Chocolate whitebait: ‘Sweet’ economic recovery on West Coast

Source: 1News

A Hokitika café owner has harnessed the iconic flavours of the West Coast for a new line of chocolates, creating honey-infused “pancake rocks”, toffee “gold nuggets”, black beer “coal” and white chocolate “whitebait”.

The new business venture was launched with fanfare in the Hokitika Regent Theatre on Saturday afternoon, complete with a crowd of adoring chocolate lovers, in a scene that few could have predicted after years of financial hardship across the West Coast in the pandemic.

Creator Patrick Volk has endured many long days trying to keep his café business afloat, after losing the international tourist trade he once relied on. But there was no sign of that stress as he took the stage in Hokitika, bursting with unbridled enthusiasm.

“Thank you so much for coming along,” he told the crowd.

“It was a long journey, there was lots of support, and lots of incredible effort.”

The business is one of many prospering amid a new economic boom on the West Coast, overturning the “doomsday” predictions made when the pandemic began.

The region was one of many tourism hotspots that saw massive loss of trade when the borders closed, but has now made a surprising turnaround.

Development West Coast chief executive Heath Milne says the region had the highest job growth rate in New Zealand in 2021 at 4.1 per cent, more than double the nationwide rate of 1.7 per cent.

On top of that, the West Coast had the second highest GDP growth in the country – at 8.4 per cent – and an 89.6 per cent explosion in new home consents, more than three times the national average.

“We're actually in a position where we've got jobs, good jobs, across all sectors and really probably struggling to recruit,” Mr Milne said.

“Tight from hospitality areas, construction, we've got professional services roles, so it is really across the board, so any qualification, or any professionals that want to come to the coast, there are definitely roles here.

It's tied to a surge of new residents attracted by the affordable housing, with the average price of a house around $320,000.

As well as a boost in global dairy prices, pumping an extra $90 million into local farms.

Westland Milk Products chief operating officer Richard Hickson says dairy is “by far” the top industry on the coast, with the proceeds then trickling down to many other parts of the region.

“It's our largest industry, we're quite a small population [on] the West Coast but everyone is connected somehow to the dairy industry,” he said.

The end result is a new wave of confidence for business owners like Patrick Volk, who is hoping to see his product in supermarkets soon.

“People could say ‘whitebait and chocolate’, [and say] hmmmm, but just have imagination about it,” he joked,

“You bite into that and you have a little piece of West Coast with you.”

The ingredients were sourced from local suppliers, including some of the biggest names on the coast.

“After all the sad news in the world, and all that Omicron, and what we have, we have here something very, very positive,” he said.

“We have to look positive into the future what we do.”

He has plenty of happy customers and, if the current trend continues, more will soon be on their way.