New Zealand chip brand Proper Crisps lays down roots in the Yarra Valley

General Manager Andy Leonard with Yarra Valley produced Proper Crisps. PICTURE: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Renee Wood

New Zealand chip manufacturer Proper Crisps has set up shop in the Yarra Valley, establishing its first Australian manufacturing facility in Lilydale.

The snack producer was founded in 2007 and has been selling in the Australian market since the 2019, as the decision to lay down roots in the region was made to be closer to consumers.

General Manager Andy Leonard said they secured an existing snack producing plant, with the take over now currently underway.

“The existing plant was very similar to the New Zealand plant and it was underutilised and available for us to come out and operate,” Mr Leonard said.

The move will help reduce shipping costs, while also reducing the food miles for the sustainably conscious brand and consumers.

Proper Crisps products are currently stocked in 1500 retail stores nationally and can be found locally at IGA stores or specialty retail such as organic fruit and veggie stores.

Crisps lovers may also now notice the change in the branding stating the product is ‘crafted in the Yarra Valley’.

The spuds are all sourced from Victorian growers and the varieties have been developed specifically for the PC recipes.

Mr Leonard said a lot of time has been spent working on the agronomy of yellow flesh potatoes, and three have been developed and grown by selected growers.

“There is not a lot of yellow potato used in Australia so we had to develop a seed program for some specific varieties, which has taken us a year or two.

“Some of those varieties haven’t been grown commercially and in big volumes before so we’re working quite closely with the growers.”

Despite the wet season, the crop has performed well and the harvest started in March, running through until May – the stock is then stored and processed at the Lilydale site.

Mr Leonard said skilled workers are needed and they were able to retain employees from the previous owner of the plant.

It’s estimated the Australian move will support 20 skilled jobs in the manufacturing sector.

“We have quite a specific cook profile and technique for making crisps, they are more handmade artisan than bulk manufacturer.

For example, “Probably the time and temperature curve subject to the condition that the potatoes are in – the condition of the potato changes a lot depending on when it was dug or what paddock it came from, so we change our cooking profile to match the potato of the day, there’s quite a lot of skill in that side.”

Other skills are also needed for the bagging machines within the production line as well.

Mr Leonard hopes that more employment opportunities will be generated as the brand expands it’s product locally.

“We’re a brand that’s growing fast in Australia and we’re planning to continue that growth and grow manufacturing at the site here quite significantly over the next three years,” he said.

Developing products specifically for the Australian market will be another key factor of the brand’s success across the ditch, including the introduction of new products.

“We do a garden medley product which is vegetables in the bag and it is quite unique and we will look to do that in Australia as well. So there’s lots of brand extension opportunities.”

Using home compostable packaging is also a sustainability win.

“That product is also available in Australia – that was a first for the New Zealand market and we’re just trying to do our bit for the planet.”

One of the key aims for the brand is to connect with food shows and the local community around the product that’s now produced in their own backyards.

“We’ll be doing everything we can to engage with the Yarra Valley community and so people know where their product’s being made and that the potatoes come locally,” he said.