It has taken just four months for Central Otago entrepreneur Dre Hart to get his manuka-smoked olives into 95 New Zealand stores.

Now that his olives are gracing stores such as Thieving Kea and Pembroke Wines in Wanaka, Cromwell Super Liquor and Queenstown’s Fresh Choice and Neat Meats, Mr Hart is working with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise on getting the olives into Australia.

The manuka-smoked olives are processed at a Lumsden factory and would be available for the monthly Cromwell winter markets in August and September, before production stepped up for weekly markets from October.

Mr Hart was helping his partner Sierra Brock on her flower and cherry juice stall at Arrowtown Farmers Market in April last year when he met Dave Thorn, of Lake Hawea.

“He saw small-batch artisans around New Zealand were struggling through loss of distribution and sales. They had all hit this point where they had no farmers’ markets available. They lost all form of income,” Mr Hart said.

The men decided to form a company, Kiwi Artisans Co, and as they got to know more artisan food producers, they began helping others with branding and speeding up distribution, especially for products with short shelf lives.

Kiwi Artisans began manuka-smoked olive production in late 2020.

“The olives are all Greek. We’ve tried with New Zealand olives, but they are too small, don’t have enough flesh to hold the strong smoky flavour.

“Our truffle oil that is about to launch is Canterbury truffles and Auckland extra virgin olive though,” Mr Hart said.

The Lumsden factory had created five jobs and Kiwi Artisans had created six jobs, Mr Hart said.

Mr Thorn was working in Sydney’s banking industry before the Covid storm broke.

He is presently in the United States exploring distribution networks.

Mr Hart has a marketing and management degree from Canterbury University and previously marketed and distributed products around the North Island for Alexandra cherry grower Eden Orchards.

Kiwi Artisans Co hopes to open a store and host “meet the makers” activities.

“The main thing for us is how do we foster the connections between consumer and maker?.

“The problem for farmers’ markets, there’s just five hours a week that you can meet and engage with people,” Mr Hart said.