Ugly cher­ries to spark Christ­mas food price war

Sunday News - - NEWS - GE­OFF VAUSE

CHEAP cher­ries could be on the menu this Christ­mas, with one su­per­mar­ket look­ing to ex­pand their mis­shapen fruit sales to in­clude the de­lec­ta­ble sum­mer treat.

The avail­abil­ity of cut-price cher­ries will largely de­pend on the weather, with con­sumers likely to be in luck if there’s a re­peat of the heavy storms that bat­tered cherry-grow­ing re­gions in Marl­bor­ough and Otago last week.

Count­down launched their ‘‘Odd Bunch’’ range of un­usu­ally shaped fruit veg­eta­bles in Fe­bru­ary, with pro­duce bought di­rectly from grow­ers that would oth­er­wise go to waste.

The su­per­mar­ket chain’s mer­chan­dise man­ager Steve Sex­ton said they had sold 16 dif­fer­ent types of fruit and vege in the Odd Bunch range, with car­rots and ku­mara prov­ing most pop­u­lar.

‘‘Our cus­tomers have re­sponded re­ally well to the quirky look­ing fruit and veges, as well as the lower prices.’’

Sex­ton ex­pected ‘odd bunch’ cher­ries would show up soon.

‘‘The Odd Bunch is com­pletely driven by what grow­ers have avail­able, so the range varies from week to week de­pend­ing on what Mother Na­ture chooses to de­liver us,’’ Sex­ton said.

An es­ti­mated $2 bil­lion worth of food thrown away ev­ery year in New Zealand, and re­tail­ers are in­creas­ingly search­ing for ways to re­duce the amount of waste.

He said one sup­plier pro­vided an ad­di­tional 5000kg of prod­uct to The Odd Bunch each week dur­ing re­cent bad weather.

Food­stuffs NZ, which owns New World, Pak’n Save and Four Square, sells 500,000 kgs of cher­ries each year - with de­mand peak­ing at Christ­mas.

An­toinette Laird, Head of Ex­ter­nal Re­la­tions, said: ‘‘We are for­tu­nate that our com­mit­ted New Zealand grow­ers re­ally pull out the stops for our stores at Christ­mas and we have great sup­ply.

‘‘Cher­ries are truly the taste of Christ­mas and this year is look­ing good for an­other great sea­son.’’

Marl­bor­ough cherry grow­ers Kirsty Win­der, who runs Sim­ply Sum­mer Fruit with her hus­band Patrick McCarthy, said higher than nor­mal rain­fall in Septem­ber had kept the bees away, and a low pol­li­na­tion count means less cher­ries.

‘‘It’s look­ing like an av­er­age year,’’ Win­der said, ‘‘and the fruit will be qual­ity, not quan­tity.’’

There was a nar­row es­cape when a storm hit the re­gion this week with most of the dam­age con­fined to net­ting cov­er­ing the trees rather than the cher­ries.

Pick­ing was get­ting un­der­way and Win­der’s cherry crop was for the do­mes­tic mar­ket which had a less oner­ous grad­ing sys­tem to the ex­port mar­ket.

‘‘We grade cher­ries for size, and for blem­ishes like bruises and bird pecks,’’ she said. ‘‘Grades are tag one, tag two – we sell firsts and sec­onds in our shop. We don’t throw any­thing away unless it’s rain dam­aged or split – we eat them, give them away.’’

Cherry ex­porter Blair McClean at Cher­ry­bank near Blen­heim said their cherry yield was ex­pected to be down around 40 per cent this year.

‘‘There’s high stan­dards for ex­port, of course. Any­thing not up to that goes to the do­mes­tic mar­ket and any­thing re­ally bad we dump,’’ McClean said.

McClean ex­pected up to 50 per cent of their crop would not be ac­cepted for off­shore mar­kets. He said re­ject fruit was also used for juice, ice cream and yo­ghurt, and stock food.

Cher­ries are truly the taste of Christ­mas and this year is look­ing good for an­other great sea­son.’ AN­TOINETTE LAIRD

Cherry grower Kirsty Win­der shows off some early va­ri­ety Burlat cher­ries, which will be picked and sent to do­mes­tic mar­kets.

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