We're flying in winter treats

By Lynley Bilby

Cooking shows cause foodies' demand for expensive produce that can't be grown here

Pierre Poitier wonders why he can't grow more veges in greenhouses, rather than import them from halfway across the world. Photo / Doug Sherring
Pierre Poitier wonders why he can't grow more veges in greenhouses, rather than import them from halfway across the world. Photo / Doug Sherring

Much of the "fresh" fruit and veges in our supermarkets and greengrocers is being freighted from around the world this winter - and TV cooking shows such as MasterChef are copping the blame.

Fresh produce is increasingly winging its way to our shelves from as far away as Zambia, Holland and the United States.

A woman behind the country-of-origin labelling for fresh produce says cooking shows have given shoppers an appetite for fancy produce that will not grow in the New Zealand winter.

Most imported fresh food supplements out-of-season fruit and vegetables but in a few instances imported produce sits alongside similar locally-grown items.

Turners and Growers import manager Patrick Corson insisted the produce was still fresh: he said it was arriving just days after being picked and packed in fields and greenhouses halfway across the world.

Zambian snowpeas travelled in small quantities in commercial flights out of Lusaka to Johannesburg then on to Auckland with a stopover in Australia.

"They're picked and packed and probably here within 48 hours. With this sort of product there's a quick turnaround and they're not sitting around."

A travel agent calculated the journey from Zambia was 14,296km and would take at least 20 hours. That did not account for all the extra time picking, packing, trucking and freighting in Zambia, nor the distribution at the New Zealand end. A capsicum from Holland would travel 18,900km if it went the most direct route through Singapore, and take more than a day to get here.

New Zealand does not have mandatory country of origin labelling but supermarket chains and some greengrocers voluntarily add the information to price tags.

Horticulture NZ communications manager Leigh Catley said people were caught up in a "MasterChef syndrome" where they expected to be able to buy out-of-season produce.

"People see a cooking show on TV that's probably British or American preparing something, say courgettes, and want to make it. They go to the supermarket the next day to get a courgette and then find to their dismay it's out of season in New Zealand."

She also pointed the finger at a new cooking movement, Eating Out In, where home cooks produced restaurant-style fare that often required exotic foods.

She said HortNZ, which is driving the country of origin food labelling campaign, encouraged consumers to eat seasonally and buy locally when people had a choice.

"Obviously, you should support local growers because it will be fresher, it won't be treated and is usually cheaper."

Most imported fresh produce was required to be fumigated, irradiated or put in cool storage before hitting the shop shelves.

But at Turners and Growers, Corson said imported produce was consumer-driven with people wanting variety in their diet. "If customers didn't want them we wouldn't be bringing it in."

He said food magazines often featured certain products that people expected to be able to buy in New Zealand.

"That's why we're bringing in tropical products now."

Fresh summer fruit including melons, strawberries and cherries were plentiful with seasonal local fruit limited to varieties of citrus, apples and pears, said Corson.

- Herald on Sunday

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