Chief executive Murray McCallum tells Fruitnet the Australasian fresh produce group is well positioned for growth as it begins search for new partner

Freshmax Group CEO Murray McCallum

Freshmax Group CEO Murray McCallum

Australasian fresh produce heavyweight Freshmax Group is seeking a strategic partner as it targets investment to help drive the future growth and development of the business.

The company has appointed Kidder Williams, a Melbourne-based corporate advisory firm specialised in food and agribusiness, to secure a strategic partner.

Freshmax has undergone a process of rationalisation over recent years, according to chief executive Murray McCallum. “We’re a capital-light business today,” McCallum told Fruitnet. “We don’t have farms that use a lot of capital and we’re debt-free.”

Freshmax has sharpened the focus of the business on three core areas, he explained – its Asia-focused international export business; its IP partnerships centred on core categories; and its pre-packing, ripening and logistics services for retailers in Australia.

The company has exited the wholesale business in Australia, selling its wholesale stands in Brisbane Markets in 2021 and Melbourne Markets earlier this year.

Freshmax has also divested its farming interests. In September 2022, it sold its New Zealand pipfruit (apple and pear) business, which included extensive orchard operations, to GTP Orchards. Last year, it also sold Murrawee Farms, a sizeable stonefruit orchard with some citrus plantings in Swan Hill, Victoria, to Laguna Bay-owned Cutri Fruit.

While Freshmax previously had more of a domestic market focus on Australia and New Zealand, McCallum said the business is very much an “international player” today.

“We can offer premium fruit supply year-round, sourcing from both southern and northern hemispheres. We supply markets globally, but Asia is our major focus,” he said. “We have excellent people in our sales offices across Australia, New Zealand, North and South America as well as an in-market presence in key Asian markets.

Intellectual property (IP) varieties also remain a major focus for Freshmax. Through its IP business, Innovar, the company owns Australia and/or New Zealand production or marketing licences to several leading breeding programmes and varieties. Freshmax focuses on five core product categories – namely cherries, berries, citrus, avocados and pipfruit – as well as table grapes and Australian bananas, and its IP partnerships underpin this.

“Our IP partnerships give us the ability to be vertically integrated in terms of locking in supply and building brands,” said McCallum. “Good examples of this are Tangold mandarins, which are working really well with retailers in Australia and export markets, and Blue Royal blueberries grown in New Zealand, which are part of our licensing agreement with Mountain Blue.”

Freshmax has the rights to a range of IP varieties including Tangold mandarins

Freshmax has the rights to a range of IP varieties including Tangold mandarins

Freshmax also has significant IP in cherries, and while its partnerships have focused on plantings in Australia and New Zealand to date, it is now looking at expanding some of these programmes internationally into the US and China.

The other key part of the Freshmax business is its warehousing, packing and distribution services in Australia. The company has DC operations on Australia’s East Coast, including facilities in Derrimut on Melbourne’s western fringes, Marsden Park in Sydney and Brisbane near the city’s central markets. These temperature-controlled facilities offer ripening, pre-packing and logistics services, both for Freshmax customers and key third-party clients including Zespri, Perfection Fresh and Costa, McCallum explained.

“There’s certainly been a rationalisation and consolidation of these type of services businesses, so we’re in a really good position now with state-of-the-art facilities in all three major cities,” he said. “We see this business as a growth engine for the group going forward.”

McCallum told Fruitnet the process of finding a strategic partner was expected to take a period of “a few months”, adding that it would remain “business as usual” for Freshmax in the meantime.