Ugly cherries to spark Christmas food price war
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.