An inside look at Australia's adopted achachas - FreshFruitPortal.com

An inside look at Australia's adopted achachas

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An inside look at Australia's adopted achachas

Last month, British retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) started selling superfruit achacha for the first time. Originally from the depths of the Amazon Rainforest, the superfruit is supplied by Australian company Achacha Fruit Group, whose CEO Bruce Hill gave www.freshfruitportal.com a backgrounder about this crop that is making waves in the U.K.

Around 16,000 trees grow in the Palm Creek tropical plantation south of Townsville in North Queensland, where Hill oversees harvesting across 120 hectares of land dedicated to the sweet and tangy egg-shaped fruit. Achacha panorama

Originally from the Amazon Basin in Bolivia where it is known as the achachairú, the fruit's name was changed to achacha under an agreement with the Bolivian government, giving Achacha Fruit Group sole rights to grow it commercially outside of Bolivia.

Hill and his wife Helen were both born and raised in the nation's capital Canberra, but lived and worked overseas for 21 years and visited Bolivia on several occasions. It wasn't until Bruce returned to the country on a consulting assignment that he discovered the achacha, and from there the first seeds of growing it in Australia were born.

"A Bolivian resident called Hugo raved about it and eventually we imported some fruit to try and impressed enough people to help us start the project," Hill told www.freshfruitportal.com.

"These partners, our and Hugo’s friends and their friends have stuck with us in spite of the difficulties associated with a start-up agricultural operation."

The achacha remains unheard of in many countries around the world. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for Hill and his team is raising awareness about its delicious, zesty taste and the associated health benefits.

"The biggest challenge is marketing the fruit because relatively few people in Australia have heard of it, even after we have had it on sale for several years. This is partly because we have a very limited marketing budget, but also because it is a fruit which people need to try before they will buy," Hill said.

"Once they try, they usually buy. Typically a customer will pick up and smell the fruit, then say 'What’s it like?' We use words provided by a group of taste experts: sweet, tangy, refreshing, like a sorbet."

The recent season began in December 2013 and is now coming to an end with growers focusing efforts on marketing the fruit on an international scale. Along with the latest M&S supply deal, the company plans to grow its presence in other foreign markets as well.

"We have exported to Asia, the Middle East and Europe, with small shipments to other locations. We expect all of these markets to grow, especially Asia, as the fruit becomes better known," Hill said.

"So far as we know, we are the only suppliers of the fruit internationally at the moment. The potential is there for significant growth.

"The closest fruit in terms of taste is the mangosteen, another member of the Garcinia family, which is a major export earner for some Asian countries," said Hill, adding that achachas had half the sugar of the mangosteen and 20% more pulp.

The recent deal with British retailers M&S came about after Bruce’s son, Brussels-based son Adrian, presented achachas at Fruit Logistica a few years ago, introducing them to Europe for the first time. He received an excellent response and in 2012 the company took third place in the trade fair's prestigious innovation awards which eventually led to interest from M&S representatives.

"We are heavily committed to sustained growing, using biodynamic methods and given the size of our plantation, this is a formidable task. We are on a steep learning curve," Hill said.

"We would also like to find an international partner. We have a monopoly position in the market, an excellent product and an established plantation facility, but we do not have the resources required to capitalize on our assets."

Supplying the domestic market

Within Australia, achachas can be found in various farmers' markets and although raising awareness of this little-known fruit has been an arduous task, marketing is paying off.

"We sell through agents at the major fruit markets in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. They supply the major chains and independent fruit shops. These agents generally handle other tropical fruits," Hill said.

"Within Australia we like selling through farmers’ markets; these venues have become very popular with people who have an understanding of and appreciation for good food.

"At these markets we can talk to potential customers and demonstrate the special and easy-to-use opening method – 'pierce and pop'. We give them a taste of the fruit and explain the use of the skin as a healthy drink."

He said an international sales force was needed to undertake the same sampling task within shops, but this was an expensive process.

"However the name of the fruit is slowly becoming known and as it does, it sells itself," Hill explained.

Much has been made of the achacha's superfruit qualities, although it's not an official label that Achacha Fruit Group has coined.

"We don’t hype it up nor do we refer to it as a 'superfruit', but we do think it is a super and unique fruit. It has excellent properties with great potential in the health area.

Aside from the fruit itself, there are a range of potential achacha spin-off products, including honey, jams and syrups as well as using the fruit's pulp.

"Bees love the flowers of the fruit but are not needed for pollination. We have an arrangement with a local apiarist who brings in his hives, 100 plus this season, and sells the honey to us. It's raw, untreated and unheated, so retains all the nutrients for which natural honey is renowned.

"Originally we used it as a gift for our partners, but now it is becoming well known and in demand. We also have jams and syrups made from the fruit with great success, although we haven’t tried to commercialize these yet.

"The pulp is also in demand by chefs for desserts and salads and it makes an excellent sorbet. However, separating it from the skin and seed has posed problems which we haven’t overcome yet. We've developed a prototype process which we hope to facilitate this task and provide chefs and sorbet makers with an excellent product."

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