The export manager for LeaderBrand Produce is used to traversing the highways and byways of Southeast Asia but the advantage of being part of a trade fair, he says, is that the customers are all in one place.
Leading brand traverses the byways of Southeast Asia
To that end, Jeff Chambers and LeaderBrand chief executive Richard Burke represented the company in Hong Kong at the 2017 Asia Fruit Logistica (AFL) showcase, joining 27 other Kiwi horticulture businesses in the New Zealand pavilion.
“It's a huge territory both in population and diversity and each and every country has its own markets with different rules and regulations,” Jeff says.
“You still need to cover that ground and make those connections, but having a central point where customers from all over the region can see what is on offer is a fantastic opportunity.”
Leader Brand's biggest export product to date has been the buttercup squash (kabocha) it sends mainly to Japan and to a lesser extent Korea, but Jeff says a rapidly growing middle class has created huge demand for food products in the Southeast Asia region.
And after investing millions of dollars in new production facilities in Gisborne, the company has the capacity to help service that market, both in reach and in the products it supplies.
“There are a heck of a lot of mouths to feed and what they like about LeaderBrand is that the produce is grown, picked, packed and shipped by the one operation,” Jeff says. “It's that continuity and quality control from pasture to plate that really appeals.”
Due to its relative proximity, Asia has long been a target market for fresh produce from New Zealand, but for the AFL expo LeaderBrand chose to focus on its long-life pouched
products – Pure 'n Ezy Sweetcorn and the “superfood”, Pure 'n Ezy Beets.
Straight after harvest both products are sealed and cooked in the bag and, with no additives or artificial preservatives, have a stable 15-month shelf life.
Asian customers love the convenience, Jeff says, along with the knowledge that their produce has come from “the best growing environment in the world”.
“They also enjoy the luxury of having New Zealand-grown produce regardless of the season,” he says. “And they don't need to refrigerate it.”
Southeast Asia is an area familiar to Jeff Chambers: before taking up the export role at LeaderBrand in early 2016, the United Kingdom native had spent a dozen years marketing for a Southland timber company, for which he covered much of the same territory.
So he well knows that events like Asia Logistica are just the start of a journey, and it can take years to build on the connections made.
“Southeast Asia is a growing region for us . . . both LeaderBrand and New Zealand,” he says.
“It is a market that demands great tasting, safe, quality product and that is what we can offer.”
GROWING A LEADING BRAND LeaderBrand was founded in 1975 by Murray McPhail who, though aged just 18 when his father died, soon took on the mantle of buying the family's farm at Waingake Valley, just out of Gisborne.
From a small potato-growing operation at that original property, LeaderBrand now has farms in both Gisborne and Ashburton where it each year grows around 3,500ha of produce, employing 200 permanent staff, with an additional 300 through the summer harvest.
In addition to its key export crop of buttercup squash (kabocha), the company grows, packs and ships broccoli, lettuce and sweetcorn for the New Zealand market; owns one of the country's most modern salad production facilities; and supplies process crops including tomatoes, sweetcorn and pumpkins. It is also one of the largest Gisborne growers of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris grapes.
The company is now headed by chief executive Richard Burke, while Murray McPhail works on special projects >
and his sons Richard and Gordon run the company's production and growing operations (respectively).
NZ PRODUCE ON THE WORLD STAGE
In terms of exhibitor numbers, New Zealand boxed above its weight with a strong showing at Asia’s “leading continental fresh produce show”.
Twenty-eight Kiwi organisations were represented at Asia Fruit Logistica 2017 in Hong Kong and industry leaders say that will pay dividends in the future.
“New Zealand’s annual fruit exports total nearly US$2 billion and in the next few years that is predicted to double,” says Mike Chapman, chief executive of Horticulture New Zealand which joined New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), NZ Apples & Pears and NZ Plant & Food Research in supporting the New Zealand pavilion.
“New Zealand fresh fruit is in high demand because of our location, climate and natural environment, and Asia Fruit Logistica is a great opportunity to showcase our fruit and vegetables to existing and potential Asian customers.”
Kiwifruit and apples remain the export stars in the Asian market but Mike says avocados, blueberries, cherries, tomatoes, onions and packaged vegetables are gaining in popularity.
Through platforms like the Hong Kong expo, NZTE hopes to help Kiwi companies “establish sound partnerships and support horticulture business growth in Asia”.
But Asia Fruit Logistica is not all about the produce: according to trade commissioner for Hong Kong and Macau, Rachael McGuckian, horticultural technologies and solutions too, are in hot demand.
Overall, the three-day event was judged to be a resounding success having attracted more than 13,000 trade visitors from 76 different countries (an increase of 16% on the previous year), primarily China, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
Exhibitor numbers too, were up, the 813 from 43 countries representing an increase more than 150 on the 2016 trade fair.
China remained the single largest exhibiting country followed by Italy, Egypt, Australia, Spain and South Africa, whose tally of 33 exhibitors was just five ahead of New Zealand's strong showing.
The New Zealand companies and organisations exhibiting at Asia Fruit Logistica 2017 included Avanza, BBC Technologies, BerryCo, Bostock NZ, Compac, Fern Ridge Fresh, First Fresh, Foodview, Freshco, Freshmax, Golden Bay Fruit, Horticulture New Zealand, JP Exports, JR's Orchards, LeaderBrand, Mr Apple NZ, Mt Erin Group, NZ Cherry Corp, NZ Apples and Pears, Plant & Food Research, Pure Pac, Ripetime, Te Mata Exports, Tomatoes NZ, T&G, Valleyfresh NZ, Yummy Fruit, Zespri International.
◀ Southeast Asia is a growing market for both LeaderBrand and New Zealand, says LeaderBrand export manager Jeff Chambers.