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High-tech foil for cherry cheats

Edition 180_Tasmanian cherries ... sophisticated protection

Laser-cut gold stickers, plastic liners with logos, water marks and unique, single-use QR codes are making forgery more difficult in Tasmania's booming export cherry markets.

Reid Fruits backed its innovative, high-tech packaging with social media posts to alert supply chains in Asia when the genuine article became available.

Cherries labelled fraudulently as Tasmanian produce have appeared in retail outlets in Hong Kong, China and Vietnam over recent seasons.

This year they were on offer in Hong Kong and China two weeks before the start of Reid Fruits' Derwent Valley harvest.

The exporter used Facebook and Chinese social media platform, WeChat, to warn customers about the fakes.

Tim Reid told www.foodMate.com "We are using little cards inside our boxes with a QR code. Each QR code is unique.

"The consumer can scan the card with an iPhone and it will take them to the Reid Fruits' website where they will get a welcome message and confirmation that they have an original box of our cherries.

"However, if the card has already been scanned by someone else they will get a message saying they may have a fake and to go back to the supplier.

"This has had a big impact. In addition, we get data on where the cards have been scanned. This all costs a little bit more, but we need to protect our brand."

The counterfeiters are motivated by premiums being paid for Tasmania's high-quality fruit.

The cheats not only steal sales, they put the valuable Tasmanian brand at risk by falsely labelling cherries of inferior quality that will inevitably disappoint discerning consumers.

A cold spring delayed the start of Tasmania's cherry season and made the fruit expensive in domestic markets, but Tasmania's 100 growers eventually picked more than 4,500 tonnes following a mid-December start.

Reid Fruits, which has expanded exports by 300 per cent in the past three years, expected in December to harvest about 1,200 tonnes — similar to the previous season — but was affected by heavy rain in January.

"We used helicopters to dry the trees as soon as it stopped raining to minimise damage to the fruit," Mr Reid said.

"We probably lost around 10 per cent of our fruit to rain ... but we had some really lovely fruit, just a little bit less of it."Other growers experienced similar or worse reductions.

Sam Rigall told the ABC the yield from 15,000 trees on his Somercotes property at Ross was down approximately 20 per cent.

"In our case it was a wetter than normal spring event," he said. "Then we've had episodic rain events."

He said his midlands crop had probably suffered more damage from wind than splitting from the rain.

Last season the State's total production was around 6,000 tonnes and about 2,870 tonnes, worth more than $50 million, was exported.

China and its Hong Kong gateway accounted for almost 55 per cent of Tasmanian cherry exports.

Investment from China is also changing the face of Tasmanian production.

Five of the last six orchards sold in the State have been bought by Chinese interests.

Fruit Growers Tasmania's Phil Pyke told The Australian: “In the past two years, the whole dynamics of the Tasmanian fruit sector has changed from those traditional, generation farms to the arrival of the foreign investors."

Mr Pyke said almost every cherry orchard in Tasmania was expanding. Total production was expected to double by 2020 to meet export demand, particularly from Asia and the Middle East.

Most local growers lack the capital needed for rapid expansion and Australian corporate investors traditionally have been disinterested in horticulture, so Chinese entrepreneurs are stepping in.

“The reality is that Australians aren’t buying these farms,” Mr Pyke said.

Harbin-based businessman, Min Quan Shi, has bought two cherry and mixed fruit orchards in the Coal River Valley, north-east of Hobart.

He told Matthew Denholm of The Australian that he planned to double or treble his existing 30ha of cherry trees.

Mr Shi has employed a Chinese Tasmanian, Bei Hou, to run Coal Valley Orchard.

The company exports to China and Taiwan and also sells some cherries on local and interstate markets.

Ms Hou, who moved from China to Hobart 10 years ago to study accounting at UTAS, said the potential for growth was massive, with markets across much of China’s north completely untapped.

As well as Tasmania’s “clean, green” reputation in China, the State’s late cherry harvest is perfectly timed.

“Tasmanian cherries are available for Chinese spring festival when the tradition is that people take gifts to visit relatives and friends — and a box of Tasmanian cherries is just the best option,” Ms Hou said.

She said interstate sales were not as attractive to Coal Valley Orchard.

“Business is business — when you can get $20 a kilo on your top grade cherries (in China), you wouldn’t sell that for $10 or $15 (in Australia), would you?”

[Cherries did fetch as much as $69 a kilo in Sydney at Christmas time].

Tasmanian cherry growers are Australia's only producers with fruit-fly-free status.

They have benefited from trade agreements with China and the Republic of Korea, with lower tariffs kicking in on New Year's Day.

"It is impossible to fill all of our orders," Mr Reid said. "So we need to balance it out a bit among our customers."

Image courtesy of the ABC

8 February 2017, Edition 180

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