Smart moves up Dargaville way

Smart moves up Dargaville way

New Zealand’s most iconic vegetable, the kumara, looks set to make a splash on world gourmet markets.

Delta Produce Co-Operative in Dargaville, a cooperative of 22 kumara growers, aims to breathe new life into kumara growing by selling into the prominent UK supermarket chain ASDA. It is also taking a big chunk of the dominant US sweet potato growers’ market.

Delta’s general manager David Jones, says that over the past 20 years it has been a “boom and bust” crop.

“With varying temperatures, growers have a history of producing too much kumara in a good season and not enough in a bad, which has been putting people out of business. They needed to do something to expand and stabilise the market.”

Jones went to New Zealand Trade & Enterprise to help research potential export markets and then fund a move into the UK.

John Waugh, who was Senior Trade Commissioner in London for seven years, says that Delta’s groundbreaking shipment of four containers (20 tonnes) to the United Kingdom last year was the first large export of kumara in its raw state that he knew of.

With NZTE support Jones went to the UK in October last year to check on the quality of the first export crop and was excited by the response.

“I spent three weeks knocking on doors of buyers there and ended up with more substantial orders for next year.”

The UK has predominantly sourced sweet potatoes from Israel and the US and New Zealand initially wanted to fill a gap of three or four months when those producers don’t have crops in season. However, the quality of the New Zealand crop and the reputation of our produce as “clean and green” have meant a greater demand than originally anticipated.

“ASDA, which is part of Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the world, has said the quality is such they have diverted 40 percent of what they bought from the US to New Zealand instead,” Jones says.

“Because the sweet potato is a tropical vegetable and we are growing it at the southern most point, it has a longer growing time. The longer it is in the ground the sweeter the taste and consumers like that.”

Celebrity chefs and an interest in healthy eating have also seen sweet potatoes’ popularity increase.

Kumara is virtually fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium. They are a source of potassium, calcium and iron, as well as vitamins A and C. Vitamin A and C-rich foods are associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers.

Sainsbury’s also wants to try New Zealand’s red kumara and market it as a baking potato. Another big UK supermarket chain, Waitrose, has tried the New Zealand sweet potato and has said it will re-order but Jones says confirmation has yet to be received.

Copyright Profile Publishing Limited Mar 2004

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