Man­ag­ing im­port/ex­port flow all im­por­tant

The Orchardist - - Citrus Conference - By Kris­tine Walsh

An over­lap be­tween im­ports be­ing on the mar­ket and lo­cal­ly­grown fruit com­ing on stream was a re­cur­ring theme at last month’s New Zealand Cit­rus Grow­ers (NZCGI) con­fer­ence in Gis­borne.

For the 2018 sea­son, man­darin and navel or­ange grow­ers ap­peared to be par­tic­u­larly badly af­fected by over­laps caused by im­port­ing glitches. For man­darins it was “an early sea­son and a good sea­son”, ac­cord­ing to prod­uct group rep­re­sen­ta­tive Brad Davies.

“It was prob­a­bly the earliest seen in North­land for some time, fol­lowed by an early sea­son in Gis­borne as well, so by the mid­dle of April we were al­ready see­ing good vol­umes,” he told the con­fer­ence.

“How­ever im­ported fruit was flow­ing into the mar­ket right up un­til the mid­dle of May so, be­cause that caused price pres­sure early on, that didn’t get us off to a good start.”

Food­stuffs busi­ness man­ager, pro­duce, Ed­die Pren­der­gast said sea­sonal prob­lems in Cal­i­for­nia had de­layed the ar­rival of im­ported man­darins, which con­trib­uted to the over­lap. “We tried to man­age the flow by de­lay­ing the fruit take from do­mes­tic grow­ers, es­pe­cially in North­land, but be­cause we were com­mit­ted to that United States fruit it still turned out to be a prob­lem.”

And there was lit­tle im­porters could do about is­sues like ship­ping de­lays that were out of their con­trol, said Count­down busi­ness man­ager of im­ported pro­duce, Amit Pa­tel.

“We cer­tainly don’t want to see a de­pressed mar­ket so we work closely with mar­keters and sup­pli­ers to try to stop that from hap­pen­ing,” he said.

“The best tool we can have is early no­tice of when the do­mes­tic sea­son will start, so we can man­age our im­ports and clear our pipeline.”

Con­sump­tion of man­darins had been in­creas­ing but be­cause con­sumers wanted them now, and at a good price, that growth was largely due to im­ports, Pren­der­gast said.

“So that means New Zealand grow­ers have not been the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of that in­crease in de­mand.”

Despite en­joy­ing a “great sea­son”, navel grow­ers too had been fac­ing a mar­ket awash with im­ported fruit, said prod­uct group rep­re­sen­ta­tive Wayne Hall.

“But the re­al­ity is there is al­ways go­ing to be im­ported fruit. And we are go­ing to have to learn to deal with that.”

One tool in the kit to ad­dress that was to keep on with NZCGI’s ma­tu­rity test­ing pro­gramme, to en­sure the fruit tastes good right from the be­gin­ning of the sea­son. An­other was to use mar­ket­ing to re­mind con­sumers of ad­van­tages like fresh­ness and low food miles when buy­ing lo­cal prod­uct.

“At the end of the day our best de­fence is grow­ing bet­ter qual­ity fruit,” Hall said.

“If I grow more Tag One fruit and can ex­port more I will make more money. That’s the bot­tom line.”

Across all prod­uct groups, it was im­por­tant that NZCGI be quick off the mark in pro­mot­ing lo­cal fruit be­fore the vol­umes hit the mar­ket and that those vol­umes be man­aged. Per­haps this could be by spread­ing out the sea­son, or per­haps by get­ting more fruit off­shore, Davies said. That was oc­cur­ring in the le­mon mar­ket where more than half of both the Meyer and Yen Ben crops had been ex­ported, largely to Ja­pan, the US and China.

How­ever, with an es­ti­mated 1000 tonnes more of the sweet, thin-skinned Meyer likely to come out of Gis­borne in the next cou­ple of years, First Fresh man­ag­ing direc­tor and NZCGI board mem­ber, Ian Al­bers, saw the chal­lenge as be­ing to de­velop new mar­kets, rather than re­ly­ing on ex­ist­ing ones.

“In some ways we are the world’s best se­cret but if we are go­ing to con­tinue to oc­cupy our place, we need to get our points of dif­fer­ence out there.”

There was a co­nun­drum in that pro­duc­ing large vol­umes of fruit cre­ated the risk of over­sup­ply, but with­out large and con­sis­tent high-qual­ity vol­umes, NZ could not be a mean­ing­ful player on the world stage.

“Our chal­lenge is to keep find­ing ad­di­tional mar­kets and that can mean a bit of short-term pain in that pe­riod of es­tab­lish­ing de­mand,” Al­bers said.

“But that, with the vol­umes to back it up, is the only way for­ward. So we need to be strongly rep­re­sented in trade ne­go­ti­a­tions and get­ting NZ on the map as an ex­porter of cit­rus.”

“In some ways we are the world’s best se­cret but if we are go­ing to con­tinue to oc­cupy our place, we need to get our points of dif­fer­ence out there.”

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