Heinz to source Bay tomatoes after Oz exit

New Zealand yields 45,000 tonnes of tomatoes  a year for processing. Photo / APN
New Zealand yields 45,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year for processing. Photo / APN

Horticulture New Zealand hopes Heinz-Wattie's will use Hawkes Bay growers ahead of international competition as the food company moves sauce production to Hastings.

Reports suggested that sauces to be processed in Hastings after the closure of an Australian plant were made mainly from American and Portuguese tomato pastes.

But Heinz-Wattie's spokesman Paul Hemsley said the company would source most of its tomatoes from Hawkes Bay.

He said, however, that demand for tomato paste exceeded the company's ability to find the product locally and so sometimes it had to be imported.

"The important thing is that the seeds from which these tomatoes grow from in other countries are Heinz seeds," he said.

"The tomatoes we grow are bred to make the most of our climatic conditions here but conditions in Portugal allow it to produce a rich, red colour paste and we use that in what we mainly use for the Japanese market."

New Zealand produces 45,000 tonnes of tomatoes for processing each year and Horticulture NZ chief executive Peter Silcock said Kiwi growers had the capacity to meet demand by Heinz-Wattie's.

"What it comes down to is a question of economics and price. The question is what is Wattie's willing to pay? Is it a fair price for the product which growers and Wattie's can make a reasonable amount of money out of? The fact is New Zealanders want to eat New Zealand-grown vegetables and are probably willing to pay a little more for that."

Silcock said news of the company's move across the Ditch was positive for Hawkes Bay growers.

The food company will close its Girgarre factory in Northern Victoria tomorrow, putting 146 staff out of work and affecting three tomato growers.

The Girgarre closure was announced in May but workers got their notice before Christmas and the move means no Heinz sauces or ketchups will be produced in Australia.

The move is part of a strategy to consolidate manufacturing of sauces, beetroot and some canned meal products from sites in Victoria, Brisbane and Wagga Wagga to the company's Hastings plant.

Heinz Australia's supply chain director, Mike Robinson, last year said Girgarre required millions of dollars of investment just to keep the plant going, with no likelihood of making it competitive in the future.

- APNZ

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