Eureka cultivar_Freshmax

Freshmax has announced it is buying out its joint venture (JV) partner, Southern Produce, to take full ownership of BerryCo.

Since 2015, the Freshmax Group has been in a 50:50 partnership with the Bay of Plenty company. The pair have jointly operated the New Zealand blueberries business, trading as BerryCo.

The buy-out of Southern Produce’s 50 per cent stake in the business comes into effect on 1 October 2021.

With New Zealand’s blueberry industry tipped to grow by NZ$100m over the next five years, the move by Freshmax has made clear its commitment to the industry.

“Berryfruit is a core category for our New Zealand business,” said Murray McCallum, chief executive Freshmax Group. “The JV has transitioned from a start-up to a company with strong volume growth forecast.

“Taking full ownership of it is an exciting step in expanding our footprint in this category for New Zealand growers of premium berryfruit and supplying it to our Asian and New Zealand customer base.”

Following the sale of its New Zealand domestic divisions in 2019, the Freshmax Group indicated long- term plans to ramp up its international operations and scale. Already, a considerable volume of BerryCo’s fruit is exported to Asia.

Freshmax NZ chief executive Andrew Common said the acquisition provides an opportunity to invest further in the berryfruit category, and play a greater role in nurturing New Zealand’s exceptional berry production.

“Throughout this JV we have led the commercial process, establishing a fantastic consumer following in New Zealand and Asia. We look forward to expanding on this in the years to come.”

Southern Produce director and chief executive, Tony Ponder, highlighted BerryCo’s growth in New Zealand and its performance in the export markets as something to be proud of.

“The business has evolved considerably over the last few years and it very quickly established a track record for delivering value to its customers and growers,” Ponder noted.

“Having contributed to its early growth and positioning in the market, we are satisfied BerryCo has the ingredients to fulfil its export potential in Asia where consumers value premium quality New Zealand fruit. We look forward to seeing what it will achieve next.”

Varietal development to the front

BerryCo has played an influential role in the New Zealand berryfruit IP space. In 2017 it acquired the exclusive New Zealand rights to blueberry varieties from Australia’s Mountain Blue Orchards (MBO), including the flagship Eureka variety (pictured).

It’s a berry that has been well received in Asian markets and will be marketed under a newly minted ‘Blue Royal’ brand later this season.

The suite of Southern Highbush varieties from MBO and others have provided opportunities for New Zealand growers to re-invest in their operations as new varieties have been released.

Bred to suit the Australasian climate and for specific flavour and eating characteristics, the fruit caters to the early, mid and late-growing harvest windows.

“IP in all forms is such an important part of realising value for both the supply chain and the end consumer,” added Common. “BerryCo has a vital role in realising value and opportunities for New Zealand growers to share their premium berryfruit on a world stage. We will uphold and expand on the work already done in this space.”

As well as having proprietary rights to premium varieties, BerryCo supports local growers with other blueberry varieties, exporting their fruit to the Australian retail market.

It typically exports New Zealand fruit to Asia between October and March, complimenting the Northern Hemisphere season.

Freshmax’s acquisition coincides with the appointment of new BerryCo general manager, Alice Moore, who starts with the business on 4 October.

“Alice has extensive experience across the primary sector, from working alongside farmers and growers to achieve sustainable outcomes, to marketing their products globally,” explained Common.

Moore has spent the last five years managing Zespri’s organic kiwifruit portfolio. Prior to that, she spent several years in various commercial and marketing primary sector roles, including work for Ballance Agri, National Foods and Summit Quinphos.