Australia's first harvested apricot of the season is off to a strong start, according to leading Australian stone fruit grower, Mattina Fresh.
"We were very lucky this year with our Mogadore apricots," National Sales Director, Tom Panna said. "This year was the best year that we have seen - not necessarily for yield, as it was the lightest crop that we have seen - but the size has been really good, eating quality was amazing. So, we may have picked far less than we are used to, but we reaped benefits on quality as a result of that."
Mr Panna also explained that the Mogodore apricot variety has always had support in Australia, as last year the company didn't have to export a single box, adding that the weather was on the company's side this year as well.
"We missed the traditional rain that we normally get," he said. "The rain that we are getting this week, is normally a week earlier. That means we normally lose our strip pick on that variety, so we were lucky enough to get through it with fantastic weather conditions all the way through. We have seen fantastic support for this apricot; the domestic market has traditionally wanted to consume it all, between the (supermarket) chains and the independent retailers. Because the quality was there, they sold like hotcakes. We didn't have enough fruit - we wish we could have had three times the amount. So, it's a variety you don't get amazing yield out of, but it's excellent eating fruit."
It sets up the stone fruit season for Mattina Fresh strongly, according to Mr Panna, who says having a quality piece of fruit in the market during the early part of the season is crucial in getting brand recognition.
"It sets the standard and example, and I hope it does the category justice by having good fruit early," he said. "Because the biggest challenge in stone fruit is that a lot of the October fruit doesn't get the size or the Brix, so our focus is what the variety is and what it can offer the consumer. We want to have the right fruit specific for the Australian growing conditions and let the consumer enjoy eating it. We are focused across the 800 acres of (the entire stone fruit) production is making sure it eats well. If it doesn't eat, we won't plant it; we want to grow, pack and supply fruit that we are happy to eat ourselves. That's our main slogan and we have done heaps of work on varieties. But this is our first year of full production - so everything is producing - and we believe we have ticked all the boxes with peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots."
Overall, Mattina Fresh has more than 84 varieties of stone fruit in the ground, and Mr Panna says the harvest of different varieties can change every 3-5 days this season.
"Stone fruit is unique in that way, therefore we don't have a variety that is going to last 2-3 weeks," he explained. "We have varieties that are in and out within days. So, we are trying to educate consumers on what is in the stores and is fresh - and what they should be looking for when they are shopping - because really if a variety should be in-store today, they shouldn't be eating something harvested 10 days ago. We want to get out there and keep the information and education flowing. Making consumers aware is a primary focus this season; there will be a lot of fruit out there, we want to make sure they are buying the right ones."
A major promotion that Mattina Fresh was involved in last season was the "Peach on a Beach" campaign, which was run by the Cobram District Growers Association, where a family won a holiday to the region. Mr Panna says the competition was a complete success and the region's growers will run annual promotional campaigns and competitions to help boost consumption.
"We are pretty excited by the ideas that we have for this year’s competition, which we are just finalising," Mr Panna said. "But that awareness is very important - even as the Mattina Fresh business, we are moving away from our own marketing and more to Cobram-grown. Branding is important, but we hope that our fruit speaks for itself when people want to buy and they look for our brand. However, as for awareness, we want to support our region and shift fruit that is grown in Cobram. We have some of the best conditions and farms in the country - so we are working as a collective in that manner."
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