• The Origins of An Icon

    Many of us are still getting over the shock of the All Blacks’ semi-final World Cup loss. We are beginning to accept that it happened, not because the All Blacks didn’t try hard enough or did not want it enough, but because they came up against what was, on the day, a better team.

    As we begin to adjust to the fact that a national icon has lost a little of its lustre, it is perhaps worth delving into our history to explore the origins of another national icon.

    It was in this week, 133 years ago, that the Anchor brand was launched. Its birthplace was a dairy factory at Pukekura, in the Waikato, owned by a local farmer and entrepreneur, Henry Reynolds. The name for his butter was inspired, so the story goes, by a tattoo on the arm of one of his employees.

    The recipe for the butter he produced was provided by an American, David Gemmell, who was farming near Hamilton and who eventually moved back to America. The market for the new product was greatly enlarged by the development of refrigerated shipping during the same decade.

    Reynolds recognised the immense potential market that would be opened up by the advent of refrigeration. He established a cool store in London and sold Anchor butter direct to a range of shops in the capital. He also exported butter to Australia and Asia.

    The butter rapidly became a consumer’s favourite, impressing with both its taste and its keeping quality. As well as their success in overseas markets, Anchor’s butter, milk and cheese found their way on to tables across New Zealand and remain familiar items to this day.

    And I can still hear and see, in my mind’s eye, my small niece, who grew up on a Waikato dairy farm, excitedly welcoming the daily arrival of the “Anchor tanker.”

    And, in all the years I spent in the UK, I am proud to say that my wife and I remained loyal to the Anchor brand, regarding our regular purchases of Anchor butter in English supermarkets as a reminder of home – and the fact that it tasted so good was also a factor.

    The success of Anchor has of course played a huge part in New Zealand’s economic development and it can take a good share of the credit for the living standards we enjoy today.

    We may be well recognised for our rugby, but the presence of Anchor butter on so many breakfast tables in far-flung countries has probably done more than any other factor to remind people that we exist and of who we are.

    And it is worth reminding ourselves that, prominent as have been the All Blacks and great innovators like Ernest Rutherford and adventurers like Edmund Hillary in offering the rest of the world a sense of what New Zealanders can achieve, there are less celebrated figures such as Henry Reynolds who have also made their contribution.

    We should also recognise the contribution made by those thousands upon thousands of dairy farmers who have, over nearly a century and a half, and by dint of freezing on countless early mornings and by putting in hours of hard work, produced the fresh and pure milk on which the Anchor brand and New Zealand butter in general base their reputation.

    Their role in helping to feed the world should earn the gratitude of us all. As we begin to recognise the threat posed in some respects to our environment by the dairy industry, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Our task now is to ensure that we develop new ways of farming that will reduce the emission of climate-warming gases. We can expect our dairy farmers to address that task with the same determination, expertise and sense of purpose that have underpinned the success of New Zealand butter in home markets and those around the world.

    We can all help by spreading a little more butter on our toast each morning. What could be nicer?

    Bryan Gould
    29 October 2019