It seems inconceivable today, but more than 120 years ago the ‘Pakeha’ brand of butter was produced in the Manawatu and exported around the world.
The Pakeha brand of butter lives on in the Museum with this huge advertising sign made in 1936, and recovered from possible demolition in 2005.
Pakeha butter was produced by the Cheltenham Co-Operative Dairy Company, a farmer-shareholder set up, opposite the Cheltenham Hotel in October 1893. It produced only butter, unlike many other dairy factories that also made cheese. At the time of its establishment, its directors decided that the registered brand of butter would be ‘Pakeha’ – a brand that was used exclusively for its premium and export butter.
The first of smaller dairy factories – creameries – around the district was set up at Colyton, and others were built at Waiata, Taonui, Aorangi, Hiwinui, Waituna, Kimbolton, Valley Road, Kiwitea and Rewa.
They closed in September 1912 when home separation of the milk was introduced.
The first year, 1893-94 the Cheltenham factory output was 34 tons. The following year (1894-5), output was almost doubled to 67 tons, and the payout to farmers/shareholders was 6.83 pence/lb of butterfat.
The boxes that took the Pakeha brand of butter from the Manawatu to around the world is part of a butter section display at the museum.
After five years of difficult trading it was brought by Mr W W Corpe, who already owned the Rongotea Dairy Factory. It continued successfully until 1903 when it was bought by Joseph Nathan and Company who had the ‘Defiance’ brand, and Mr Corpe stayed on for the first year.
In 1904 Nathans began their first production of dried milk powder in New Zealand at Makino, but decided to move to a new purpose-built factory at Bunnythorpe to extend their production, and so was born the then world renowned ‘Glaxo’ brand.
With year-on-year increases in production, by 1920 a new factory at Makino Road, Feilding became essential and it was finally decided to come to an arrangement with Nathans.
The cream supply was taken to the new Makino Road site in 1920 to take advantage of the rail siding for their coal supplies, and outward butter deliveries.
The 1920-21 year saw 697 tons of butter produced at the new plant (up from 178 tons the year before). Farmers/shareholders were paid out 32.41 pence/lb of butterfat.
The factory produced 56lb blocks of butter, packed into white pine boxes with the ‘Fernleaf’ trademark and the ‘Pakeha’ brand name impressed with a roller on the butter, before the boxes were sealed and nailed for export.
By 1942-3 – fifty years after first starting, Cheltenham was producing 1567 tons of butter a year, but the payout to farmers had halved to 16.779 pence/lb of butterfat.
A ‘You can depend on Pakeha butter’ sign was commissioned by the Cheltenham factory for the Feilding Fergusson Street wall of Mr and Mrs George Wells’ grocery shop, on the corner of Aorangi and Fergusson Streets.
It was sketched, painted and signed in 1936 by artist Ken O’Neill, who was unfortunately killed by a passing train while working on another sign on the railway over-bridge at Marton in 1938.
When renovations to the former grocery shop were being made in 2005, the ‘Pakeha’ butter sign was spotted and sawn out of the building, to be preserved and displayed at the museum.
‘ The factory was still known as the Cheltenham Dairy Company for more than 40 years, until 1969 when it merged to form the Manawatu Co-Operative Dairy Company, based at Longburn.