Increased avocado export co-operation pays off

By David Porter, Business Writer -
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Avocado NZ chief executive Jen Scoular. Photo/file
Avocado NZ chief executive Jen Scoular. Photo/file

Australian avocado growers complained this month that Woolworths had switched to NZ suppliers a month earlier than expected, raising fears of a glut of avocados in Queensland.

However, in a move that reflects increased co-operation within the NZ industry, key exporters agreed to hold back on the Australian market to allow the locally grown product to clear.

Large parts of Australia - traditionally New Zealand's biggest export market - transition to the New Zealand imports in the second week of September, though it can vary depending on the season.

"Our customers in Australia do their best to determine the right date to transition, based on the information their suppliers give them," said Alistair Young, director of Southern Produce, part of AVOCO, NZ's biggest avocado exporter, which supplies Woolworths.

"From time to time that information tends to get confused and there is an overlap, with NZ fruit arriving while Australian fruit is still available," he said.

"One of the responses to the Australian fruit running on longer than expected was to back off the volumes we were shipping into the Australian market. We actually delayed, in consultation with our customers, in some states to allow the Australian fruit to go through. We're not interested in creating an oversupplied market."

That response reflected the greatly increased co-operation within avocado exporters since the Australian market collapsed in 2011.
Seeka general manager growers and marketing manager Annmarie Lee said exporters had got together after 2011.

"We said we've got to get better as an exporting group," she said. "We're now collaborating much better around crop estimates and crop flow so we don't end up with a bubble in Australia."

Co-operation includes regular fortnightly conference calls and monthly meetings where information is shared on crop volumes.

"In hindsight, we weren't good at sharing market intelligence in 2011," said Avocado NZ chief executive Jen Scoular, noting there was also now a weekly report on all of the shipments exporters have made by market.

"Our industry and the exporters' council work very collaboratively to ensure they do know what is going on in all the markets. They don't talk price, but they do talk about volumes and they recognise that all of their actions impact what the result will be for growers at the end of the year."

The avocado industry is set to deliver 7.6 million trays this season - nearly double the volume available last year and its biggest crop ever.

Mr Young said the Australian growing season was very variable, with a light Western Australian crop just beginning and expected to run through to January.

"It's going to go from a situation at the moment where you've got pushback from Australian growers, to a dramatic shortage after Christmas," he said.

"Even with the big crop in New Zealand, AVOCO is pumping substantial quantities outside Australia right now."

Last week, over 40 per cent of everything AVOCO packed was going outside Australia to markets including Japan, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea, with a small amount to India, he said.

"It's shaping up quite nicely. It's just this early phase now when Australia is in transition that we have to be careful what we do there."

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