First Fresh News

Pick and Pack

Persimmon crop numbers in the district are down this year due to the wet weather in May but the quality has been impressive, says First Fresh NZ managing director Ian Albers.

And despite market challenges due to Covid-19, it has been a pleasing season.

The citrus season for Satsuma mandarins, Meyer lemons and limes have been in full flight since about mid-April while grapefruit and Yen Ben lemons started in May.

“The start to the 2020 citrus and persimmon seasons have undoubtedly been without precedent,” Mr Albers said.

“Both crops started harvest well into the Level 4 lockdown but with it being an essential business, all were able to continue packing and marketing fruit, albeit with social distancing, enhanced hygiene and working-from-home protocols in place.”

Persimmon packing finished this week.

“Overall the crop was down on 2019 — primarily due to the wet weather we experienced in May.

“This had the effect of increasing the marking on the fruit and resulted in lower export packouts.

“Persimmon exports have been especially challenging this year given the lack of an air freight option,” Mr Albers said.

“Normally we export quite some volume by air, then switch to sea freight, but we were faced with severely restricted route options, particularly into South East Asia, and airfreight rates that were at least double, if not triple, what they have historically been.

“It has been very tough.”

Despite the weather challenges and the challenges to get fruit to market, the overall quality had been high, he said.

“Customers have been pleased with the fruit they have received so far.”

Persimmon exports will continue until late July or early August.

Mr Albers expects they will ship around 240,000 trays this season.

“On the local market front, persimmon sales have been particularly strong, thanks largely to an ongoing social media campaign that this year utilised the likes of (chefs) Josh Emett and Chelsea Winter to feature the product and its versatility to their large audiences.”

Mr Albers said overall citrus sales seemed strong, mirroring the overseas trend where anything with a high vitamin C content had been popular with consumers.

“Flavour-wise and size-wise, Gisborne Satsumas have been very good this year.

“The market came under some supply pressure during the lockdown period and was probably not helped by the fact no school meant the fruit was not the lunchbox filler it normally was.”

This district is moving on to the later varieties of Satsuma mandarins, which will start to taper in July.

Meyer lemons have been packed for export since late April and have been shipped to the main markets of Japan, the United States and China, as well as a couple of smaller markets.

“This fruit has been well received by customers in most markets.

“Luckily for New Zealand, most destinations were starting to ease stay-at-home regulations by the time fruit started to arrive and that was fortuitous.

“After a record crop last year, it appears the Meyer crop is back a bit. Fruit size is slightly smaller than last year, not that this is a bad thing as big lemons are not most consumers' favourite.

Gisborne navel oranges appear to be just around the corner, with fruit colouring up quickly as the nights get cooler.

“Maturity testing — where the fruit is tested for sugar and acid content — suggests some orchards are nearly ready to go.”

Mr Albers said over the last four or five years navel growers and Citrus NZ had put a lot of effort into developing a system for having fruit independently tested to ensure it met the required standard before harvesting.

“History and evidence has shown a bad eating experience can result in a consumer not purchasing that fruit again for up to six weeks.

“The industry wants to ensure we give consumers the great taste experience that Gisborne navels are renowned for and the system of independent testing removes all potential bias from this process.”

With navel oranges, it is all about the flavour balance between sugars (or brix) and acid.

“You want fruit to be sweet without being over the top and you want that ‘tang' (the acid), as this is what gives the fruit balance and thirst-quenching properties.”

There are several different varieties of navels, which will run through to December.