Story: Manufacturing – an overview

Page 6. Global focus

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Looking outward

Spurred on by deregulation, manufacturers were increasingly focused on exporting and niche markets in order to remain competitive. In the 1990s they increasingly pursued American and Japanese management techniques, such as total quality management (where every phase of manufacture is monitored for quality) and just-in-time inventory systems (where inputs to manufactured goods are purchased only when they are needed) to improve industrial competitiveness. Alongside these initiatives was an industry-wide push to international quality systems, such as ISO 9000 series standards.

In the mid-1990s, as the sector started expanding again, these measures, coupled with wage bargaining and labour practices, boosted manufacturing.

Going elsewhere

Manufacturers continued to leave New Zealand. In a matter of months in 1996, for example, Arnotts Biscuits, S. C. Johnson Wax, Caroma Industries, Reckitt and Colman, and Johnson and Johnson all moved from Auckland; Cedenco moved from Gisborne; Helene Curtis moved from Christchurch; and Corfu Jeans left Thames. Within New Zealand Auckland remained the dominant location of manufacturing.

Manufacturing in the early 2000s

New Zealand manufacturers in the 21st century have adapted to deregulated economic structures. While most do not export – over 90% of exports come from under 5% of manufacturers – they no longer rely on protection to survive.

Manufacturing’s contribution to New Zealand’s gross domestic product grew steadily from 2000 to 2006. From 2006 growth faltered, and an international and domestic recession began to affect earnings in both export and local markets. The manufacturing workforce continued its decline as a proportion of the total workforce, from 25% in 1976 to 10% in 2013.


In the early 2000s New Zealand manufacturing included large-scale manufacturing works in forestry, food and dairy processing, and small and medium-sized firms that traded internationally, albeit in niche or specialist markets. For example New Zealand clothing manufacturers offset high production costs with a focus on manufacture of designer clothing.

In the food-processing and beverage industries traditional larger industry producers, such as Fonterra and Frucor, flourished. Much smaller, specialty manufacturers emerged delivering products as diverse as ice cream, organic juices, cheeses and even steamed puddings into international markets.

In older industries, such as boat building, engineering and construction products, New Zealand manufactures pursued innovation or design-led business strategies. They held a point of difference against other competitors and delivered world-class products.

In the early 2000s goods ranging from power-surge protection units to vodka, global positioning systems, steam boilers, children’s chairs and superyachts were all exported.

How to cite this page:

Ian Hunter, 'Manufacturing – an overview - Global focus', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 September 2021)

Story by Ian Hunter, published 11 Mar 2010