By Bridget Gourlay
The Bay of Plenty has long been called the ‘fruit bowl’ of the country with significant kiwifruit, avocado, apple and feijoa plantings injecting millions into the national economy each year.
Harnessing the economic power of this industry and ensuring it’s not neglecting emerging trends is the goal of industry group Food Bay of Plenty.
One issue worth tackling is that the nutrients of fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t just being bought and marketed as food anymore.
Take kiwifruit – it’s the lifeblood of some areas like Te Puke, but a century ago the vitamin C loaded fruit was barely heard of. It wasn’t until 1928 that a horticulturist discovered how conducive the rich volcanic soils and mild climate in the Bay of Plenty were to mass producing the delicious and healthy fruit.
The first exports made by pioneering kiwifruit growers were in 1952, to England. Today, kiwifruit makes up nearly half of all horticultural exports from New Zealand, 77 percent grown in the Bay of Plenty.
It’s marketed on being healthy and delicious – it has more vitamin C than oranges, the same amount of potassium as bananas, and is loaded with beta-carotene and fibre. And there’s talk of this goodness being used as a medicine as well as just food.
The possibility of tapping into the emerging bioactives and nutraceuticals industry was discussed at a Food Bay of Plenty Strategic Leader’s Forum recently.
Chair Liz Muller says this is the practise of using food or food extracts to improve human health. And kiwifruit could be the next big thing in that industry.
“There are huge opportunities internationally for high value functional products using the active components extracted from foods such as kiwifruit…. extracts from waste products such as kiwifruit seeds and skins also have exciting potential.”
Muller says nutraceuticals are one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry – with affluent baby boomers in particular being willing to try new and natural health products.
But it’s not just kiwifruit tipped for the industry. Well ahead of this trend is Comvita, a natural products company that has been operating from the Bay of Plenty for thirty years. It was founded in the 70s by two beekeepers who believed in the health benefits of manuka honey. Today, among other things, they sell a range of medihoney products for wound dressing and healing. Comvita market these gels and bandages as creating a natural, moist environment for wounds to heal cleanly in.
Other fruits and vegetables could also be used. Over half of New Zealand’s avocados are grown in the Bay of Plenty and the soil perfect for kiwifruit lends itself to feijoas and tamarilloes.
An action plan for future growth has been drawn up. Other aims from the forum involve understanding Asian consumers better, creating a ‘Bay of Plenty’ food and beverage brand story to personalise the purchasing decision and investing more in research and development.