is now part of the dairy giant, Fonterra Co-operative Group.

On Sunday 22 August 2021, we had planned to mark the 150th occasion with an event in Springfield in partnership with Fonterra. Due to the pandemic, this, unfortunately, had to be cancelled.

Following 1871, New Zealand has seen an influx of co-operatives formed. Agriculture and co-operatives are now intrinsically linked. We are very lucky to be the home of many such as Fonterra, Alliance, Silver Fern Farms, Tatua and Dairy Goat Co-op, as well as our numerous support service co-operatives – who together help build our strong rural communities. 

On the international stage, these businesses are seen as exemplars for other countries to emulate.

We know that co-operatives thrive when faced with adversity. As the 150th celebration can attest to, they are intergenerational, sustainable businesses which help keep New Zealand (economically, socially and environmentally) moving forward. The agricultural sector is at the forefront. Being essential services, Covid spotlights your significance to the country even further. Thank you for all the hard work you and your members put in to ensure New Zealand comes out of the pandemic stronger. 

As part of the 150th celebrations, Cooperative Business NZ will be reflecting on those founding individuals who through hard work and stubborn-mindedness decided to join together to create something greater than they could achieve independently. 

To our agricultural co-op family, we are proud to represent you and the great contribution you make to New Zealand. 

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