Berries Australia has welcomed the extension of the skilled visa program but says government needs to go further to address the underlying farm labour shortage.
The change involves moving most agricultural occupations from the short-term list to the regional occupations list which makes visa holders eligible for a four-year visa, double the current term.
Executive Director of Berries Australia, Rachel Mackenzie said that growers in many regions welcomed this decision as the two year turn over for their more senior staff resulted in significant disruption to their businesses.
“However. the government decision only covers skilled occupations and not unskilled labour such as fruit-picking. A new Agriculture Visa or improved Pacific Seasonal Workers program would address farm labour shortages by allowing farmers to hire a dedicated overseas workforce on a temporary basis” said Mackenzie.
The $1.4 billion berry category is now the single largest fresh produce category in Australia and consumption is increasing across the county. To continue to grow, the berry industry needs access to reliable workers and this announcement will go some way toward meeting these needs.
“Berries Australia is committed to ensuring that growers can access an effective workforce to meet their needs, as part of that we are keen to look at ways to increase the number of Australians employed on farm.”
“It may seem counter-intuitive but being able to access the skills we need from overseas means that berry businesses can be more profitable and in turn, employ more locals”, Ms Mackenzie said.
Emblème Canneberge was started in 2016 by several Canadian growers to add value by offering frozen cranberries of exceptional quality. To equip their world-class production facility, they turned to Key Technology for a cranberry cleaning line. This integrated solution removes foreign material (FM) such as sticks, leaves, fines and stones, as well as berries that are too small, soft or rotten, while good fruit is washed and dried to a humidity of less than one percent.
“We selected Key Technology because they have the most experience in our industry and the best reputation. All of our customers have very high standards in the specifications of the berries they want, and Key helps us achieve those high standards,” said Vincent Godin, President of Emblème. “Our cleaning line removes foreign material as well as rotten cranberries, which would impair the quality of the good fruit in the freezer if not removed. This line is also very efficient at removing water to produce free-flowing product that’s easy to separate after freezing for further processing.”
Leveraging Key’s expertise in product handling and processing, this integrated cleaning line uses a variety of mechanical processes to elevate Emblème’s product quality while maximizing yield and consistently feeding downstream equipment. The Iso-Flo scalping shaker, air cleaner and Iso-Flo fines removal shaker eliminate unwanted FM from the product stream. The recently updated brush washer removes small, soft and rotten berries at the same time it washes good berries. The Iso-Flo dewatering shaker with air knives dries the good berries so they freeze efficiently and are easily processed later.
“We wanted an integrated line because having one source ensures the fit and function. Key built each machine so one drops product smoothly into the other. Because they are made to work together, installation and start-up was easy and the line runs efficiently,” explained Godin. “High efficiency is incredibly important to us, because we run two shifts a day, seven days a week during our six-week harvest to process 26 million pounds of product on this cleaning line.”
Built for rugged reliability and superior sanitation using Key’s versatile Iso-Flo vibratory design, the cleaning line at Emblème maximizes equipment uptime and hygiene.
The stainless steel shaker beds feature a rotary polish and continuous welds that are ground smooth within the product zone to resist bacterial attachment and improve food safety. Integrated scallops and stiffeners, limited surface laminations, sealed isolation springs and large access doors for easy cleaning further contribute to superior sanitation. “Almost everything on these Key shakers is made of stainless steel. This limits rust in our very wet environment and makes the equipment very easy to clean,” said Godin.
Iso-Flo shakers use independent frame-mounted drives and spring arm assemblies that distribute energy equally to all parts of the shaker bed in a controlled natural-frequency operation. This operating principle minimizes the vibration that is transferred to structural support and the floor, which cuts the cost of installation, reduces energy use and offers quiet operation. Key’s contoured StrongArm spring arms, made with propriety composite material, offer an operational life that is up to twice the life of traditional straight spring arms. The stainless steel Iso-Drive adds to Iso-Flo’s extreme dependability, reducing maintenance and improving performance and uptime.
“We measure success on our cleaning line by three criteria. One is the final moisture content of the product, which needs to be less than 1 percent. Second is FM removal – we want to remove as much FM as possible at the same time we limit good product removal in order to maintain a high yield. Third, we want to achieve these objectives while processing an average of 80,000 pounds of product per hour,” said Godin. “Our cleaning line from Key does all this and more.”
“We’re in business to add value. We add value when we clean and condition the fruit. We add value when we freeze clean product, and we add value when we size and sort frozen product,” explained Godin.
“We’re installing our sizing and sorting line now. It features an Iso-Flo mechanical size grader and a VERYX digital sorter, both from Key,” concluded Godin. “It’s always good to stick with a great supplier when you’ve got one. Key helps us maintain our high quality standards and reach the product specifications that our customers want.”
Westerway Raspberry Farm is a family-run business in the Derwent Valley that supplies fresh and frozen raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries and other seasonal fruits to the juice, cordial, ice-cream and jam markets – as well as local farmers markets, independent shops and its very own farm gate shop.
For more than 20 years, the Clark family has focused on expanding its product line beyond fresh berries. After investing in mechanically harvesting technology to supply processing berries to juice customers, their attention turned toward setting up a processing facility to better process frozen berries for new markets.
Richard Clark, Owner of Westerway Raspberry Farm said: “The cryogenic freezer tunnel installed by BOC produces individually quick frozen (IQF) berries that retain the taste, flavour and texture of a fresh berry. The first season we produced 8,000 kilograms of frozen berries – next season we plan to quadruple this.”
