ASIA'S booming middle class consumers really do exist and they really are hungry for special treats from Australia says fruit trading boss, Murray McCallum.
Thanks to fast emerging retail opportunities across Asia, Mr McCallum's Freshmax group is recording double digit sales growth in the region.
In less than five years its exports to Asia sourced from Australia, New Zealand and further afield, have grown from a standing start to make up about 35 per cent of group turnover.
The sales surge conveniently coincided with the company's investment in licensed fruit varieties now (literally) bearing fruit on its own farms, and tantalising the taste buds of shoppers in Japan and Korea, plus new-wealth consumers in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
We're continually looking for more supply partners to help us keep pace with the growing market
"Exports have really jumped out of the box, and continue to charge ahead," said Mr McCallum, the chief executive officer of the NZ-founded business, now based in Australia.
Freshmax's Melbourne-based Valleyfresh division has established offices from California to Peru, Chile and South Africa to help maintain supplies of in-season fruit to retailers in Asia, Australia and NZ.
"Emerging middle classes in places like China, Vietnam and Thailand really are creating a lot of new demand," Mr McCallum said.
"Our complete export focus is pretty much on Asia - it's a very fast growing market for fruit."
Private varieties pay
DEMAND was being aided by privately-owned fruit varieties grown exclusively by Freshmax suppliers, or on its own 800 hectares of orchards or leased plantings in Australia and NZ.
"We're continually looking for more supply partners - not necessarily farmers - to help us keep pace with the growing market," he said.
The company had put considerable effort into finding varietal intellectual property which could deliver the "special sweetness and vibrant coloured fruit which appeals to Asian tastes".
"We've been on a long IP journey which has yielded good results in the past three years, but we'll see significantly more growth as those plantings come into maturity," Mr McCallum said.
Aside from Asia, the domestic market has also been healthy contributor to Freshmax's $600 million a year sales, which span a full fruit range from apples and pears, to berries, cherries, grapes, citrus, kiwifruit, avocados and bananas.
In fact, for some time the company has been under pressure to expand its Sydney operations.
Sydney site opens
LAST week Freshmax and Valleyfresh management and founders from both sides of the Tasman were at Marsden Park near Blacktown, to officially open a purpose-built 6500 square metre warehouse, cool storage and retail packaging site.
The facility includes a 480-pallet-capacity zone for fresh produce ripening, 400 pallets of cool room capacity, and pre-packing facilities for berry punnets through to three-kilogram citrus packs.
Valleyfresh general manager, Simon Powell, said apart from being twice as big as current facilities at Homebush, the new site was close to major supermarket retail distribution centres, including near neighbour, Aldi, and had ample floor space to efficiently move produce and run pre-packing lines.
Until recent years Valleyfresh had primarily focused on sourcing imports for sale to domestic consumers.
Now its Asian sales have become a significant business in their own right.
Freshmax Group, founded in NZ in 1995 before moving its base to Australia a decade later, has emerged as one of the southern hemisphere's biggest fresh produce marketing and distribution operations.
It operates a diverse stable of businesses including Brisbane's Deluca Banana Marketing, five wholesale produce markets in NZ, and the Crasborn orchard and post harvest business which makes it NZ's third biggest apple grower.
The group handles more than 36m boxes of fresh produce annually and boasts commercial relationships across 87 countries.
Mr McCallum said Freshmax also placed considerable pride in its IP subsidiary, Innovar, founded in 2014 and now known globally for its experience in commercialising new varieties in multiple fruit categories.
"Innovar is enabling us to build the company's future business base with the exclusive, high yielding lines you find consumers increasingly attracted to in any supermarket these days," he said.
Sourced from public and private horticultural research bodies in Europe, the US, Israel, South America and locally, Innovar's IP investments have produced new age apple and pear brands Honey belle, Angleys, Kanzi, Mahana Red, Kiku, Modi, Crimson Snow, and Piqa Boo.
The company has also heavily invested in summerfruit, berry and citrus brands, including Starletta, Lani, Munch'n, kiwiberry, Provedo, Sumo Citrus Tangold and Gold Nugget.
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