As a legacy company, Miraka thinks in 100-year timeframes; what would our ancestors want and what do our grandchildren need? 

Miraka is the world’s first dairy processing company to use renewable geothermal energy and has one of the lowest manufacturing carbon emissions footprints globally. Excellence, integrity and innovation, alongside the Māori concept of ‘kaitiakitanga’ comprise its core values and underpin how it operates its business. 

Karl Gradon, CEO, spent most of his career offshore in executive roles with Fonterra and Irish dairy business, Kerry Ingredients, in Brazil, the USA, France and Singapore. Since returning to New Zealand, he has worked closely with Māori leaders and entities, local and central government and business to create thriving communities, while supporting local investment attraction.

Karl Gradon, CEO
Karl Gradon, CEO

“Miraka was formed 13 years ago and has largely disrupted the New Zealand dairy market in many ways, but particularly by means of its principals and commitment to sustainability,” Karl begins. “By incentivizing our farmers to be as progressive as possible while still making sure they are achieving the highest quality standards, we’ve created a unique concept.” 

Te Ara Miraka is the company’s world-class farming excellence program of which dairy farmers become part. Miraka incentivizes its farmers to achieve high standards of farming, alongside environmental and animal welfare best practice. Furthermore, the processing plant at Mokai, 30 kilometers northwest of Taupō, is the world’s first to use geothermal energy. It emits 92 percent less manufacturing carbon emissions than traditional coal-fired factories.  

“We’re located in the crater of the largest known volcano in the history of man. So, we’ve literally got geothermal power under our feet which is released in natural steam form. Our shareholders provide the national grid with steam power to generate electricity and we’re able to use that clean steam to power our plant. Normally, that process would be facilitated by a coal-powered boiler, which, as we know, has a significant emissions profile. As a dairy, we dehydrate several of our products, which is an incredibly energy-intensive process. To be able to remove that requirement for coal and reduce our carbon footprint is a notable benefit. We then repurpose the steam and it’s used to heat a nearby greenhouse that grows premium vegetables, like tomatoes and capsicums, year-round. Any waste from the greenhouse is then combined with ours and sent to a worm farm, right next door. The resultant vermicast is used as compost for native plants and trees. It’s a beautiful, closed loop system that has been set up by our visionary founders. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he enthuses. “One of our shareholders, Tūaropaki Trust, partnered with Japan’s Obayashi Corporation to create a hydrogen production facility near our plant. The next step for us is to power our milk tanker fleet with hydrogen and support our goal of becoming completely carbon neutral.” 

Environmental stewardship 

Miraka produces over 300 million liters of milk per year and exports its products around the world. Its milk is sourced from farms near to the factory, giving a farm-fresh advantage. The company produces a range of dried products and exports largely to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, recently adding a frozen milk concentrate to its product portfolio.  

“The concentrate is blast frozen and requires molds to facilitate the process,” explains Karl. “The frames for these were created by reforming recycled ocean buoys from the country’s mussel farming industry. Alongside this initiative, we’ve also partnered with Tetra Pak on a scheme that recycles our redundant UHT milk packaging into construction board for the housing sector. We like to work with like-minded organizations with similar values to our own. 

“Likewise, as mentioned earlier, we incentivize our farmers for achieving certain standards. We pay them more for improved herd health, for monitoring and reducing their emissions, as well as their approach to biodiversity. Our ownership structure means that we have a very strong value set of indigenous principles and with 100 farms we’re looking to continue to hand the land to the next guardians, leaving the environment in a better place for the next generation. Kaitiakitanga is a New Zealand Māori term used for the concept of guardianship of the sky, the sea, and the land, and it is important to us. A kaitiaki is a guardian, and the process and practices of protecting and looking after the environment are referred to as kaitiakitanga. It’s not just about sustainability; it’s the concept that everything is connected. If you take from one area, it will impact another. Whether people, animals, land or water, everything is interconnected in some way.” 

In a way formalizing its philosophy of kaitiakitanga, Miraka became a certified B Corp in February 2024, joining world-leading enterprises which are transforming the global economic system. “B Corp recognizes excellence in social, business and environmental impact. Being a certified B Corp aligns with everything we stand for: excellence in values and principles, business, social outcomes, and environmental leadership, or kaitiakitanga as we know it. The unique thing about B Corp is it creates a community of like-minded people with whom you can connect directly.” 

Whether it’s planting trees on a riverbank to help stop erosion or sponsoring a national health campaign, community and whānau are an important part of life at Miraka. Greening Taupō is an active community group of volunteers who regularly organize community planting days in the Taupō area. “We regularly attend,” adds Karl, “sending a squad of staff for the day to help plant native shrubs. We sponsor morning tea at the event which is attended by school children and the public. We also donate to community food banks as well as cancer charities. Community and relationships are at the heart of our business.” 

Looking to the future, Karl believes that in five years’ time, Miraka will have proven to the world that dairy farming can be 100 percent sustainable. “We will probably expand our number of farms, continue to minimize our footprint, and strive to develop deep partnerships,” he concludes. “Our Miraka family includes our staff, our farmers, suppliers, and our wider community. Our profits are reinvested back in our community through our shareholders; trusts and organizations who use their resources to support their people. We embrace our Māori heritage and proudly incorporate Māori culture into our daily business practices. Our values connect our present with our future, using the knowledge and wisdom from the past to guide us forward.”