Forget beer, a Waikato investor is putting milk on tap in cafes

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John Heskett doesn’t miss an opportunity to talk business.

Standing at the counter of a Waikato cafe, he tees-up an impromptu meeting with the owner to talk about his latest venture in the “milk business”.

Earlier this year he and a business partner bought into Kaipaki Dairies, about 20km south of Hamilton, after recognising its potential as a supplier to nearby markets, including cafes like the one where we’ve met for an interview.

Heskett, 29, has qualifications in business and tourism and while he doesn’t know much about the dairy industry, he is good at spotting an opportunity.

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“During the lockdown last year, we really had to think about what the future of tourism might be.

“There were no tourists coming in and all we could do was go to the supermarket every day to eat and drink.

“And I think the whole country woke up to the fact that the primary industry is the backbone of the country.”

That was a bit of a revelation for Heskett who had been pursuing a major tourism venture in the King Country, attempting to set up the Sky Garden timber tower at Hangatiki.

A concept drawing for a Hamilton tower, complete with a swing across the Waikato River.

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A concept drawing for a Hamilton tower, complete with a swing across the Waikato River.

That project failed to achieve resource consent but he’s now floating a new idea for Hamilton’s CBD.

“I was one of those who went around talking about how important the tourism industry’s GDP was but I think we’ve come to realise now, the food producing primary industry is more important.”

Heskett found Kaipaki Dairies for sale online and jumped at the opportunity to be part of the primary sector.

“I saw it had a strong brand, awesome products which were already in the supermarkets.

Another concept showing the base of the tower building, which would include commercial, hospitality and recreational spaces.

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Another concept showing the base of the tower building, which would include commercial, hospitality and recreational spaces.

“It had a good working model with demand but it just wasn’t turning a profit. It just needed a bit of a push to get it to the next step.”

Heskett also realised since Covid-19 hit, there had been a renewed interest in producing food locally, more sustainably and Kaipaki Dairies “ticked all those boxes”.

His first addition to the dairy business was to develop a milk dispenser for cafes to have sitting next to their coffee machines or on the counter.

“We started talking to cafes and realised there were a lot of milk bottles being used, many cafes were using more than 50, 2-litre bottles a week.

A concept for the $20m Sky-Garden project which failed to gain resource consent in the King Country.

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A concept for the $20m Sky-Garden project which failed to gain resource consent in the King Country.

“So we decided to come up with a solution to remove all of those bottles.”

Heskett’s 10-litre insulated milk dispenser is fitted with a tap to ensure it has easy flow for making drinks.

The company already had reusable containers to transport milk, which could be used to replenish supply to the dispensers.

“The milk stays cold in the dispenser for 10 hours and we believe this is a much more sustainable way of delivering and using milk.”

Initial feedback had been positive and Heskett hoped to convince more cafes to use the new product.

He has other ideas for the business too, producing icecream and yoghurt could be part of the plan in the future.

The dairy venture has kept Heskett busy while he recovers from almost four years working on the Sky Garden project.

It’s also given time to complete designs for a city tower project for Hamilton. He insists this isn’t “version two” of the Sky Garden but a completely new concept.

The 100m-tall Hamilton city tower is planned for Victoria St, next to the Waikato Museum and the Waikato River, close to the proposed regional theatre.

Heskett estimates it to be a $55 million project.

It would be a multi-purpose structure, with commercial, hospitality and recreation use whereas the Sky Garden was reliant on tourism to survive.

It would include 300sqm for offices and 150 car parks.

There would be a roof-top bar, restaurants and viewing platform which Heskett said would be one of the few places where people could enjoy an elevated view of the city.

John Heskett inside the milk processing factory at Kaipaki Dairies.

Tom Lee/Stuff

John Heskett inside the milk processing factory at Kaipaki Dairies.

A bungy off the tower would also feature as well as a slide that wraps around it and a swing over the Waikato River.

This is the section Heskett hoped to run, drawing upon his experience working with AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand.

“This is just a concept plan, it’s early stages. I’m not a developer but I know there are many good developers out there who could take this plan and make it into reality.”

Heskett said he had an exclusivity agreement over the site for a year and had developed a business case for the project.

“I’ll consult back to the developer for free, all I ask is that I take care of the bungy and recreational side of the tower, that’s what I would enjoy doing the most.”

He reckons tourism will slowly rebuild over the next two-to-five years as the world immunises itself against Covid-19.

“When that happens, I would love to revisit the timber tower [Sky Garden] concept, not in the King Country, but we’ve had interest from Rotorua for example.

“I think even somewhere like the Hamilton Gardens, that would be an ideal place for a tourism project like that.”

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Read More: Forget beer, a Waikato investor is putting milk on tap in cafes