While wet weather has impacted Australian passionfruit numbers early in the season, growers are expecting supply to increase in the new year, if the warm dry weather continues.
The rain events experienced in October and November across the southern growing areas have caused some reduction in both the quantity and the quality of the fruit available prior to Christmas, but grower Tina McPherson says popularity has been strong at this time of year, with a particularly 'bountiful' crop set to hit stores from January.
"Demand is always good leading into Christmas - who doesn’t love a great Pavlova topped with passionfruit," she said. "This will ease quite considerably after Christmas but supply will continue. Market price is fair and/or steady and as expected during pre-Christmas summer. We have had unseasonably dry weather during the flowering period and then it was unseasonably wet the last few months, but the result is a super sweet crop."
The Sweetheart variety (Source: Passionfruit Australia/Hort Innovation)
Australian Passionfruit Industry Services Manager Margie Milgate says the fruit is always popular as festive product, as it adds to the look and taste that goes with this wonderful summer holiday season. But she adds that quality and new varieties is the key to growing demand.
"Flavour is the key to growing passionfruit consumption in Australia," Ms Milgate said. "Aussie consumers love the colour and the look of the passionfruit pulp, and many seek to use passionfruit with a variety of other tropical products – like in a fruit salad or on a Pavlova. Flavour however is the way to gain repeat sales, and this is what the industry is striving for with the development of new passionfruit varieties."
And Ms Milgate adds that there are exciting times ahead for the industry, with new varieties on the horizon.
"(There are) industry levy funds going into a leading edge breeding project being conducted by Southern Cross University at Lismore," Ms Milgate said. "The industry has invested in a DNA finger printing project that is going to allow for the identification of markers that carry the right characteristics to meet consumer demand."
Predominant purple varieties (sometimes known as blacks) are Misty Gems and Sweethearts and are very popular particularly in the southern states. In Australia panamas are also grown, mainly Pandora variety, as well as other commercial varieties in small quantities, with varying success across different regions.
But Queensland grower Jane Richter says that consumers outside of Queensland are relatively unaware of the varietal differences.
"In Queensland having a passionfruit vine growing across your back fence is still quite commonplace," she said. "A myth still exists with many consumers that you have to wait until the fruit skin is wrinkled before eating the passionfruit whereas the best eating is often found with fruit that still has a firm smooth skin and feels heavy for its size, indicating a high juice content. New varieties are being commercialised now from vines produced in northern NSW and an industry sponsored program is currently underway through the Plant Science part of Southern Cross University."
Different passionfruit varieties (source: Passionfruit Australia/Hort Innovation)
Mrs Richter says the key to driving growth is to provide simple ideas for consumers to make passionfruit an everyday food rather than a special occasion dessert topping.
"57 per cent of passionfruit purchases are made on impulse so retail merchandising tactics like co-locating fruit with everyday foods that would make a great companion, for example yoghurt, could help to unlock growth," Mrs Richter said. "Recent consumer research undertaken by Hort innovation has indicated that most Australians love the taste of passionfruit, but lack the confidence to know how to use them on anything other than traditional desserts like Pavlova. There are so many other simple uses for passionfruit, like adding zing to a drink, taste and colour to icing, or adding them into muffins. Working closely with the major Retailers to achieve a change in merchandising strategy is a key objective of the industry for 2018."
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