New Zealand cherry producer Southern Fruits International expects to send up to 340 tonnes of cherries to the global market this summer – just over double that of the volume sent last year.
It will be the second commercial year on the market for Southern Fruits International’s Beyond brand cherries produced at two significant orchard developments spanning more than 160 hectares in Central Otago.
“We’ve had excellent pre-season interest from existing and developing markets in Asia and new markets in the Middle East and the United States. All the signs are there for a positive season,” Southern Fruits International founder and marketing manager, Sharon Kirk, said.
“We took our pre-sale system to (international trade show) Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong in September and a significant number of buyers took the opportunity to pre-purchase fruit. This confidence in our brand and our fruit puts us in a very good place leading into the season.”
She said favourable pre-season conditions and an increase in fruit load due to the trees’ maturity contributed to the volume forecast.
“The trees are now three to four years old and about halfway to being in full production. As they mature, the fruit load increases and, if the weather is kind as it has been so far this year, we are looking at a very promising harvest with exceptional fruit size and brix (sugar content),” Mrs Kirk said.
The harvest has started with early varieties. It will continue until late January or early February, depending on weather conditions.
“Our customers in Asia will have fruit available on shelves just in time for Christmas,” Mrs Kirk said.
“Over the past year, we have been developing various markets within the United States and the Middle East. We have expanded our reach in China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and Thailand is emerging as new market. The Middle East is an exciting market with the opportunity to develop more retail sales in cherry punnets.”
She said the Chinese market, which traditionally paid a premium for 30-32mm fruit and 2kg or 5kg boxes, was this year showing more interest in 26mm fruit and 1kg boxes.
Southern Fruits International also supplies its premium cherries to the domestic market via online sales with 1kg, 2kg and 5kg boxes available and sales via Seeka Fresh Ltd which supplies local supermarkets and retailers.
“As New Zealanders associate cherries with Christmas, we launched our online shop so people can have beautiful Central Otago cherries on the table for Christmas. We’ve had excellent demand so far and fruit will continue to be available for online purchase right throughout the season,” Mrs Kirk said.
Southern Fruits International operates out of a state-of-the-art packhouse at Tarras, which opened for business last season. The packhouse is outfitted with the world’s latest grading and packing technology including advanced sorting and grading solutions.
Producing a one-touch cherry
Packhouse infrastructure includes a hydro cooler that chills the fruit to around 0.5 degrees Celsius for nine to 10 minutes. The fruit is cold going into the box, which retains freshness throughout transit.
“We produce a ‘one-touch cherry’ where the cherry is touched by hand at harvest and not again until the end consumer opens their box,” Mrs Kirk said.
Southern Fruits International produces eight proven varieties renowned for their high colour, size and flavour. They include the large, heart-shaped dark-red Sonnet; bold, dark-red Sandra Rose; heart-shaped deep-red Santina; red-skinned, white-fleshed Stardust; large, round, red Lapin; large, heart-shaped red Sweetheart, black-skinned, red-fleshed Kordia and the classic cherry red Staccato.
“All our cherries have individual attributes. What they have in common is size, flavour and appearance and a Central Otago provenance. Our region is renowned for producing the best cherries in the world – because the climate and soils are ideal for cherry growing – and cherry connoisseurs around the world, know this.”
Beyond cherries are available in high-grade, luxurious packaging inspired by the colours and iconography of Central Otago and designed to keep fresh fresh for up to four weeks, provided they are kept in cool chain.