The Marlborough Grape Producers Co-operative (MGP) has been around in various forms for three years before officially registering as a co-op in mid-2015. Wine-producing co-ops are, quite literally, a growing global success story with members pooling resources in grape production, wine-making and global marketing and supply. Together, they achieve what individual growers could have never done as successfully if operating alone.
Co-operatives are responsible for around 70% of all the wine made in Spain, more than 40% of Italian vino, 30% of Germany’s wein output and 50% of France’s vin rouge, blanc, and rosé. Just as co-ops thrive within the wine industry globally so too can they in Marlborough NZ, world famous for its award-winning sauvignon blanc vintages.
MGP’s Blenheim-based General Manager, Craig Howard, pictured, has steered the company through the rewarding phases of developing a co-operative, while growing the business and export markets. He reports that the co-operative business model was the logical company structure for MGP.
“We’re not a traditional wine company, nor are we contract grape growers. We sit between the two, running a wine business on behalf of our grower members. Our mission is to work together to produce excellent Marlborough wines including sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and other aromatic varietals.
“Like all successful co-ops, we follow strict commercial practices and ensure profits are returned directly to members, not paid out to institutional or private investors,” he says.
Craig brought previous experience running a kiwi co-op (Seasonal Solutions Co-operative), and a working relationship with Cooperative Business NZ when he joined MGP in 2013.
“The work Co-operative Business NZ was doing protecting co-ops’ interests regarding class exemptions under the Financial Markets legislation review was one of the reasons why it made sense to become a member (of CBNZ),” he says.
MGP’s current 80 grower members have a combined 700 hectares of grapes with the 2016 harvest amounting to over 12,500 tonnes that produced over 9,300,000 litres of quality sauvignon blanc, virtually all to be sold overseas. The growth of this agri-producer has been spectacular having evolved from $7 million in annual revenue three years ago to over $27 million in 2015/16. Growers (Members) have increased from 35 to 80 over this period.
MGP Co-operative has a five-member board of directors, four of whom are local winegrowers, including Chairman David Smith.
Cooperative Business NZ CEO, Craig Presland, met with Craig Howard at fellow co-op NZ Hops’ offices near Nelson in September 2016 and reports as follows:
“Marlborough Grape Producers Co-operative has seen spectacular growth since moving from a privately-owned company three years ago to a co-operative. This business has been able to enhance New Zealand’s reputation as a world-class producer of sauvignon blanc wines, in particular from the Marlborough region.
“Craig Howard has been able to apply strong co-operative principles to this business from his past experience at Seasonal Solutions Co-op with annual profits paid back to Members and all voting rights held by Members. MGP is now well placed for the longer term as it seeks to become a truly sustainable and enduring agri-producer,” he says.