Within hours of harvest from the clear, cold Marlborough Sounds and Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s native greenlipped mussels are processed into a range of top-selling products.
At their Blenheim and Motueka plants, Talley’s trademarked Greenshell Mussels are heat-treated then marinated or snap frozen whole, on the half shell or as carefully extracted meat. There are currently four products on the market, with the shellfish processing line never standing still.
Talley’s General Manager for aquaculture Don Boote has been with the company for more than 40 years, describing himself as a ‘lifer’.
The Talley’s shellfish story starts in the mid-1990s and 60 staff with a new mussel processing plant in Blenheim. In 2022, the division has the capacity to employ up to 300 workers.
In 2018 a new factory was built on the Blenheim site, for the half shell product line that Don describes as the ‘homestay of mussel processing’. The vacuum-packing process was added to the plant in 2021 and plant upgrades are also planned for the Motueka plant.
“We process about 30 percent of New Zealand’s annual 90,000 tonnes mussel harvest, into snap-frozen half shells. Most of this happens in Blenheim.”
The raw mussels are lightly blanched (heat treated) to kill listeria microbes. They are then hand-opened, frozen and packaged for distribution to more than 100 countries.
“Most of our half-shell mussels go to food service markets. They are very popular in the United States as a luxury food offered everywhere from cruise ships to Las Vegas casino buffets,” says Don.
“People love New Zealand mussels. They are delicious, high in healthy protein, very versatile to prepare and are one of the most sustainable seafood options. What consumers don’t necessarily know, however is the people story. We have amazing mussel openers - an amazing team of people.”
Don says this success is attributed to several factors. Talley’s pays the highest piece-rate in New Zealand and staff are supported with tailored training to make sure they are opening mussels safely and ergonomically.
“We have great people and many long-serving staff of 20 years or more. Some aren’t in a hurry to leave either – we have one worker happily working in his 80s and another who left in their 70s!”
COVID-19-related restrictions, outbreaks and isolation rules have affected staffing, as food processors like Talley’s are challenged with less staff working and supported under strict health and safety protocols.
“The food service market took a huge hit in 2020 when restaurants closed all over the world. But we’ve persevered and things are starting to pick up again.”
With staff shortages an ongoing pressure, Don says Talley’s is looking to automate some of its mussel processing – the more basic tasks such as packing pottles into cartons.
“We are looking to work smarter, automate the easy stuff and place people into more skilled jobs where we can.”