A New Zealand cherry grower has been able to forge a successful business by simply focusing on the Pick Your Own (PYO) and mail-order sales side of production.
Martin Milne, owner of Cheeki Cherries says visitors have always enjoyed visiting the fruit orchards to make it more of an event or experience, and the popularity continues to rise as the farm grows.
"We really wanted to focus solely on mail order and PYO because with the export everything keeps getting dearer, and we are at the bottom of the food chain," he said. "If we sell directly at the gate there are no middlemen. But on top of that we really like the people coming in, we have a really big picnic area now, where people can come in and sit in the shade and enjoy the fruit or even a beer. They are long days for two months, but we enjoy it. We have a lot of stone fruit as well; apricots, nectarines and plums. The kids enjoy getting up ladders and it's real family time for everyone. We have no entry fee, so it's a cheap thing to do. White Cherries are probably our most popular, especially with Asian visitors, they are a short season of about 2-3 weeks."
Photos courtesy: Cheeki Cherries Instagram page
Mr Milne moved to New Zealand around 23 years ago, where he bought a 15-acre block of land in Cromwell, in Central Otago on the South Island. He initially planted 2,200 cherry trees, on a block that he later sold, but not before expanding and buying a neighbouring property across the road 10 years ago, then a third block four years ago to grow the Cheeki Cherry brand.
"It's the oldest orchard in the area, with damn good fruit," he said. "We have 22 different varieties of cherries, and we have previously had the (whole local) market. But to show how successful we are, three others are opening on our same street as the popularity of PYO grows. Some may not have as many varieties as us though, so might be a very short season. Our branding is Cheeki Cherries, we are cheeky by name and cheeky by nature. We have our shop in the middle of Arrowtown. We want people to bring a picnic and just have a good time. Another advantage is that we try to keep our PYO orchard low spray to help the environment."
It is not just the fresh fruit but Cheeki Cherries also produces a range of jams, and ice creams and has recently expanded into cider products, with some of the waste cherries and plums. The cider has recently won awards at the New Zealand Cider Championships.
He also added that the mail order side of the business could not be stronger.
"It is absolutely massive for us; our website opens for orders and we have to shut it down a few hours later," Mr Milne said. "People just go crazy for it. With the dark cherries, they are a bit later this year, and we are holding off a bit. Hopefully we can open for mail order by Christmas. We really try not to oversell, because we obviously don't want to promise things we cannot sell. So, with the two orchards, we earmark one for our shop and mail order and we will hand grade everything, that has to be export quality, which is blemish free. That will be the focus at one orchard and at the other we will open for Pick Your Own, and we still have premium stuff in there as well. This year some of the varieties have been a wee bit damaged by frost. We were a bit reluctant to put out the frost machines, with the expense. But the fact we have 22 varieties, we are looking good across the board."
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