Avocado storm damage in Northland
Soon after, came the rain. And the rain. And the rain.
Up to 500mm of rain fell in under four days in Northland with intensities of up to 36mm per hour.
And the strong winds continued most of that time.
The result was extensive flooding across the whole Northland region, major road closures for several days including State Highway 1, and thousands of homes without power. The primary industries took a hammering and Nathan Guy declared the storm a medium scale adverse event on Tuesday 15 July so funding could begin to be allocated to where it was most needed.
Northland is only now starting to get back to working order and is still counting the cost of mid-July's storm damage.
Avocado growers bore some of the brunt of the storm. Sue Culham, Whangarei avocado grower and Mid North (Whangarei) NZAGA representative and AIC Director, says one avocado orchard has lost 70 trees, another one has lost 50 trees, and any avocado orchards exposed to the east have sustained damage.
“Damage includes trees being tipped over, split, twisted, blown right out, or snapped off at ground level. As well as structural tree damage, crop loss is huge because trees were laden ready to begin picking soon. The Mid North and the Far North together were forecast to be carrying about 35% of the national avocado crop of 7.4 million trays before the storm, but we may have lost up to 30% of that. Assessments are still being made and of course we won't really know the full extent of the damage until the fruit is packed.
“The Far North growers are more self-reliant because a lot have permanent staff, but here in the Mid North there are absentee owners who have their orchards managed, or growers who work their orchards part time, so there aren't the people on the ground to do the immediate clear-up to get properties functioning again. Any outside assistance is therefore greatly appreciated.”
Sue says the storm wind was eerie. “You could hear it coming and building up in the gulley, do the damage and die way, only to build up again. On one orchard the tree landed several metres from where the roots were still in the ground. Fruit lay all around it. Damage was really random with one tree copping it while the surrounding trees were okay.”
First came the gale force winds topping 170 km/h at Cape Reinga.
The incorrect version of this story was published in the printed version of the August issue of Orchardist. We apologise for any embarrassment this may have caused. The error is regretted.
However, top of his list of insights on the complexities of marketing in a country with huge potential for New Zealand, were “relationships.” “There's been incredible growth in wealth in China. People are looking for good products that are safe and, for some, where the price point is not of major concern. But you have to have the right product for the right person, and when you see that opportunity go for it. Don't hesitate. Chinese companies and people identify with that very quickly and will try to close the deal.”
He acknowledges that in China New Zealand, as a “brand”, is growing. China has a population of 1.3 billion people, but a large percentage cannot afford imported products. People in the cities of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou are highly educated, well travelled, and know about New Zealand. These consumers carry out major research of a product with food safety, health and quality high on a Chinese consumer's checklist. Demand from the Chinese middle-class is also expected to rise. E-commerce is big in China and
Chinese people probably have more online connections than offline, he said.
Hunter is aware of one fruit growing area in the Unites States that pre-sold 155 tonnes of cherries online. The fruit was picked and delivered within 72 hours and all was “online” prior to fruit arriving in China. Interaction on social media is a visible promoter of products and has the potential of reaching targeted consumers.
New Zealand summerfruit are niche products on China markets and cherries need more leverage from “brand” New Zealand. He sees niche fruit, with its shorter growing season, as needing a “bigger story” to attract consumers back for the next season the produce hits Chinese markets.
Hunter (35), was born in Roxburgh, raised on a mixed summerfruit orchard at Dumbarton, educated at Otago Boys' High School (Dunedin) and has a marketing degree from Otago University. Hunter and his wife Winnie were back in New Zealand visiting various contacts and also catching up with his parents at Dumbarton. After some years in China, teaching English as a second language, Hunter seized the opportunity about three years ago to establish Link China Global Limited with the aim of linking connections between China and New Zealand and assisting with the differing cultural, legal and compliance details in both countries. Winnie, then contracted to United Kingdom retailer Sainsbury's to set up an office in Shanghai, later j joined Hunter in his business and the couple have recently married.
Since forming his company, Hunter has assisted a number of New Zealand and Chinese companies across various industries. English is Winnie's second language and Hunter speaks Mandarin so the couple complement each other with their ability to work between two cultures. They see this balance as vital for anyone intending to market in China. “You need to be living here to be part of the culture. Everything here [in China] is changing.” He says in the eight years he has lived in China, New Zealand has not changed to the extent China has.
The couple say “relationships” are not just about working with big companies or corporates but working with people, because companies change. They see keeping contact with people and maintaining these relationships as of greater importance. Knowing how to deal with Chinese people “is a key”, particularly where identifying opportunities and “going for it” is necessary.
“In China it is important to have a trust and respect relationship because you are in an environment where the rules are always changing. Being honest and direct is an important factor and you have to stick to your values and be consistent.” A Chinese consumer has low trust but this is secondary if on social media they see other people's opinions of the best products and the best places to go. “As an example… a couple may plan to go out for a meal, so beforehand they will check on social media any restaurants or outlets recommended by others before making their own choices.”
Chinese people also photograph a dinner meal or products they have purchased and put these up on Weibo, the equivalent of New Zealand's Facebook, to share their valuable experiences. New Zealand has the checks and balances on quality and traceability. When queried about the Fonterra scare with baby milk formula, Hunter believes this has to be taken in context. “China wants to lift its dairy sector so when the issue happened the Chinese media jumped all over it.” Media coverage was less visible as the problem was resolved.
Chinese people are very active users of social media in comparison to New Zealanders and the couple see social media as a vital method of “reaching out” to people as well as being a cost-effective tool in educating users of all New Zealand products. Hunter praised Zespri for its marketing and exposure in the market place. “It's taken a lot of time. I see Zespri kiwifruit everywhere in Shanghai.” But when asked about apples Hunter replied: “Just a few apples here and there but not always with a clear New Zealand tag.”
How to bring Chinese consumers back to a niche product when New Zealand cherries are available for the new season in December, as well as telling the bigger story about New Zealand summerfruit? Relationships and communication again… regularly maintain contacts during the offseason to remind them New Zealand is out there.
“In China it is important to have a trust and respect relationship because you are in an environment where the rules are always changing.”