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.
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 early 21st century had adapted to deregulated economic structures. While most did not export – more than 90% of exports came from less than 5% of manufacturers – they no longer relied 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, falling 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 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, speciality 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 manufacturers pursued innovation- or design-led business strategies. They held a point of difference against their 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 exported.