This article is sponsored by Rabobank.
IN order to stand out in the strawberry category, Gavin Scurr knew his product needed at least one point of difference.
He went with three, just to be sure.
Suppling a new variety was the first one. The second was placing them into distinguishable 350g heat-sealed punnets, and the third was sticking them in the supermarket's fridge section.
It's a strategy that's part of BerryWorld Australia's plan to become a new player in the berry market.
He is the managing director of BerryWorld Australia.
The Scurr family is the driving force behind Pinata Farms, Australia's largest pineapple producer and breeding rights holder for Honey Gold mangoes.
Pinata Farms has grown strawberries since 2000 with more recent developments including converting a Stanthorpe apple farm to strawberry production utilising polytunnels to grow spring and summer crops outside Queensland’s traditional strawberry growing season which fell between June and October.
But Australia's berry-producing potential nudged the family to think bigger in berries.
Thus came about BerryWorld Australia, a joint venture between global berry breeder and marketing company, BerryWorld Group, based in the United Kingdom, and Piñata Farms.
BerryWorld Group works with a dedicated global grower base to commercialise proprietary berries from its breeding program.
Pinata Farms was selected to exclusively grow and market BerryWorld variety berries in Australia and New Zealand.
BerryWorld Australia will grow BerryWorld-bred strawberries, raspberries and blackberries under the premium BerryWorld label.
A significant portion of Pinata Farms’ 70-hectare strawberry operation has been reserved to grow BerryWorld strawberries.
All BerryWorld Australia lines will be produced under polytunnels to mitigate weather impacts.
The first strawberries arrived in-store in August with raspberries expected to follow in February 2018 and blackberries in 2020.
MR Scurr said the Australian raspberry industry was largely untapped and presented a significant opportunity.
“The latest BerryWorld-bred raspberries are making a huge impact around the world for flavour. We see this as an opportunity to give Australian consumers the great tasting and consistently good raspberries many parts of the world already enjoy," he said.
“While we weren’t looking to diversify into blackberries, they came with the joint venture bundle and, as Australia’s blackberry industry is small and under-developed, we’re excited to be part of the industry’s development here.”
Pinata Farms will continue to produce public variety strawberries under the Pinata brand at its Sunshine Coast and Granite Belt farms.
“There’s always scope for better raspberries in Australia and the blackberry market is totally untapped," Mr Scurr said.
"We’re looking forward to improving the reputation of Australian berries for all fruit lovers by selecting and growing only the best tasting types.
"The flavour has to be superior before we’ll even consider growing them."
A SWEETER BITE
THE strawberries themselves are also distinct from regularly available varieties.
Mr Scurr said they are super sweet and have much higher natural sugars (brix) than other Australian strawberries, reaching brix readings of 10, while a reading of six is the accepted level by retailers.
"They are also highly aromatic, low in acid and slightly softer in texture – characteristics which combine to make sweeter strawberries all round,” he said.
“Consumers may notice subtle differences in size and shape compared with other Australian strawberries and their appealing deep orange to red colour may surprise those who are used to bright or deep red strawberries. Flavour is a noticeable stand-out.”
BerryWorld strawberries are medium to large with a uniform, conical shape. They have glossy, orange-red skin and a firm texture.
The strawberries were available in Woolworths' fridge section in heat-sealed 350g punnets.
“If we’re launching a premium brand, we want as many points of difference as possible, from packaging and presentation, through to berry taste and appearance,” Mr Scurr said.
“Australian strawberries are generally sold in 250g or 450g punnets and there are some 1kg punnets.
"We’ve decided on a 350g punnet to give Australian consumers more choice. Globally, it’s already a size that is instantly associated with strawberries.
"We’re confident Australian consumers will appreciate it as a convenient, family friendly size.”
The square punnets, made of standard 100 per cent recyclable PET (polyethylene), present strawberries in a single layer with the barcode at the base for easy scanning.
Heat-sealed film is perforated with eight air vents to keep fruit cool and fresh in-store and after purchase.
The packaging will also deliver production and cost efficiencies and energy savings.
“Heat-sealing utilises approximately 30pc less packaging materials than a punnet with a lid," Mr Scurr said.
“Heat-sealing has also been shown to perform slightly better in maintaining fruit weight up to purchase.
"With strawberries, there’s always a slight margin of weight loss after packing.
"To achieve the 350g weight by the time of purchase, we allow for loss by slightly overpacking, typically by about 20 grams per punnet.”
Once opened, the punnets are not re-sealable but that's something the company is considering in the future.
WHILE BerryWorld strawberries launched with small volumes this winter, the company expects to be producing fruit year-round by 2019.
BerryWorld strawberries were available at selected Queensland stores in winter, with plans to have them in New South Wales and Victoria as production increases.
The expansion could also provide opportunities for other growers.
“As we prove the commercial aspects of the varieties, we will offer third party growers the opportunity to produce berries under contract to BerryWorld Australia," Mr Scurr said.
"We’ll be looking to fill the October to November and April to May shoulders and will select specific geographic locations to suit winter and summer production.
Of course, what works in the UK may not necessarily grow in Australia.
Pinata Farms will identify the varieties which warrant commercialisation here, then grow and market them to Australian consumers.
Mr Scurr said while flavour was the key objective, BerryWorld Australia would look at strawberry plant performance and yield, measuring aspects of varieties objectively to establish if they were appropriate to be profitable.
“Heat is the enemy of berries. When the plants get too hot, they stress and don’t flower or set fruit," Mr Scurr said.
"We’re growing European-bred berries under Australian conditions to taste as they do in Europe, so we’ve gone into protected cropping and substrate production, to embrace the future and give our new lines optimal growing conditions."
A BOX TICKED
MR Scurr said the joint venture realised a long-held ambition for Pinata Farms to enter the premium berry category.
“We had been actively seeking opportunities to produce exclusive strawberry varieties and diversify into raspberries in Australia for at least eight years when BerryWorld began looking for an established Australian producer partner to develop the brand here," Mr Scurr said.
"Negotiations began in 2014 and BerryWorld Australia was officially established in 2016."
BerryWorld Group chief executive officer, Adam Olins, said after acquiring a foothold in South Africa, BerryWorld saw an opportunity in Australia for better tasting berries and, in Gavin Scurr, a partner with a similar vision.
"We took time investigating potential partners in the Australian market. Pinata Farms is a talented and experienced grower, it has a great reputation in the local market and, on a strategic level, a similar outlook to the BerryWorld business, making it a great choice," Mr Olins said.
"In Pinata Farms, we believe we have everything required for a successful business to flourish. This venture takes the BerryWorld Group into its third continent and expands our global reach beyond Europe and Africa," he said.
This article is sponsored by Rabobank.