What’s really behind a medal anyway? I should know. I judge them, after all. Mostly for spirits and the occasional liqueur. I think it’s important that a medal should mean something. Something hard to achieve or that recognizes valour and effort.
Sometimes I walk into a supermarket or a liquor store and find myself staring at a wall of small gold and silver stickers lined up proudly on labels. I see them and I find it reassuring. Have done for years. Some of those medals I’ve even awarded myself. And some of them I haven’t and honestly, I’ve wondered how they got there.
Judging something on its merits is harder and harder these days. We’re obsessed with innovation but just because it’s a new product, it doesn’t make it ‘good’. We’re fascinated by being premium in everything we do but we quibble and argue the cost of making premium products. For some, they’re satisfied that simply being made in New Zealand and by a small producer makes you both craft and premium, commanding premium prices.
But somewhere in there, we’ve got to keep the craft alive, the bit of the maker’s journey that is the art in the craft.
I’m also increasingly convinced that good business is part of the package. It’s all very well to make something delicious but can you do it with commercial viability? Are you a good employer? Are you making your products in ways that foster the health and nurture of your context – both social, economic, cultural and environmental?
In my other job, we fly the flag for five pillars of tourism and hospitality that are crucial for our sector to be thriving, vibrant and a desirable industry for Kiwis to build lifelong careers in. Grow Tourism’s high value tourism model outlines the distinct relationship between the customer experience (product) and commercial viability, people and connections, culture, sustainability and future legacy – recognizing that how we do business today in tourism and hospitality, including product design will impact our future and what we leave behind.
I think we need the same philosophy when it comes to awarding medals – from Outstanding Food Producers, the NZ Artisan Awards, the Good Food Awards, the Junipers, the Drammys, the NZ Spirits Awards, the Wine Awards and so on and so on.
A truly great premium product is made in a way that reflects where it comes from, how it’s made, who made it and why they did it. And then it tastes good. Because tasting good without the merit of the rest of it is simply not as meaningful in our current age.
What’s your gold medal for? Is it for storytelling, is it for flavour, is it for process? Is it for transparency?
I think it should be a report card that acknowledges what you’re doing well and what you can do better. It should be a badge of honour, not just a badge that lifts your price point. Every small and large producer in the country should be seeking those badges of honour that highlight not just what the land grows but what we do with it and how we do it.
We’re proud to be launching a new type of awards programme that does just that: putting the focus on how producers go about making their products to some of the highest standards in the world. We’re going to shift the dial on transparency and communication in food production needs to look like at a gold standard – and we’re going to award the ones doing sustainability through provenance and process really well.
We have to do it, because there are too many gaps in definition in the New Zealand Food Standards. There are too many places people can say produced in New Zealand on their packaging when really what they mean is that it was bottled or packaged here.
We want to redefine gold standards for those who are constantly seeking to be better and to be the best. Because I’m tired of judging, I want to celebrate those are doing it well and help educate New Zealand consumers on the marks of quality to look for.
We’ve got it for pork, beef and lamb and even some of our fisheries. So we definitely need to see more of it across our wine, beer and spirits. We could do with a little more of it in the cheese aisle at the supermarket.
Let’s get practical – most New Zealanders live in food deserts if not for their local supermarkets, so getting to know your local producer is a luxury of time and dollars. So let’s bring more transparency to the supermarket and local liquor store aisles. One badge at a time.