Now that travel is available again the Summerfruit team took the opportunity to visit the Auckland marketers and retailers, something that we had done regularly pre-covid. This is always a good chance to review the last season and preview what is coming. With this slightly longer time scale it was a chance to see what changes have occurred.
And there have been a few personal changes and a few old contacts that have come back into the system. A bit like spray reps and orchard managers on the merry-go-round.
There was some history retold relating to peach and nectarine exported from NZ. One of our road blocks is that now Australia grows increased volumes of improved quality fruit and are closer to the Asian and North American markets than we are, and we are dealing with a perishable fruit. The opportunities are still there when the economics and logistics are right to do so. The flip side of the scenario is dealing in a profitable way with fruit that does not make grade one – especially fruit that is rejected at the packhouse. I guess the message is that there are people that are willing to work with us as fruit growers to improve orchard bottom lines. As we know it’s a hard industry to get out of once you are in it, there is plenty of passion and plenty of experience to be found when you go looking.
I had surmised that there might have been some comment on fruit quality after rain during the pre-Christmas and start of February periods. While these periods were acknowledged the higher prices seemed to make for a generally happy wholesale and retail industry. It was a good season overall, with the acknowledgement that the crops were generally lighter. My guess, but we had 80% of a full crop which translated to the correct volume in market in this year just gone. This was highlighted by plums receiving better returns, but the market is still wary of this fruit!
The comment on cherry volumes and therefore prices, was that for most of the season it was just fine. There are still buyers that will not purchase Hawkes Bay cherries as the quality is perceived as not good enough and the risk is too high due to our wetter climate. There is also real concern as to what will occur once the increased plantings in Hawkes Bay and Central Otago kick in.
There are plenty of gate sales and non-supermarket fruit sales outlets in Hawkes Bay; two in Bayview, a couple in Clive, Pakowhai Road, two or three on Hastings-Havelock Road, in Havelock North, Railway Road south among others. This is what you would expect in a fruit growing region. But are you aware that 50-60% of the fruit sales in the greater Auckland region are via the non-supermarket sector, quite possibly more with cherries? There is growth in the on-line sales platforms and some of these outlets are buying directly off the market floor – think the old school T&G trading floor in Holt Place Hastings. Interesting that these outlets are looking for big fruit with excellent quality. Other tertiary traders are happy to sell the second grade and supermarket rejected produce.
And oh, how the supermarket sector is changing. Countdown had a week ago opened their new flash DC (distribution centre) in Wiri. We had the privilege of a guided tour from the stone fruit buyer who told us that this DC will be the only one in the North Island in a wee while for the group, showed us the input and tracking system and the different cool storage options that will be used. Exciting and a bit scary as well. There’s obvious questions of extra trucking and carbon miles, of resilience when there is only one DC for the Island. The really exciting bit for me was the potential of being able to pick fruit riper, get the field heat out at our end, have it stay in excellent cool chain all the way through to the final retailer and be that fantastic sight, smell and eating experience as the first display inside the supermarket door. As fruit growers who are selling to Countdown directly or via the market floor there is potential here to increase sales. I am looking forward to tracking the next season already.
And by the way – the season has begun. There are flowers on the Mayglo nectarine trees with fruit thinning to start soon.
My thanks to the people that took the time to meet with us. We got a lot out of the visit; I hope that there was value for you as well. We are all part of the greater fruit industry but its people that make it happen. Relationships are just so important.
Summerfruit Technical Advisor