Power of the people
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.