FOOD H I S TORY JAMES CRISP… A STORY OF RESILIENCE By Kathryn Calvert Economic slumps, changing government import regulations and war would be the death knell for any business, let alone one started 100 years ago by the son of an Italian seaman. But James Crisp was no ordinary man, and as the company he established in Auckland celebrates its centenary this year, Kathryn Calvert looks back at the life of an extraordinary businessman. Imagine this: You have a thriving importing business in the 1930s which represents some of the world’s most prominent commodity companies, you have a prime off-Queen St headquarters and a future that looks fruitful. Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the New Zealand government imposes import controls and your business crashes down around your ears. You’re relegated to a back room office with one table and chair in Commerce St. Total inventory is 50lbs of citric acid at a cost of 3/6 per pound (42 cents) and sold at 1/9 per pound (21 cents). Would you give up the ghost? Most would say yes. But not James Crisp, born in Otago in 1884 and responsible for one of New Zealand’s most enduring business brands. Instead, he employed two highflying staff from his competitors and, during a trade-dormant WWII, lived part-time on a Cambridge farm in order to survive. However, it’s hard to think that even James Crisp could have known that his company would still be operating as a successful agent, importer and manager of iconic food brands today. What he must have felt in 1950, though, was relief that the new National government had abolished the import controls, allowing his company to grow. The company in 2016 is a leading supplier of ingredients to the New Zealand food industry, managing iconic brands and employing more than 100 staff. Many of them are long-term…some have even stayed more than 30 years… and the company specialises in quality dried fruits, nuts, grains and almond flour to food manufacturers, bakers and food service industries. “We feel very privileged to be turning 100, as not many companies are as fortunate,” director Richard Hall (the son of James Crisp’s nephew and former company owner John Hall) says. “Our customers, suppliers and consumers are very important to us, and we have made a commitment to them to continue delivering great results in the next 100 years.” But how did the company form and “We feel very privileged to be turning 100, as not many companies are as fortunate,” consolidate? James Crisp joined Dunedin’s Hallenstein Bros at the age of 15 as a ledger keeper, moving on to Wright Stephenson and Co Stock and Station 22 JUNE 2016 James Crisp circa 1930s James Crisp (left) with John Hall (16).
1-48 FT June16
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