Back in 1981, Nick White was encouraged by his mother to purchase an apple orchard in Loburn, North Canterbury instead of taking a gap year, as she believed it was better for him to be doing something productive.
Thirty-five years later that advice has paid off and now Nick, his wife Carey, his brother William and sister-in-law Gaye are the owner-operators of one of New Zealand’s premium juice companies.
Nick was soon joined in the industry by his brother William who began planting apple trees on some family land nearby. Later on their sister Annabel bought an orchard down the road and the three siblings decided to combine.
At first they supplied local markets with their apples and then developed an export market and a pack house was built.
“In 2001 the boys made a juice machine,” says Carey. “They are naturally mechanically minded. It started as just a hobby and we began to produce juice.
“Then the sales of our juice started to increase and people began to ask where else they could buy it, so the Mill Orchard brand was born in 2001.
“All our juices are apple based and not from concentrate. We don’t use any reconstituted juice from overseas like most of the other mainstream juices on the market. There is no added sugar or preservatives. It is just New Zealand fruit crushed, pasteurised and vitamin C added.
There are very few juices that are made like that in New Zealand now.”
These days Mill Orchard, made up of pears and 15 varieties of apples, spans over 60 hectares.
As the business has grown it has still remained a family affair, although Annabel left the company a few years back. Known to many as Mr and Mrs Juice, Nick and Carey travel the country meeting new people and introducing them to the trademark natural flavours of their Mill Orchard juice.
“We cover the whole of New Zealand ourselves visiting the supermarkets and the customers. We get to see New Zealand in all the seasons which is really amazing,” says Carey.
“We mostly stay in bed and breakfasts around the country because we don’t like staying in soulless hotels and we have ended up making amazing friendships with the people we stay with. “I’m godmother to two burmese cats in Dunedin,” Carey laughs. Mill Orchard make a variety of different fruit juices and the fruit they don’t grow themselves is sourced from around the South Island. The process from orchard to juice bottle is fairly simple and that’s just the way they like it.
“We have cool stores and controlled atmosphere stores so we can store fruit all year round.
“The fruit then goes into the juice factory to be chopped up.
“The juice is squeezed out, put into tanks and pasteurised to make it shelf stable. It is cooled very quickly and put into bottles and capped, labelled and put into boxes.
“We try to keep it as natural as possible because our bodies are made for natural products,” says Carey. She says she really enjoys the people side of the business and although at first she admits she was naturally introverted, she relishes meeting new people through her marketing work for the orchard. The first time I did a juice tasting and people said they didn’t want to try it, I would take it personally. I finished the day thinking I had done a bad job.
It wasn’t my favourite part of the job but now I enjoy it.
“I love trying the new fruit flavours but the highlight is meeting new people, be it on planes or in supermarkets, or bed and breakfasts.
“There are some pretty amazing people out there that I get to meet and interact with.”
Mill Orchard grows a selection of its own pears and 15 different varieties of apples
Carey joins in apple harvesting