Waiheke Organic Food owner Anna Ripper among some of the stores diverse range. Photo Emma Haas

Waiheke Organic Food started as a food co-op and grew into a flourishing local business, now solely owned by founding member Anna Ripper.

“As the business has expanded, the administrative side has become too dominant to allow time to follow my real passions,” Anna says. “I love the contact with customers, being on the shop floor, assisting with my knowledge about nutrition and remedies and researching new products and therapies.”

So, to get more time for family and her 10 acres of land, Anna is looking to enter a business partnership or even sell the shop.

Anna had only been in the country for a year after leaving her native Germany before her organic shop adventure began. It was 1996 and, almost immediately after arrival on Waiheke, she and a dozen other people began an organic co-op.

Less than a year later, it had expanded into a delivery service run by Anna and three other dedicated women, Eleanor Bauarshi, Carol Shortis and Leila Lees.

“We sold the surplus from the delivery service at the Ostend Market where we had a big corner stall just inside the hall,” Anna says. They sold mostly produce and dry goods in bulk that had to be stored in her barn.

“It became too much, having to put up and take down the stall every Saturday. It was hard work and the husbands had to help.”

Their professionalism and ambition was widely appreciated and they soon had to look for other options for the store. Now down to three committed women, the Waiheke Organic Food shop opened its doors in Tahi Road on 1 May 1998.

“We had no money and we only had enough stock to fill up one third of the store,” Anna says, smiling at the thought. “We had to go to someone’s house, cut down their bamboo and make a wall out of it, so you couldn’t see the empty half.”

The range of stock expanded to include organically farmed meat and dairy, cosmetics and skincare, before the question of supplements arose.

“If we started with one supplement, where would we draw the line?”

By 2004, Anna was the sole owner.  The store’s range has continued to widen with a focus on supplements, herbal remedies, homeopathies, natural skincare and alternative lifestyle products. “We’ve been lucky being the only shop providing everything organic on the island.”

People come in not just for the comprehensive organic selection but for the personal service and expertise of Anna and her staff. The shop has customers who have been shopping there since the beginning.

But with a mother in Germany she hasn’t seen in three years, she has decided things need to change. “I’ve run out of energy. I’ve had ideas for 19 years and now it’s time for new input.”

Anna is not sure exactly what needs to happen. It is really important for her to maintain the shop for the local community and she would like the local feel to remain unchanged.
Maybe it is a business partner with skills and passion for managing, “someone who has something I don’t”, Anna says.

“If I have to sell, I will. But I would prefer to still be a partner or consultant, just without the sole responsibility and workload.” • Emma Haas

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