Robinson Bros of Stoke
Robinson Bros in Main Road Stoke was originally an export orchard set up in 1910 by Thomas Robinson.
Thomas was born in Clough, Northern Ireland in 1845 and sailed to New Zealand in 1873. He spent thirty years helping to develop the North Island then moved to Nelson in 1910, where he bought an orchard in Main Road, Stoke. Robinson was 65 years old by that time, however he developed the land and planted several varieties of apples and pears for export and local use. In 1916 he married Susan Stephenson and at the age of 71 started a family. They had four children - the youngest child (Thomas junior) was born when his father was nearly 80. Thomas Robinson died on 19 September 1936 at the age of 91 and is buried in Seaview Cemetery, Stoke.
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Susan Robinson carried on the management of the orchard, which she had named Ardilea ( Ardelea) after her hometown in Ireland. Later on two of the sons, Robert and Thomas took over. They formed the company Robinson Bros. and continued growing apples and pears. Several popular varieties of apples and pears were grown for export and local supply. Thomas’s sons introduced apple wines in 1947 and apple juice in 1954. Later cider and fruit liqueur were added to the production lines. A wine seller’s license was added to the property in 1958 allowing them to sell New Zealand made grape wines, sherries and ports.
By 1978 Thomas Robinson and his son Colin were well-known for their preservative-free fruit juices, table wines and ciders. In 1984 the father Thomas retired and his son Colin Robinson went into a three way partnership with Brian Hirst and Tony Smith, which involved Robinsons Bros merging with Tasman Bay Fruit Juices and Kiwi Juice NZ. By this time the company had been producing apples for 70 years and wines and juices for 40 years.
After 1984 the property on Main Road Stoke was developed to offer a restaurant in an orchard setting, conference facilities, a wine cellar and a shop.¹ The orchard also sold jams, chutneys and fresh fruit and was very popular with tourists. They employed thirteen staff and a dozen seasonal workers. It was the closest orchard to Nelson and was now open six days a week to meet the demand for locally grown apples, pears, peaches and nectarines. The fruit juices became available also in supermarkets, dairies and health food shops.
By the late 1980s the very popular range of Robinson’s fruit juices were being exported to Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong markets. Marketed as ‘100% pure and preservative free’ the juices were selected to represent New Zealand at Expo ‘88 in Brisbane and used on Ansett New Zealand flights throughout the country.²
In addition to the development, all the wine and juice labelling was upgraded and three litre casks were introduced for the juices, which was a first for New Zealand juice at that time. Some of their most well-known flavours were apple and apple and boysenberry.
Business partners Brian Hirst and Robinson tried as much as possible to use GE-free ingredients particularly the fruit they processed.They both drove vehicles with the personalised number plates GEFREE and GMFREE.³
Colin Robinson sold his shares in the companies that form the Tasman Bay Robinson Food Group to business partner Mr Hirst in 2004, although the Robinson's complex at 669 Main Rd Stoke remained in the joint ownership of the Robinson Family Trust and the Hirst Family Trust.
In 2007 the Robinson’s Complex in Main Road Stoke was auctioned. The site's owner at that time, the Tasman Bay Food Group, moved its operations to a site on the corner of Factory and River Terrace Rds in Brightwater where it now produces juice, baked products and sauces.4
Today the orchard at Main Road Stoke has gone and the site is home to a number of businesses and residential developments.
Sources used in this story
- Orchard has 76 year history ( 1986, December 4). Nelson Mail, p. 9
- Robinson Bros blooming in Nelson ( 1987, November). Orchardist of New Zealand, 60(10), p 369
- Pair drive GE message home (2000, December 2). Nelson Mail, p.3
- Tasman Bay Food Group http://www.futurefoods.co.nz/tasmanbay/products.htm
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Further sources - Robinson Bros of Stoke
- McAloon, J. (1997) Nelson : a regional history, Whatamango Bay, N.Z.: Cape Catley & Nelson City Council
- Catley, B.(2004, July 4). Robinsons sells family business. Nelson Mail, p.5
- Gates, G. & Whelen, H. (2000) Stoke in the 1920's through the eyes of an English child. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 6(3), p.50
- Graham, R. (1987) Company profile : Robinson's never slow down. Food Technology in New Zealand, 22(8), 23-25
- Kidson, S. (2008, November 10). Food company scoops business awards. Nelson Mail, p.1
- Moore, B.(2011, June 29) Retired businessman had a passion for the sea. Nelson Mail