Archive for September, 2011

Look How Far We Have Come

An industry colleague with more gray hair than I have, turned up at a recent United Fresh meeting with a copy of the June/ July 1982 issue of what was the Grower magazine. He thought might interest me.  Yeah right!

Ten points for those who guessed correctly: yes, that is me on that cover.

While not wanting to dwell on the mistakes I have made over the years, it was a good trigger to take some time and think about what has changed in the industry since this issue was published in 1992.

Those price tickets you can see behind me on display were preprinted centrally but without the price. The produce department staff then put the prices on the tickets as per instruction, using stickers.

Inside the magazine, colour is the exception not the norm.  Casting my eye over the contact details for contributors and in advertisements and what jumps out at me?  There is not an email address or web URL in sight and mobiles were not common enough – nor were the call rates cheap enough – to warrant any mobile numbers being included.

Now? If you are not web enabled while mobile, you might as well be dead (or so anyone under 20 will have you believe).

So what does that mean for the fresh produce industry going forward in terms of technology?  Can we afford to invest in further technology, given that produce values in real terms are going in the wrong direction?  Can we afford not to invest?  How much technology do we need?  So much that horticulture becomes an open air food factory process with minimum labour inputs?  Or do we scale technology back to aid Government’s (regardless of who is in command of the Beehive) efforts to find jobs for the unemployable elements of society?

As I get older, and I do, judging by the picture, my ability to ask questions as opposed to finding answers appears to be increasing.  This is a good thing really, as questions drive action.

The Role of Fruit & Veg in Society

I have discussed fresh produce pricing on a number of occasions – as those who visit here regularly will have noticed.

Well, I had an epiphany last week.  I think I have the answer to the problem of fresh produce pricing…

I was listening to the segment on National Radio where they rattle through the headlines from the New Zealand newspapers around the regions and one headline caught my ear – enough to make me look up the news item in question from the Dominion Post.

So, what are the issues again?

People need to eat fresh fruit and veg.  But the price of fresh produce is too high for people afford, so their health is at risk.

Growers need to make a living from growing and supplying fresh produce.  But the price of fresh produce is too low for them to do that, so their livelihood (and our food supply) is at risk.

“Somebody” isn’t prepared to pay growers a high enough price for their produce and that “somebody” is being driven by the behaviour of the consumer.

So who is driving this consumer behaviour?  The influences are many and varied, ranging from the mother-in-law, the school, the mommy bloggers, the kids, nutritionists in the media, and so on…

I’m going to stick my neck out here:

the glass ceiling for fresh produce prices exists because people like nutritionists persist with pushing the idea that fruit & veg should be cheap!

Here’s my answer, then.

What needs to happen is that the fresh produce industry takes the nutritionists in hand and makes them understand the commercial realities of growing fruit & vegetables, so that the nutritionists’ ability to influence can be harnessed better to correctly position produce on the consumers’ plate.


How to get your product noticed

One of my team happens to watch TV3’s reality series “Under The Grill”.  This is a show which has a UK born Aussie celebrity chef – Sean Connelly – racing to build, staff, supply etc a brand new restaurant at SkyCity in 100 days ready for the Rugby World Cup.  Tuesday  night’s episode (23 August – episode 2), among other things, featured Sean working on sourcing his fresh produce – so understandably, I got told about it.

I was told two things in particular:

The chef went out to Pukekohe  and visited a potato field where John Wilcox dug up some Agria for him to take as a sample.  Sean then proceeded to double fry them in duck fat on the side of the field(!) to test that they would be good enough for his restaurant to use (apparently these chips are a signature item for Sean).  It was a great advert for Wilcox – the field looked great, the potatoes and the resulting chips did too.

He also went to T&G’s Mt Wellington wholesale floor, where a produce buyer showed him around the produce on offer.  The place looked very neat and tidy, and I wonder what differences Sean noticed from the wholesale markets in Australia.  The produce buyer got Sean to try some tamarillos – saying they were a New Zealand native (I think not, maybe he meant to say favourite), but they weren’t to his taste – not such a good advert for tamarillos.

So exposure by way of product placement in television and movies can happen even in NZ…

I wonder if Wilcox have noticed any increase in sales that week?