Investing in a hi-tech packing machine has helped Lenswood Apples prize open a window of opportunity in the UK market this year.
The South Australian grower-packer-exporter recently shipped 50 containers of Pink Lady apples to the UK following a deal with supermarket chains Tesco and Morrisons.
The move came after Lenswood spent A$5m upgrading its sorting and packing equipment, including the installation of a new pre-sizing machine from MAF Roda.
Lenswood Apples chief executive James Walters said the new equipment positioned the company to respond quickly to market demand.
“We identified there’s a four to six week window at the end of the southern hemisphere season and before the start of the northern hemisphere season where there was a gap (in the UK market),” Walters said.
“Countries like South Africa and New Zealand that had traditionally filled that gap were having quality issues with their fruit. There was an opportunity for us to do 50 or 60 containers if we could get the job done right. We couldn’t have even considered it before.”
Getting the “job done right” included growing the fruit to EU standards and obtaining packing shed accreditation while maintaining local customers.
The 50 containers were packed in the first four weeks of the new packing machine’s operation, before making the six week journey to the UK via seafreight.
“We went over there to see our first few containers arriving and to see very good out-turns of the fruit was pleasing,” Walters said.
The focus of Lenswood’s season now shifts to Asian markets, where the company is again well positioned for sales growth.
“Now Southeast Asia starts to open up and we are shipping to Malaysia and Thailand now. They were existing markets but with the new equipment we are able to identify the sweeter fruit, which is what they want,” Walters explained.
“Because Australian apple production is high cost we’re always looking for unique market opportunities, we’ve got to be quite selective and when we go we’ve got to be prepared to go pretty hard.”
Walters said a focus on delivering trademarked, unique varieties such as Pink Lady, Rockit, MiApple and Red Love to specific markets has been key to growing the company’s export business.
“Four years ago we looked at our export and it was less than 1 per cent of our total turnover, this year it will be nearly 10 per cent and by 2020 we’d like to see it at about 30 per cent,” Walters said. “We bought our first pre-sizer in 2010 and by 2016 we’ve already had to upgrade it because the volumes have come on.”