One of Australia's leading mango producers admits they have had to work extremely hard this season to maintain quality, due to the heatwave conditions in the Northern Territory.
Manbulloo is nearing the end of the season in Katherine, with its late variety, Rosa, while harvesting has recently begun in North Queensland's Townsville region. Owner and Managing Director, Marie Piccone says so far conditions have been really challenging.
"We've had heatwave after heatwave here in the Northern Territory," Ms Piccone said. "There have been so many days over 40 degrees (Celsius) that I can't remember it ever being so hot for so long. I don't think the heat necessarily affected the crop volume, but it added a lot of pressure in terms of maintaining the quality. The mangoes get very hot on the trees and are more susceptible to harvest damage. We have also been very concerned about the welfare of our labour force in the paddock - they cannot work in conditions where temperatures are peaking at 42 degrees. We've remedied the problem by changing our daily picking timing, so we are not harvesting in the hottest part of the day, and by increasing the number of harvest teams. So, we have been able to get a significant crop harvested and the team has also managed to maintain fruit quality. To date, we haven't had any significant rainfall to alleviate the heat and dry conditions, and everyone is 'hanging out' in the NT for the storm season, or wet season - just to give some reprieve."
However, the heat did not prevent Manbulloo launching its newly branded Arriba R2 Mangoes in early November through its supermarket partner Coles. Ms Piccone says Arriba R2s are really large, fully grown, sweet, full flavoured mangoes.
"Arriba R2 sales have so far been a great success, and there definitely is consumer demand for them," she said. "We are noticing sales are linked to different demographics (of consumers), and we are getting a lot of feedback that people like/love the flavour - which is great, because Manbulloo is all about the flavour. Arriba is a Spanish word that means above, or on top. So, Arribas are 'big on size, big flavours and big natural sweetness'. There are also high levels of demand for our Manbulloo Kensington Pride (KP), notably also in North America and Asia."
Manbulloo's first shipment arrived in the United States in October. Currently only KP and R2E2 varieties are being sent to supermarket chains in California, but Ms Piccone says the Keitt variety will be added.
"Export to the USA is not for the faint-hearted because the protocol and supply chain management is pretty difficult, with irradiation," she said. "But demand is going up, and it is really exciting. Americans, and ex-pat Australians are showing that they are prepared to pay a price for our varieties, where the retailer and importer can make a fair profit, and so can we. It's definitely the flavour that excites them. Most say they have never tasted anything like a KP, and they are actually astounded. Exceptional flavour and a memorable eating experience are two main reasons we can command a retail premium. Australian KP and R2E2 are not 'bargain value mangoes', for example like varieties from South America. Invariably, consumers in the USA just say 'I have never tasted anything like it'. We are working closely with our importer Guimerra and two high-end retailers who we have focused on, because we want to get the supply chain right in California, before we extend the market even further."
She says there is huge interest in the USA on the east coast and in the Midwest, but there are some logistical challenges, which need to be addressed before these markets can be realised.
"The main challenge is not pricing, or the value proposition," Ms Piccone said. "It will be getting the handling right. It has so far worked out in California, but there seems to be an issue in North America, where the trucking is set at temperatures that are too cold for transporting mangoes. While temperate fruits like apples and pears can be shipped at five degrees Celcius, it is too cold to ship tropicals at five degrees Celsius. Long distances and extended time at low temperatures will cause chilling injury in mangoes. Days of five degrees celcius transport is simply too cold for too long for our mangoes. Until the logistical supply chain starts to treat tropicals differently to temperates, and don’t just “wrap them in plastic to keep them warm” on the truck, delivering good quality tropicals will not work. We can and do send our mangoes all over the world, and they look and taste great at retail - but the temperature management and logistics must be right."
Ms Piccone added that despite the heat and weather challenges posed so far in 2019, the feedback on quality is not just from international markets, with her retail partner domestically 'very pleased' with the fruit that has been sent to market, especially recently out of Queensland. Manbulloo's mango season is expected to continue into mid-March.