The production, processing and export of quality food products is a significant component of the Southland economy.
Locally sourced primary produce includes a wide range of seafood, crops, meat, poultry and dairy products. A large amount of food processing takes place in Southland, from large scale meat and milk processing plants, to smaller niche products like chocolate and condiments. A majority of the food and primary produce from the region is exported to national and international markets.
Dairy processing is undertaken by a variety of processing companies in the region. Fonterra is a co-operative established in 2001 and is New Zealand's largest company. It is owned by around 11,000 dairy farmer shareholders, responsible for more than a third of the international dairy trade. Fonterra's manufacturing of dairy products takes place at a number of locations around New Zealand. The Fonterra plant in Edendale is one of the world's largest raw milk processing plant.
More recent developments include Open Country Dairy, Mataura Valley Milk (currently under construction) and Blue River Dairy. Open Country Dairy is a dairy processing plant at Awarua which has increased regional capacity for processing even further. The Awarua site is specialised in the manufacture of low thermophile Whole Milk Powders. The Mataura Valley Dairy plant will be Southland's third major milk processing plant, capable of processing 200,000 litres a year. Blue River Dairy is Southland's only sheep milk processor, offering a range of cheeses and milk powder.
The meat and seafood processing industries are large employers in the Southland region. Fish processing plants are found in Bluff, Invercargill and Stewart Island, with local deepwater fish species and farmed produce being the main supplies.
Southland has a number of major meat processing plants and a number of smaller abattoir facilities.
Southland is renowned for primary produce which finds its way to a number of restaurants and cafes both locally and throughout the country. Popular menu selections include fresh seafood and meat dishes such as venison, lamb and beef. Seafood, particularly Bluff oysters, are a sought after Southland delicacy - worth an estimated $30 million annually. Another delicacy is the muttonbird, which is harvested in an annual tradition by local Maori. This harvest has a significant cultural and economic impact for the people of the region.
Both wild and farmed venison can be found on menus in and around the Southland region, with Mossburn in Northern Southland regarded as New Zealand's deer farming capital. Locally sourced lamb, beef and speciality cheeses are available in many local restaurants.