The Newlands family had no idea Country Calendar would have such a huge impact.
Incholme farmers John and Maureen Newlands and their family featured on the long-running television programme last Sunday night. Their phone has hardly stopped ringing since.
“It was like a call centre here,” Mr Newlands told the Oamaru Mail on Monday. “It went gangbusters.”
The calls were from viewers who saw the dog treats the Newlands make on their property. The key ingredient is tart cherries from their orchard.
It took no less than five years to perfect the treats, called Radical Dog. Orders had trickled in since it was launched at last year’s Wanaka Show, but now they are flooding in. Mr and Mrs Newlands, their daughter, son and daughter-in-law were flat out packaging up orders to be sent to dog-lovers.
The cherry orchard was the result of the family’s never-ending quest to find better ways of doing things as the fourth generation on the 283ha farm, Springbank. They have a mixed crop, lamb-fattening and wintering cows operation that is run by their son Snow and his wife, Nicola.
In 1992, Mr and Mrs Newlands sought a crop that would make more efficient use of their irrigation water, be mechanically harvestable, have consumer demand, and healthy properties.
After years of research, they chose Montmorency tart cherries and planted a 3.2ha orchard in 2000. The fruit was known for its high level of antioxidants and ability to promote natural sleep cycles, fight free radicals, boost the immune system, and improve joint mobility.
Before their trees were fruiting, the Newlands travelled to the United States in 2004 to learn more. They returned home with a small quantity of Montmorency juice concentrate and began marketing their range of CherryVite products in 2005.
Once the fruit was being harvested at the Newlands’ orchard, their opportunistic dogs ate cherries from under the trees. Their elderly cocker spaniel Maggie “got her mojo back”, charging around the farm with ridiculous amounts of energy, Mr Newlands said.
“She went ballistic.”
So they figured the cherries would be an excellent component in dog treats. They approached vets and dog breeders to find out what they wanted in a biscuit, especially for companion rather than working dogs.
They were told it needed to be natural, with no preservatives or by-products, healthy, and made in New Zealand.
Mr Newlands expected to take a year to 18 months to go from concept to marketable product, but he was several years short of the mark.
They consulted animal nutritionists, most of whom said they could not make a biscuit with the required properties. However, one woman said if they stuck with her she would help them do it, although it wouldn’t be easy.
“We tried hundreds of recipes,” Mr Newlands said.
Batch after batch was sent to Massey University to be tested. When they hit upon a recipe that retained an exceptionally high antioxidant content, it was an exciting day, he said. They had an oven transported down from Napier and a cookie cutter from Levin. But the latter could not cope with their heavy, sticky dough.
They were put in touch with Crop and Food technicians at Lincoln University, for whom they made a batch of their dough.
“It was like My Kitchen Rules,” Mr Newlands said.
The technicians told them there was no machine in New Zealand that could make their biscuits.
The couple returned home, dejected. That did not last long, though. They designed their own cutting machine and had it made at Sheet Metal Specialists in Oamaru.
“It works beautifully.”
The formula and cooking process is their intellectual property, and the biscuits have been accredited by the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Controls) International Animal Food Standards as a fully balanced dog food. All ingredients are of a quality suitable for human consumption, Mr Newlands said.
Thanks to Country Calendar, the treats will be sampled by many new canine customers.
The programme’s producers phoned Mr and Mrs Newlands one Saturday afternoon last year, having been told about them by three different sources. A representative arrived on the Tuesday to assess how well the family and its story would go across on TV. He would usually consult his co-producer, but decided on the spot the Newlands had the right stuff.
Two days later, the crew arrived to film the cherry trees in blossom. It returned in summer when the fruit was ripe.
“There were no second takes at all. We had to carry on and do what we were doing, and then they would ask us questions.”
The filming was due to take five days, but the crew had enough footage after four days.
The Newlands have waited with bated breath to see what the programme would be like. They need not have worried.