The risk of suspect fruit being used to piggy-back on Hawke's Bay's global pipfruit reputation has moved one company into cutting-edge science to thwart the pretenders, using what are effectively horticulture's own forms of fingerprinting and DNA testing.
Leading orchardist and Bay View-based family operation Taylor Corporation has engaged Otago company Oritain to come up with the tools to prove their produce is the real thing.
Taylor managing director Kelvin Taylor has heard of artificial colouring of citrus fruit in China and other methods which could be used to pass fruit off as something it is not, but now there is technology available to prove the true origins.
"Counterfeiting and mislabelling of products is a serious concern in many of our key markets," he said.
Any attempts to label apples from other regions or countries as being from Taylor Corporation or Hawke's Bay can easily be thwarted by Oritain's technology.
Mr Taylor said: "We've heard of cases in China where citrus fruit has been dipped in dye to enhance its colour and labelled as being from countries such as Australia where the prices received are significantly higher. These chemicals can be very harmful to health so we want to make sure we can prove the product is not ours to avoid liability."
Inferior, falsely labelled product can undermine the market credibility of regions such as Hawke's Bay and threaten the extra margins that result from Hawke's Bay's "proven quality", he said.
Stemming from work carried out at Otago University, it uses large numbers of samples to determine a profile and relates elements inside products such as apples to a unique "fingerprint" based on the geographical origins. Like the human equivalents, the profile cannot be manipulated without detection.
Only a small number of organisations throughout the world are offering such services. Oritain is regarded as being significantly ahead of the market in being able to test what is actually inside a product to prove its origin.
The fingerprint is stored in a database and is ready to audit against suspect samples to check their authenticity.
Meanwhile, details on the reported record apple harvest are not yet available, but it is understood to have put pressure on packing and coolstore facilities.
Pipfruit New Zealand predicted in March the harvest could yield as much as 550,000 tonnes, more than 12 per cent up on last year.
The season had started later than usual, because of a cooler than-usual spring, and hail in some areas was expected to mean that while there would be a record harvest exports were likely to remain "average".