Will the bouncing fruit take off?
Cranberries are a crop waiting to be discovered in New Zealand by both growers and consumers, says Marjorie Allan. The antioxidant-packed, tasty little berry is easy to grow and process, and apparently there is huge unmet demand on global food markets.
“Cranberries have many health benefits … and they’re fabulous as relish, jelly or sauce with venison, chicken and other meats, on cheese boards, as pizza toppings and so on,” says Marjorie.
It’s a view that she and husband Tony Allan have backed with a passion while developing their cranberry farm near Hokitika and creating the Cranberries Westland range of retail products. The rich red-coloured relishes, jellies, sauces and marmalades are sold online and through various delicatessens in New Zealand.
The business has joined GS1 to support marketing efforts in New Zealand and internationally. Marjorie says a Chinese importer has begun buying the products for retail into an increasingly affluent and health conscious segment of that country’s consumer market. Sales to Dubai are also in near prospect. “To be able to sell our products here and internationally with the same labels and bar codes is fabulous,” she says.
Marjorie and Tony are no strangers to small-scale exporting from New Zealand: They previously had a lucrative business selling hand-made wooden fish landing nets to the world market.
Eleven years ago, they moved on from that Christchurch-based business to build a tourist fishing lodge in the Arahura Valley, inland from Hokitika. Cranberries Westland grew out of seeing the success of another small grower in the Westport area and consulting with HortResearch – and out of the Allans’ life-long passion for good food and healthy living.
It has been four years since they planted cranberries on a hectare of sandy soil adjacent to the lodge grounds. The berries grow on easy-care low trailing vines that, through summer, require frequent irrigation from stored rain water and a nearby creek. “They grow very well here, in a climate that is similar to Wisconsin which produces most of the cranberries for America’s traditionally large appetite at Thanks Giving and other times,” says Marjorie. In fact, Wisconsin (around latitude 44 north compared with Hokitika’s 43 south) produces more than half the world’s cranberries.
The Allans have imported from there a traditional wooden cranberry sorting machine: The berries are tumbled several times to remove the inferior ones that do not bounce during the tumbling process. (In the US, cranberries are known as “the bouncing fruit” because of the air contained in each ready-to-harvest berry.)
Marjorie and Tony are planting another hectare on their Arahura Valley property, using vines propagated from the established block. They also supply plants to other growers in Westland and other regions, convinced that New Zealand can and should become a major international supplier of cranberries. “It will happen,” says Marjorie, “but first we have to get the New Zealand public to appreciate cranberries for their taste and for their health benefits. As a national crop, they could eventually become as the grapes of the West Coast.”