KIWI PIES BECOMING AN INTERNATIONAL TASTE SENSATION
Eddie Grooten, one-time Dutch A-grade mechanic, has made his mark firmly in Aotearoa as the head of a winning pie-making company currently spreading its reach around the world.
In December 1981, ex-Netherlands nationals Eddie and his wife Erika found themselves in what was then a sleepy backwater on the Hibiscus Coast, north of Auckland.
“We bought a general store in Red Beach and we were the fourth owners in two years,” remembers this now wildly-successful entrepreneur.
“It had a pie-making wing but it was no big deal because the areas in those days was largely just a place filled with baches.
“Nothing much happened there during the week so we depended on the weekends – and especially times when there were surf carnivals,” he says.
“What’s more, I was trying to wholesale our pies at the same time so I’d bake a batch, then jump in the shower before heading off on the road!”
Early on, Eddie realised that the secret to success was going to lie in consistency.
“We had to produce a reliably good product,” he says.
Amongst other obstacles, Eddie and Erika were up against the widespread nutritional demonization of pies, but it’s an issue that they have long been on top of now.
“We’ve put a huge amount of effort into making our pies low fat, low salt and low in E numbers.
“There’s nothing in our pies that I wouldn’t feed my kids!”
Speaking of kids, Eddie proudly proclaims that both of his sons now work in the family business. Ben and Tom both undertook studies at Otago University before taking their places at Dad’s Pies.
Only Meike, who works in London as a nurse in the fertility field, is unlikely to get directly involved but her father and brothers still value her opinions.
“She’s planning to move home again and that’s going to be great.”
The recent Global Financial Crisis, with its potential to bring small companies to their knees, certainly didn’t leave Dad’s Pies unscathed. around the time the worst effects were being felt, Eddie needed to come to terms with the fact that he’d just invested in a $2 million state-of-the-art oven.
“It was pretty scary,” he admits.
“But it all worked out for the best.”
Interestingly, as Kiwi wallets were compromised and the price of fuel soared, Dad’s Pies noticed a very definite drop-off in sales.
“BP have always been one of our best outlets, and it was quite noticeable that their customers weren’t just popping a pie on the bill when they filled up!” he laughs.
Luckily things are now more than back on track, and, what’s more, that super- duper oven is playing its part in the production of around 12 million pies every year.
“We process our own meats after it arrives to us in big blocks,” Eddie explains.
“And we have a pastry room that can deal with 3 tonnes an hour!”
As Dad’s Pies continues its quest for world domination, Costco stores in Japan are proving to be a lucrative new outlet and Eddie visits the land of the cherry blossom regularly in order to check on progress.
“You might not think it, but the Japanese just love our pies so we’ve come up with especially tailored varieties for them – such as chicken teriyaki.
“But, guess what? They love mince and cheese best.
“What we’re aiming for is to have pies in the Japanese market becoming as popular as sushi is in ours!”
Eddie is also cultivating the UAE food scene.
“I was amazed when I heard the 50 percent of hotel food expenditure in Dubai goes into room service. It makes sense to have our pies on those menus.”
Whenever Eddie contemplates taking a step back from the coalface, something exciting invariably comes up.
“I’m a little weary of the constant travel now though,” he admits.
“It’s almost time to leave things to the young up-and-coming people in the company.”
With an inclusive and supportive work environment, Dad’s Pies’ staff retention record is impressive.
“We really value our good people,” he says.
Eddie is unlikely to rest on his laurels in retirement. He might concentrate more on the various industry competitions.
“We missed out on a prize in the Bakel’s New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards one year because a technical error meant that we didn’t put the cheese in our mince and cheese pies,” he laughs.
“That can’t be allowed to happen again. This business is now firmly in my blood!”