PMA Australia-New Zealand to boost international ties
When PMA Australia-New Zealand held its first Fresh Connections event in 2009 there were 250 visitors, but this year CEO Michael Worthington is aiming for 1000. He tells FreshFruitPortal.com about the resilience of local industry in the face of recent extreme weather events, the challenge of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, and the positive effects of hit TV show MasterChef .
The Australian state of Queensland has had a rough time in 2011 with devastating floods in the south followed by Cyclone Yasi in the north, but state capital Brisbane will host international fruit and vegetable event Fresh Connections in June.
Worthington says the long-term impact from floods on root damage to fruit and vegetable crops is still unknown, but he expects a strong recovery.
“What we have in Australia is an extremely resilient industry that bounces back very quickly. People are keeping up hope and that does create a lot of empathy with consumers,” he says.
“As the only organisation representing the whole industry here, we’re trying to raise our profile with our events to connect people in the food industry – last year in Melbourne there were 750 people compared to the previous year in Sydney when there were 250.
“In 2011 we’re aiming for 1000, with people from right across the supply chain from retailers to producers and everyone in between. Last year we had people from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and the Middle East, and this year will probably be the same, but we’d like to have more Koreans as we didn’t get any last year.”
He says New Zealand has recorded higher growth in fruit and vegetable consumption compared to Australia in recent years, but he is positive about the effects of Australian TV show MasterChef on consumers.
The reality TV show was based on the original British version, pitting contestants against each other to make the best dishes; the season finale was the country’s most watched program in 2009, while it won the Most Popular Reality Program in the 2010 Logie Awards. The show was also followed by a spin-off Junior MasterChef program.
“MasterChef has been good for getting a large part of the community into cooking, thinking about where food comes from, what’s in it and how to prepare it,” says Worthington.
“It’s had a large effect and you can see it where if a certain product is used in a recipe on the show, sales shoot up in the week after. The difficulty is sustaining that but the effect is largely positive.”
He is also encouraged by recent reports in newspaper Adelaide Advertiser which said the South Australian city had witnessed a boost in demand for home-grown fruit and vegetables, with around 100,000 fruit trees growing in backyards. He did not see the phenomenon as a threat to the industry.
“I’d say it’s complementary. It’s a good sign from a consumption point of view. Is this at the expense of retailers? I don’t think so. It’s still a very small percentage.”
Gateway to Asia
While Worthington is optimistic about Australia’s exports of citrus fruits and grapes, he still sees Australia as a smaller player, but one that can play a significant role as a connection to Asian markets.
“We initiated PMA Australia-New Zealand to start getting PMA more involved in the Asian region, not only for us to offer more services, but to help improve connections internationally, like what we’ve seen in Chile and South Africa, which in the next five years are going to be very big. It would be nice to see some of them over here in June.
“We know that the rise and rise of Chile, Argentina and Peru as significant suppliers to the global market will continue, but the impact of Australia will be much smaller, and New Zealand will be significant but just in specific areas.”
In terms of recent controversies surrounding imported fruits to Australia and alleged false labelling on the part of Coles, Worthington says responses need to be within the law but some laws may need to change.
“From a quarantine perspective, Australia is and will continue to protect itself from foreign diseases and pests, but it is part of the World Trade Organisation and it has to respect its decisions on quarantine barriers,” he says.
“We’ve already seen that with New Zealand apples and now you’re getting Chinese apples for the first time. People are trying to be pragmatic to promote consumption of local produce more on the value of our produce.
“At this stage less than 7% of our fruit is imported and most of that is with seasonal fruit, like California navels.
“Labelling is still contentious and not just with fresh fruit produce because labelling laws aren’t really transparent from a consumer point of view. All retailers are acting within the law, but maybe the law itself needs some work.”
He says while PMA has goals of boosting its events, memberships and attracting talent, the end goal of boosting consumption of fruit and vegetables is the highest priority. If that happens in Australia he thinks there could be a lot more room for imports.
“If you’re going to increase consumption and you’re not able to supply that for whatever reason, there will be demand to bring in fruit from somewhere else.”
Fresh Connections will take place at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from June 8-10.