Cider demand drops as Harcourt apple business loses thousands

Cider demand drops as SA's Harcourt apple business loses thousands

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LOSS IN REVENUE: Cider producers Simon and Victoria Frost own The Little Red Apple at Harcourt and say retail sales and manufacturing of juices and cider have slowed considerably during COVID-19.

LOSS IN REVENUE: Cider producers Simon and Victoria Frost own The Little Red Apple at Harcourt and say retail sales and manufacturing of juices and cider have slowed considerably during COVID-19.

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Retail cider sales slow as producers ease production in Victoria.

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VICTORIAN cider producer, Simon Frost, is losing $40,000 a month as pubs and clubs remain closed around the state.

Mr Frost and his wife Victoria own The Little Red Apple at Harcourt in the state's Central Highlands and produce their own juice, cider and vinegar on site.

In the last two months, liquor sales have dropped 90 per cent with the business recording monthly losses for cider sales alone in excess of $80,000 for March and April.

Their business includes three areas; retail sales for fruit and vegetables, liquor sales and manufacturing.

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While sales for cider are at an all time low, demand for fresh produce has remained steady in the last 12 weeks with sales being as close to the equivalent profits made during the Christmas holiday period.

The roadside store at Harcourt, which the Frosts have run since 1991, offers 120 lines of fresh fruit and vegetables year-round.

"I think people trusted us and they felt it was a lot safer to come to small business where not so many people queuing up," Mr Frost said.

We can use up to 120-130 tonnes of fruit a week when we're in full production but at the moment we're probably down to 20 tonnes a week - so that's going to have flow-on effects to growers as well. - Simon Frost, The Little Red Apple

"From day one we made a real point of only having four people in the shop at any one time and we invested in cleaning and sanitising."

The business employs 10 people across the retail and manufacturing sectors.

Two staff are on the federal government's JobKeeper scheme as the company keeps its doors open.

However, liquor sales are not the only part of the business to drop during the pandemic.

Manufacturing of their pear and apple cider has also slowed by 60pc.

"We can use up to 120-130 tonnes of fruit a week when we're in full production but at the moment we're probably down to 20 tonnes a week - so that's going to have flow-on effects to growers as well," Mr Frost said.

Fruit is mainly sourced through local growers at Harcourt and Geoffrey Thompson Fruit Packing, which grows fruit at Harcourt and Shepparton, and distributes year-round.

Director, Peter Thompson, an apple and pear orchardist by trade, said the biggest drop in demand for apples had been the Granny Smiths, used mainly for cooking in the foodservice industry.

He said COVID-19 had increased the cost of business through hygiene services and cleaning, but apple sales were largely unaffected.

"From a sales point of view we've had very strong sales when everyone starting buying and hoarding apples," he said.

"That caught up pretty quickly and it was a little bit quiet for two weeks a month ago and now we're just steady."

Mr Thompson said the colder weather had led to a 20-25pc reduction in the volume of pears and apples picked this season compared to last year.

When Victoria entered lockdown less than two months ago, Mr Frost said his company was owed about $150,000 by businesses such as pubs, restaurants and hotels.

The company supplies its cider and juice to more than 300 hospitality businesses across Victoria.

"Those businesses make up 90pc of our cider sales so that obviously had a direct reflection on our manufacturing side of the business as well as cider sales in general," Mr Frost said.

We don't plan to close. We will be here in six months when business resumes, but we encourage people to support the local suppliers and producers - that's how people can help. - Simon Frost, The Little Red Apple

"We would rather see these customers on the other side rather than be hard and collect the money.

"We sent them an email and said if they are under financial strain or stress, don't worry about paying our accounts, and that we hope they would continue to trade with us when it all passes."

Since then, 50pc of the money has been recouped but Mr Frost said it would take a long time for the company to recover from the loss in revenue.

"We're not buying the packaging, or bottles, or producing the cider.

"We're running our stocks down at the moment and I think you'll find most businesses are doing the same."

Mr Frost said the silver lining was a strong trading period between September and February in the lead up to shutdowns, ultimately propping up the business' bottom line.

"We don't plan to close. We will be here in six months when business resumes, but we encourage people to support the local suppliers and producers - that's how people can help," he said.

The story Cider demand drops as Harcourt apple business loses thousands first appeared on Stock & Land.

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