Strawberry harvest kicks off for BerryWorld Australia
The joint venture between British company BerryWorld and Piñata Farms is starting to bear fruit, with other berry types set to come into play in 2018 and 2020.
BerryWorld Australia is starting off its premium strawberry program with small volumes this winter, but managing director Gavin Scurr expects to have year-round production by 2019.
Established in 2016, the company brings selected BerryWorld-bred strawberries, raspberries and blackberries to Queensland-based Piñata Farms' operations, while the company is also looking for third-party growers to make 12-month supply possible.
"As we prove the commercial aspects of the varieties, we will offer third party growers the opportunity to produce berries under contract to BerryWorld Australia," said Scurr of Piñata, which is the exclusive marketer for the varieties in Australia and New Zealand.
"We’ll be looking to fill the October to November and April to May shoulders and will select specific geographic locations to suit winter and summer production.
"This winter, we’ll grow strawberry varieties selected from BerryWorld’s exclusive access to the Edward Vinson breeding program in the United Kingdom and Spain which have superior flavour and appearance attributes."
In a release the company said the first strawberries would arrive in-store this week, with raspberries following in February 2018 and blackberries in 2020.
Scurr mentioned the Australian raspberry industry was largely untapped and presented a significant opportunity for BerryWorld Australia to improve consumers’ eating experiences of the fruit, which had often been underwhelming.
"The latest BerryWorld-bred raspberries are making a huge impact around the world for flavour. We see this as an opportunity to give Australian consumers the great tasting and consistently good raspberries many parts of the world already enjoy," Scurr said.
"While we weren’t looking to diversify into blackberries, they came with the joint venture bundle and, as Australia’s blackberry industry is small and under-developed, we’re excited to be part of the industry’s development here."
Scurr said the joint venture realized a long-held ambition for Piñata Farms to enter the premium berry category, adding almost all other strawberries grown in Australia were from varieties that were widely available to producers.
"We had been actively seeking opportunities to produce exclusive strawberry varieties and diversify into raspberries in Australia for at least eight years when BerryWorld began looking for an established Australian producer partner to develop the brand here," the executive said.
"Negotiations began in 2014 and BerryWorld Australia was officially established in 2016.
"BerryWorld brings superior varieties and extensive sales and marketing experience, based on global berry research and knowledge to the mix. Piñata Farms will identify the varieties which warrant commercialisation here, then grow and market them to Australian consumers."
A significant portion of Piñata Farms’ 70-hectare strawberry operation has been reserved to grow BerryWorld strawberries. The company's production also includes other varieties, with operations on the Sunshine Coast and the Granite Belt.
All BerryWorld Australia lines will be produced under polytunnels to mitigate weather impacts.
"Heat is the enemy of berries. When the plants get too hot, they stress and don’t flower or set fruit. We’re growing European-bred berries under Australian conditions to taste as they do in Europe, so we’ve gone into protected cropping and substrate production, to embrace the future and give our new lines optimal growing conditions," Scurr said.
He added while flavor was the key objective, BerryWorld Australia would look at strawberry plant performance and yield and measure aspects of varieties objectively to establish if they were appropriate to be profitable and then select varieties accordingly.
BerryWorld Australia also negotiated with retail partner Woolworths to display strawberries in the fridge section of supermarket outlets, rather than the lounge where other Australian strawberries are displayed.
"Berries last longer if they are chilled. Fridge placement is another point of difference. Other future BerryWorld Australia lines, such as raspberries and blackberries, will also be found in the fridge," Scurr said.
"Our retail partner has seen what we’ve done with Honey Gold mangoes since 2009 and is as excited as we are to offer consumers quality tasting berries."
This winter BerryWorld strawberries will be available at selected Queensland stores. However, as production increases they will also be available in New South Wales and Victoria, packaged in heat-sealed 350g punnets.
Scurr said the new line achieved several significant points of difference for strawberry marketing.
"Australian strawberries are generally sold in 250g or 450g punnets and there are some 1kg punnets. We’ve decided on a 350g punnet to give Australian consumers more choice," he said.
"Globally, it’s already a size that is instantly associated with strawberries. We’re confident Australian consumers will appreciate it as a convenient, family friendly size."
The square punnets, made of standard 100 per cent recyclable PET (polyethylene), present BerryWorld strawberries in a single layer with the barcode at the base for easy scanning.
Heat-sealed film is perforated with eight air vents to keep fruit cool and fresh in-store and after purchase.
Scurr said pre-printed film was also more aesthetically pleasing than labeled lids.
"As few Australian strawberries are consistently sold in heat-sealed punnets, this will be a positive change for strawberry consumers. Heat-sealing, which is standard in berry production throughout Europe, not only keeps fruit fresh, but it is tamper proof."
Scurr also said use of this type of packaging would also deliver production and cost efficiencies and energy savings.
"Heat-sealing utilises approximately 30 per cent less packaging materials than a punnet with a lid," he said.
"Heat-sealing has also been shown to perform slightly better in maintaining fruit weight up to purchase.
"With strawberries, there’s always a slight margin of weight loss after packing. To achieve the 350g weight by the time of purchase, we allow for loss by slightly overpacking, typically by about 20 grams per punnet."
Australia part of a global vision for BerryWorld
BerryWorld Group chief executive officer Adam Olins said after acquiring a foothold in South Africa, the group saw an opportunity in Australia for better tasting berries and, in Gavin Scurr, a partner with a similar vision.
"We took time investigating potential partners in the Australian market. Piñata Farms is a talented and experienced grower, it has a great reputation in the local market and, on a strategic level, a similar outlook to the BerryWorld business, making it a great choice," Olins said.
"In Piñata Farms, we believe we have everything required for a successful business to flourish.
"This venture takes the BerryWorld Group into its third continent and expands our global reach beyond Europe and Africa," he said.