One of New Zealand's leading fresh produce marketers notes that this year's Satsuma Mandarin crop will be a little lighter as it bounces back after a heavy season last year.
Satsuma season has just started, and Zeafruit CEO Glen Dunseath says while crop tonnage will be down, it will still be a good year in terms of fruit size and quality.
"It is a bounce back from an extremely heavy crop last year in terms of the winter Satsuma crop," he said. "Last year was significantly heavier than normal and we are now seeing a bit of a bounce-back with the trees. Far north growing regions may be slightly up, but in the Gisborne region, it will be significantly down. It will still be a good year in terms of flavour and eating quality. Our summer season was outstanding. Obviously, COVID-19 related imports, shipping issues and overall, a pretty light crop out of the United States limited the amount of imports into NZ, which gave some of our traditional summer lines a real boost and value, which is good. So, our Valencia orange crop, Encore mandarins and summer lemons were really good in value and demand."
Images courtesy: Zeafruit Facebook Page
Zeafruit is a supplier of the New Zealand domestic market, choosing not to export given the challenges thrown up by the country's inconsistent weather patterns. It supplies fruit to both major supermarket chains, with 95 per cent going to retail and 5 per cent going into food service and wholesale.
"Satsuma is a significant focus for us during the New Zealand winter," he said. "We also have summer lemons, and they are a significant focus in trying to target the value period of the year rather than target the mid-winter export slump. Afourer mandarins are another key line after the Australian crop has finished and before the United States product starts. That is actually a massively developing category in New Zealand and being driven by what we are doing but also Australian Satsumas in terms of their export programs. We run our standard Navel and Valencia commodity lines, but it's often hard to extract anything from them in terms of strategic value in the current format given the consumers' preference for mandarins. The challenge for NZ (as an industry) will be our competitiveness internationally with our export lines such as lemons, especially around shipping and varietal challenges with Australia increasing their exports. That will make it a bit harder for us and getting fruit quality will be a challenge given our mix of weather throughout the year."
The company is fully owned by the Darling Group, which owns several businesses with state-of-the-art facilities across New Zealand and Australia, including Queensland-based J.H. Leavy & Co. Zeafruit is fully integrated from production right through to packing, marketing and logistics. Mr Dunseath explains that there is a significant opportunity and market to grow in the country, which is looking at greenfield options.
"The (business) model is changing slightly from when I got involved; when we were solely a broker without any assets," Mr Dunseath said. "Over the past five years we have gone more into packing and we now have our own post-harvest facility in Patutahi in Gisborne. Our grower network has remained the same, although we have bought our own orchards. Land-use changes are driving some of that, and we've had to go back into the production end of it. So, we have a couple of orchards that we own and about four that we lease, managing in total around 100 hectares. Plus, we deal with around 40 other growers, who have their own products."
Mr Dunseath has also noticed a change in consumer preferences across New Zealand within the entire citrus category in recent seasons.
"The overall consumption is probably growing, but the product lines are changing in their popularity," he explained. "The growth of winter and summer mandarins to becoming a stock standard line in most households is well underway. We are probably seeing a change in consumer interest from traditional lines like Navel oranges, Tangelos, and Encore mandarins, and there are some better lines available in traditional 'off-periods' throughout the year that are helping bring consumers back to citrus for say 12 months rather than brief periods."