Building Berkano

Imagine leaping from student life directly into your own food manufacturing startup serving a high growth consumer market. Britteny Bryan and Nick Harlow, who met at the University of Canterbury, did exactly that. Having converted to veganism, the young couple spotted a gap in the market for tasty, pre-cooked vegan meals. A few years on, they are now busy juggling the many demands of their exciting and rapidly developing business Berkano Foods.

Pre-seed funding from a distribution partner plus a chunk of cash in hand from a crowd funding campaign facilitated initial scaling of the Berkano operation, allowing the company to move into a MPI certified food production facility in the suburb of Belfast, Christchurch. With retail distribution plus direct sales of vegan meals through the Berkano website, the company now enjoys multi-million dollar revenues with six full time employees on board. But like many entrepreneurs, the couple went through some tough times at the beginning of the venture.

The original setup in another part of the city featured an attached vegan cafe. The cafe helped to grow their fan base, but the emergence of pandemic lockdowns in 2020 soon put a stop to the flow of coffee and vegan snacks. The upside was that demand for pre-cooked vegan meals went through the roof. Berkano also caught the attention of FoodStuffs who agreed that tasty, microwaveable vegan food was a fast growing category worthy of shelf space. The product can now be found in New World supermarket food chillers all over the South Island. Progressive Enterprises quickly followed suit by adding distribution across Countdown and Fresh Choice stores.

Dedicated to sustainability and with a slew of awards under their belts, including a notable mention in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, the founders have taken responsibility for embedding positive environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into the business. Product packaging is completely recyclable and the Berkano team are fully transparent about their manufacturing and quality control processes. You can actually take a peek inside their meat free production line through the Berkano Tik Tok video series.

Markets for plant-based food products are expected to enjoy double-digit growth over the next 5 years, as consumer dietary preferences continue to migrate away from traditional sources of protein. This should support a planned future investment round. From meat free mango chicken to humble mac ‘n cheese, Berkano looks well positioned to become a leading light in Canterbury’s food manufacturing sector.

ThincLab Canterbury provides business advisory to emerging food companies as part of the ThincLab-FoodSouth pilot programme with the support of ChristchurchNZ.