The Heretaunga Plains in Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s finest horticulture growing regions, including being home to two damson plum orchards.
Fiona Tomlinson, owner of The Damson Collection, creates specialty food products with the fruit, a business that started after she incorporated damsons in another food venture.
“I was in Auckland with another business, making macarons. I was keen to make macarons with damson powder and that’s how things began,” says Fiona.
“I ended up moving to Hawke’s Bay a couple of years later and was using their kitchen for making macarons.”
The Damson Plum liqueur is the hero product of The Damson Collection. Other products in the collection complement the liqueur, making up the cheese boards and antipasti.
“We have a cook who makes our product - the jam, relish, paste, terrine and so on. The liqueur is made by a distillery in Tauranga,” says Fiona.
“I work on the marketing, sales and product development, constantly developing new products and looking at more joint-ventures.”
Damson is a heritage plum, originating from Great Britain. Fiona says it’s the story behind them that draws her to them.
“As humans, our taste is a big collection of history. They really resonate with people, reminding them of good times, like sitting down to eat a scone with grandma. A taste of home,” says Fiona.
2020 was a big year for The Damson Collection, with the liqueur taking home “World’s Best Fruit Liqueur” and “Best New Zealand Fruit” at the World Liqueur Awards.
It also took Gold at the USA Spirits Ratings, Bronze at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Spirit Competition and Bronze at the New Zealand Spirits Awards.
Following on from their success at the World Liqueur Awards, The Damson Collection worked hard to pivot in the wake of COVID-19.
“It was disappointing missing out on all the food shows, we had everything booked. But we had a good system going during COVID-19,” says Fiona.
“My son Rogan was dispatching orders from Auckland, and he rebuilt our website to offer the best customer experience. Going online was a saving grace, as we had the publicity from our awards.”
Fiona and Rogan worked on ensuring they were turning that web traffic into sales, making the website experience more simplistic.
“We thought about how customers shopped on the website, what we could do to make things easier. We got to connect with older customers who were online and talked them through how to shop online. It was good to learn from people,” says Fiona.
“People have a great appreciation for handcrafted and artisan products. I think the pandemic helped with that, everyone got back into baking.”
Fiona believes the provenance of their products is important, especially now that it’s more at the forefront of people’s minds.
“Being New Zealand Grown and New Zealand Made is really important to us. Kiwis, on the whole, are great at supporting local business, but are more consciously thinking about now.”
“Everything we can, we get made in New Zealand, including all our labels and packaging. It’s good to support the local economy.”
In 2020, The Damson Collection obtained a licence to use the iconic “New Zealand Made” Kiwi trademark.
“I am patriotic!” laughs Fiona. “I felt it was an easier way to shop, seeing that it’s a New Zealand product.”
“The Kiwi trademark will be going on our new branding and labels, as we migrate through our new labels. We’re also using it on our website and social media.”
“It’s a great visual cue. It’s enough to assure Kiwis that they’re buying something that is a local product, without having to say anything more.”
Shop The Damson Collection online
The “New Zealand Made” Kiwi trademark is available for Kiwi trademark licence holders to download online for their marketing collateral.