Power of the peo­ple

The Cobram Courier - - NEWS -

At its peak, the straw­berry con­tam­i­na­tion cri­sis last month was ar­guably the most grip­ping news story of the year.

Hun­dreds of pun­nets of straw­ber­ries grown in Queens­land and Western Aus­tralia were con­tam­i­nated with nee­dles which drew con­dem­na­tion and dis­gust na­tion­ally and cost grow­ers thou­sands of dol­lars.

The Big Straw­berry’s owner Dar­ren Hayes watched on as the in­dus­try he loves was at­tacked.

The Koonoomoo busi­ness owner said af­ter an early pe­riod of fear, the pub­lic’s re­sponse and sup­port of the in­dus­try could not have been more em­phatic.

‘‘Ini­tially it was that (peo­ple not buy­ing straw­ber­ries out of fear) but only for a very short pe­riod in the peak of it and af­ter that it was the com­plete op­po­site re­sponse,’’ Mr Hayes said.

‘‘Peo­ple have been com­ing in and sup­port­ing the busi­ness which has been re­ally good to see. It wasn’t just the lo­cal com­mu­nity, it was every­where,’’ he said.

Mr Hayes said dur­ing the cri­sis peo­ple had been buy­ing straw­ber­ries in bulk as a way of show­ing sup­port.

‘‘The amount of sup­port for the straw­berry in­dus­try has been in­cred­i­ble, like I’ve never seen be­fore,’’ he said.

‘‘Once the scare­mon­ger­ing set­tled down it’s been noth­ing but pos­i­tive.’’

While the cri­sis did not af­fect his busi­ness di­rectly, Mr Hayes said it was es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult see­ing peo­ple he knew live through the night­mare.

‘‘Some of those grow­ers in Queens­land I know quite well. I haven’t had much to do with them for a long time but I cer­tainly know who they are.’’

Mr Hayes has not spo­ken to any of those grow­ers dur­ing or since the tu­mul­tuous pe­riod.

Be­sides grow­ers and buy­ers, su­per­mar­kets were also af­fected.

Ritchies IGA Co­bram was not forced to com­pletely pull straw­ber­ries from its shelves but did take pre­cau­tions.

‘‘It de­pended on what brand it was, but I think there were about eight listed (con­tam­i­nated) but we’ve only ever had one of those brands here so we pulled that par­tic­u­lar brand from the shelves,’’ man­ager Mandy Hawke said.

‘‘We never ac­tu­ally ran out but were told for a cou­ple of days to stop or­der­ing them but then the new stock they (head of­fice) were or­der­ing was com­ing from Queens­land, get­ting packed in Vic­to­ria and was go­ing through me­tal de­tec­tors,’’ she said.

Ms Hawke did not no­tice cus­tomers stop buy­ing the fruit.

‘‘We didn’t re­ally have any neg­a­tive re­sponse at all so it prob­a­bly didn’t af­fect us,’’ she said.

‘‘We just put up the sig­nage and fol­lowed all our nor­mal pro­ce­dures; it didn’t re­ally im­pact on peo­ple buy­ing them.’’

Sup­port in­dus­try: The Big Straw­berry owner Dar­ren Hayes said the pub­lic’s pos­i­tive re­sponse to the straw­berry con­tam­i­na­tion cri­sis was un­like any­thing he has seen in the in­dus­try.

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