Year-round supply to Asia
A Trans-Tasman partnership, set to supply Asian supermarket shelves year-round with large, nutritious blueberries, also aims to maximise returns for its licenced growers.
Called BerryCo, it was formed around three years ago as a joint venture between two Australasia fresh produce companies; Valley Fresh and Southern Produce to bring their separate blueberry growers under the BerryCo umbrella.
With around 60 ha licenced in New Zealand of the Mountain Blue Orchard varieties bred by Ridley Bell of New South Wales, the company plans to co-ordinate harvests in this country with those in Australia, to provide year-round supply to Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
Vaughan Judkins, general manager of BerryCo says the fruit will be marketed under the Eureka Brand, which is the only blueberry brand now sold in Coles supermarkets across Victoria, Tasmania, NSW and Queensland.
“The BerryCo concept is to strategically plant new blueberry varieties throughout New Zealand, based on their seasonal timing, to lengthen the supply window. Comprehensive retail programmes, with continuity of supply, will drive brand value,” he says. BerryCo’s is growing and Vaughan says its founders have extensive knowledge and experience in direct to retail strategies, global marketing, global produce distribution and packing, improvement in growing techniques, development of new technology and adopting plant varieties
The company wants to licence more orchardists, either new or existing, to grow its varieties and is offering support with advice about setting up orchards, planting, nutrition, harvesting and post-harvest.
Growers, who pay $12,000 for a licence and around $100,000 a hectare for tunnel housing, plus other establishment costs, can expect to reach 30 per cent of production within two years and 100 per cent by the fourth year.
New Bay of Plenty grower Tony Ponder expects to conservatively earn between $60,000 and $80,000 per hectare from his 1.5ha covered orchard. Last year a 200g punnet of Eureka Blueberries grown in Australia fetched $12.95 in Singapore. Vaughan says while New Zealand has a number of ideal blueberry growing locations, from Northland to the South Island, before the industry reaches full production, it will have to address the provision of post-harvest facilities and labour force.
“We are well aware of the labour issues facing other horticultural crops and currently, with blueberries, handpicking, not automation, is the only option so finding sufficient staff will be vital.
“When it comes to post-harvest, we are also looking into the possibility of working with existing facilities for packing and storing, as well as the potential to construct our own facilities.”
Despite those future challenges, Vaughan says BerryCo is confident of its ability to drive the development of the New Zealand blueberry industry beyond the domestic market - paving the way for a bright future.
▴ Vaughan Judkins, general manager of BerryCo addressing the 240 people who attended the company’s field day in July.