Growers head up-market with exports

45 South orchard manager Tim Jones and orchard worker Emma Rankin, of Cromwell, pick Titan cherries wearing their Central Otago Premium Fruit Ltd branded T-shirts. Photo by Sarah Marquet.
45 South orchard manager Tim Jones and orchard worker Emma Rankin, of Cromwell, pick Titan cherries wearing their Central Otago Premium Fruit Ltd branded T-shirts. Photo by Sarah Marquet.
After a successful first season, a pilot scheme aimed at developing the Central Otago fruit brand is being expanded.

Under the scheme, about 20 cherry and apricot growers from around the district banded together, packed their best quality fruit into specially branded boxes and sold the fruit into high-end Asian and American markets.

Cromwell's 45 South orchard general manager Tim Jones, a member of the working party behind the scheme, said it was not just about selling the fruit but about connecting the consumer with the grower.

To do that, the Central Otago-branded boxes contained a leaflet telling the consumer about the region, the fruit and the grower. This season, they are aiming to take their cherries to more Asian markets, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, in addition to the Chinese, Hong Kong and Thai markets they sold into last season.

As part of that, they have developed T-shirts screenprinted with brand logos, which will be sold at Cromwell and Roxburgh information centres.

Earlier this year, Mr Jones told the Otago Daily Times growers had received about $1 more per kilogram for fruit sold under the brand. He said while the first season went well, ''there is still a bit of work to do'' . It was not necessarily about making money but lifting the profile of Central Otago fruit, and growers having more ownership of products.

He said with Chilean growers able to produce more than 70,000 tonnes of cherries in a season, and at a lower cost, ''our only hope is to have the best cherries in the world''.

The 20 or so growers who are involved in the scheme represent about 80% of cherry growers and 60-70% of apricot growers, though the percentage of fruit they sell under the brand could well be only a very small portion of what they produce.

Mr Jones said Central Otago exported 1200 to 1300 tonnes of cherries last season and only a couple of tonnes had been sold under the brand.

''This year, we see the opportunity for 50 to 60 tonnes going into it,'' he said late last week.

With the apricots, he said it was a case of trying to ''relaunch'' the fruit into America - mainly to high-end retailers on the West Coast.

To do that, they are focusing on sending newer and better varieties such as Clutha Gold, ''apricots with flavour rather than just looks''.

-sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz