One of Australia's largest producers of stone fruit began sales of its new brand, which has started with the early apricots going to market this week.
Mattina Fresh's Mogadore Apricots launched in markets, and National Sales Director Thomas Panna says it is the beginning of hopefully more positive things to come for the company this season, after an "amazing pre-season".
"We have got a few good things in our favour," he said. "We have got a lot of young trees coming into production this year. We have also seen some good signs domestically; pricing is really good and demand is really high. We just hope this continues through until we start peaches and nectarines. We have had amazing chill hours leading in, so the crop was set really heavy. We have had a heap of rain, and really seen the effects. We are probably advanced 7-10 days by each variety, so having that rain has brought our season forward. The size profiles of the fruit will be amazing; we are not going to struggle to have a 65-70mm piece of fruit. It will be really common."
On the export front, Mr Panna says it is too early to tell what the full impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on international shipments, especially with the uncertainty with trade with China.
"There is definitely an additional costing right now," he said. "There is obviously International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) support for that. There is a level of financial support and contribution going towards that, but the concern for our industry is around the January harvest of peaches that we have planted for the Chinese New Year, and Chinese markets. From a sea freight perspective, we don't see an issue for nectarines and plums, and the programmes are looking like having strong increases in last year, with the forecasts coming through. Offshore markets want our product, it's just finding the balance with peaches."
He added that individual companies in the stone fruit industry have been forced in a way to find freight solutions for the problems with the peach, and conduct their own research and trials to allow for the peaches to be placed in containers more efficiently, to better maintain the shelf life.
Regardless, Mattina Fresh has also identified opportunities with Singapore, Malaysia, Middle East and Canada, but says the industry needs to get more market access around the world.
"We need to continue to grow and develop more markets, as time goes on, just to have that secure sale," Mr Panna. "But domestically, we are setting ourselves up for a good year. Quality will be the major focus from a retail perspective in Australia; we are going to have a bigger piece of fruit to offer. In addition, with less peaches going offshore, there will be more better-sized fruit with a better eating experience to market back home. Let's face it, it is about time they got the best fruit available. That's why we focused on making new brands across the winter to really push that."
Mattina Fresh has noticed a few consumption trends internationally, for example, traditionally Asian markets have favoured white-fleshed nectarines and peaches, but they are widening their pallets.
"Last year there was some good 'sub-acid' yellow-fleshed fruit started to build traction, and this year they are even talking about those varieties and putting bigger programmes together," Mr Panna said. "June Sweet was probably the major variety that shined in a new trend for Asia. While, in Australia, there has been some really good work in the plum category and growth domestically last season. I think that comes from the whole value-add of having antioxidant capabilities. That health benefit is helping the plum category."
Mr Panna says this year his company is also collaborating with other stone fruit growers in the Cobram region to promote varieties, online through social media platforms, which will be rolled out in coming days.
"We are working as an association rather than trying to push it as individual businesses," he said. "From a domestic perspective, and it will hopefully flow into international markets, we have decided instead of pushing branding, we are pushing the region. So that means consumer awareness, education on varieties and production, including sizing profile, what the sugars should be, what the shelf-life is and the fruit's characteristics. It will basically be weekly on-farm updates and every grower in Cobram will have their chance at promotion and getting their information out there. We are going down a different path of Cobram growers, which has never been done before in our industry."
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