Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wai-kawa
COLIN SMITH

CHEERS: Nelson couple Debbie and David Wright with their range of Wai-Kawa mixer drinks, from left, Bitter Lemon with Horopito, Kiwi Cola with Kawakawa and Tonic Water with Horopito.
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A Nelson couple have launched a new line of soft-drink mixers infused with extracts from native plants kawakawa and horopito.

Debbie and David Wright have just finished their first production run of 4000 bottles and are working on securing distributors.

"It's exciting and nerve-racking at the same time," Mrs Wright said.

The mixers are sold under the Wai-kawa label, which means bitter water, and come in three flavours – Bitter Lemon with horopito, Tonic Water with horopito and Kiwi Cola with kawakawa.

Mr Wright says they are designed to be used as mixers, but can be drunk by themselves, although the horopito in the tonic water had a peppery kick.

The couple moved to Nelson for family reasons after spending the past few years in Australia and Singapore.

Mr Wright worked in technology with mobile phones and Mrs Wright is a locum nurse, so it is their first foray into the food and drink industry.

They wanted to do something uniquely New Zealand and liked the way that other companies had taken a product and given it distinctly local flavours, such as 42 Below with its manuka honey vodka, Mr Wright said.

While both horopito and kawakawa have medicinal properties, the couple are not claiming any health benefits for their products, although it is an avenue they are keen to investigate further.

The Wrights launched their product at the Auckland Food Show last month. They worked to incredibly tight deadlines and despite "a few hairy moments", everything had come together just in time. They were thrilled with the feedback they received.

Mr Wright said the product was a Nelson collaboration. They got their organic horopito from Nelson-based company Forest Herbs Research, which grew the plants on land that backed on to Kahurangi National Park.

Horopito is an ancient flowering plant with high levels of anti-oxidants and was used by Maori as a sedative tonic.

The kawakawa leaves were harvested from farmland, dried and made into a tea-like infusion. The botanical extracts were removed from the plants by food scientists in Christchurch and the mixers were bottled using Nelson aquifer water at the McCashin's plant in Main Rd, Stoke. Nelson company Hot House had designed the labels, Mr Wright said.

The mixers retail for about $3.50 each and can be bought from McCashin's.