One of New Zealand's largest cherry orchards says finding more direct clients will help drive sales, as it expands production over the next five seasons.
Trophy Ridge Cherries Owner and Managing Director Graeme McMillan says he finds offshore clients want to deal directly with a grower/exporter to strengthen the integrity in the partnership.
"We find that a lot of people now want to come and have a look and see who you are and what you are," he said. "They can come and visit the orchard, they can come along to the packhouse. We encourage that because we have got nothing to hide. They come prior to Christmas to have a look at what we might be able to supply and they get an idea of what varieties we have. Everything is done to a high standard, and when the agents come here they see that. They can ring you up and it's the same person each year, because we own it."
Mr McMillan and his family brought the 40-hectare property 13 kilometres to the North of Cromwell, on the South Island, 15 years ago and sub divided the land with 23ha dedicated to growing cherries and 7ha for apples. The company has its own export licence and has a share in the local packhouse, with the main production period from mid-December to late January, and a peak around Christmas.
Trophy Ridge Cherries grows 13 varieties of the fruit on a "maturing orchard", with production expected to more than double - from 160 tonnes last season to over 400 tonnes, over the next 3-4 years.
"The plants are only four or five years old, and when they get to six or seven they put on a lot more growth," he said. "There is not too many orchards about our size, probably about four or five, that would be it. We would be one of the bigger ones, and we've just planted another 10 hectares of cherries on land that is available. We have about 18,000 cherry trees at the moment and we will be increasing that by another 10,000 as we grow the orchard. But we have moved into apples as well, because we thought that would be a good balancing crop. If we have a lot rain, cherries don't like it, but apples love it."
The company will be showcasing their produce at Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong in September, with the chance to meet the management team. Mr McMillan says this is an ideal chance for buyers into a long-term join partnership with a direct grower to ensure a supply contract on an ongoing basis.
With small domestic demand in New Zealand, he adds that only 10 per cent of his cherries goes to the local market, and the majority of supply is sent into Asia, which takes less than a day to arrive by air.
"Our best cherries go to export and our growing markets are Vietnam, a lot into Thailand, and we have exported into Taiwan a lot but China would be the biggest growing market," Mr McMillan said. "There is a bit of competition there with Chilean cherries, but our cherries are all flown. So, they leave the orchard, go to the packhouse and in 48 hours they are all packed and go on the back of a truck and fly out of Christchurch or Auckland. They have a thermal recorder so when the client gets the pallet load at the other end they can read the history, or where those cherries have been."
The varieties of include: Sonnet, Samba, Santina, Stella, Kordia, Lapin, Skenna, Regina, Sweetheart and Staccato - with the intention is to spread the varieties evenly, due to the different maturity times.
"We want a good hearty cherry for size and that is what the Asian market enjoys; 30-32 (millimetre) and some 34s," he said. "They are good eating. Most of our cherries are good eating - there's not one bad one that you wouldn't want to eat. Some are darker than others but we like leaving them a little darker because the sugar content comes up and everyone loves them. Then they don't last as long, so sometimes you have to pick them before then to ensure they are better in the marketplace."
Mr McMillan says a strong emphasis is placed on quality, not just through upholding New Zealand's reputation for "clean and green" growing and reduced chemical use, but also using the latest colour machine technology during the packing, which increases reliability.
"It will offer a great guarantee that it is being graded correctly," he said. "It doesn't rely on individuals, but its own technology. They are very smart machines they pick up bruising, they look at infrared and take about 46 pictures of each cherry and work out the imperfections electronically. That's the way it is going. It offers them a degree of security to know what they are going to get."
Trophy Ridge Cherries are also preparing to release a new pink Golden Cherry box this season and small clear punnet supplies. These are for smaller and select cherries for our new pink box and golden cherry, for volume supplies.