With demand for berries on the rise in Australia, Westerway Raspberry Farm knew getting into the untapped market for individually frozen berries would give them an opportunity to supply their high quality Australian berries all year around.
“Our biggest competitors are located overseas, with many frozen berries now imported from Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. We knew we had the strong food safety standards and enough supply to compete in this market, however we lacked the technology to really differentiate our product from the others.”
“The blast freezing we were doing previously would not achieve the desired efficiency or quality to grow the business – so we decided that individually quick frozen (IQF) product using a liquid nitrogen freezer tunnel would be a better option.”
The biggest challenge was then raising the capital to fund this new technology.
After receiving a $260,000 Coles Nurture Fund grant, the team worked with BOC to install a Linde CRYOLINE MT 5-600 quick freezing (IQF) tunnel and an 8,000 litre liquid nitrogen vessel.
“The berry season is very short, kicking off in December and running till early February – so when the grant was approved in September, BOC’s technicians worked very quickly to get it installed and commissioned in time.”
Combining state-of-the-art technology with a high-quality hygienic design, the CRYOLINE tunnel freezer is easy to operate, clean and suitable for a wide range of application. It has high-speed internal fans, controllable gas injection and exhaust levels to optimise the application of cryogenic gases for cooling and freezing.
“BOC’s team worked closely with us to install the system and help integrate it into our packaging line – we built a vibrating table so the berries could be easily loaded into the tunnel.
“They then helped us pre-program each type of fruit as they have different freezing properties and require different amounts of liquid nitrogen – the electronic touch pad is very easy to use and gave us the power to continuously optimize the freezing process to our choosing.”
Since installing the tunnel, Richard believes his business is more dynamic and diverse – with the individually quick frozen (IQF) berry range giving the business an edge and plenty of room for growth.
“As we produce more high quality Australian-made frozen berries, we will be able to get more packets into Australian supermarkets and businesses – offering a more stable price and shelf life of up to two years.
“Our Linde CRYOLINE® tunnel helps us produce frozen berries more efficiently and economically than mechanically harvested fruit. With an added bonus of picking the raspberries when they are perfectly ripe and juicy, and freezing them instantaneously.”
At the peak of the harvesting season, the tunnel could process up to 150 kilograms of raspberries per hour – with a maximum production rate of 300 kilograms per hour.
“We are only just scratching the surface of what the tunnel can achieve – and we plan to fully test its capacity in the coming seasons.”
When it comes to producing a quality frozen berry, liquid nitrogen coupled with IQF technology has achieved far superior results for Richard than blast freezing or ammonia-based freezing.
“With liquid nitrogen, there is less cell damage with the berry as the water freezes rapidly. With blast freezing, you tend to get ice crystals that break the cell membrane – and you lose form and get a squishy product.
“When our berries enter the tunnel, they are evenly spaced and cover the whole belt, so when the liquid nitrogen contacts each individual raspberry, you get the best freezing and product quality result.
“This technology has enabled us to retain the taste, texture and flavour when the frozen berry is thawed – and most importantly, give Australian customers a high-quality local choice in the freezer aisle of the supermarket.”
Following the frozen berries Hepatitis A breakout in 2015 that affected more than 30 people and slashed the food manufacturer’s earnings, Patties Foods has said that it is selling its Creative Gourmet brand and also removing the frozen berries range from its Nanna’s brand.
According to a statement released this morning, “Patties Foods will focus on growing its core savoury and sweet pastry business following the sale of its Creative Gourmet frozen fruit business.”
MD & CEO, Steven Chaur, said the sale of Creative Gourmet was part of Patties ‘Foods Strategic Growth Roadmap.’
“Our core savoury and sweet pastry business, with our iconic food brands FOUR’N TWENTY, Patties, Herbert Adams and Nanna’s, represents over 90 per cent of Patties Foods sales and EBIT.
“We aim to deliver profitable growth for shareholders through a strong focus on our core savoury and sweet pastry business,” Mr Chaur said.
Patties Foods acquired the Creative Gourmet business in 2007 and has been delivering a range of market-leading frozen berry products to supermarkets ever since.
Following the sale of the Creative Gourmet frozen fruit business, Patties Foods will also undertake a managed exit of the Nanna’s brand of frozen fruit products sold in supermarkets, and the Chefs Pride foodservice brand of frozen fruit products sold to distributors. Patties Foods will work with all retailers and distributors on a program to exit the frozen fruit category entirely during early 2016.
While specific terms of the sale of the Creative Gourmet frozen fruit business are undisclosed, the sale, to Entyce Food Ingredients, is expected to generate $1.8m in proceeds and is expected to be completed by the end of December 2015, subject to a number of customary conditions being met.
Australia now has 100 per cent locally grown frozen berries available on local shelves.
‘Matilda’s’ was launched by third generation strawberry farmers Matt and Ruth Gallace after dozens of people contracted Hepatitis A from eating contaminated frozen mixed berries, which were imported.
Until now commercial quantities of Australian frozen berries haven't been available.
Launched in-store on the 1st December, the berries are sourced from Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, which has been in the Gallace family for fifty years, and has 800 acres of land in Victoria and Queensland.
Raspberries and blueberries will be sourced from New South Wales and Tasmania.
The berries are all handpicked, washed and snap frozen in an entirely new purpose-built facility in the Yarra Valley.
Matilda’s co-founder Ruth Gallace says the fact that they’ve built the factory from the ground up, and the packing site is exclusively for fruit, means there’s no risk of cross contamination.
“In many cases nuts are processed on the same site used to process other foods, which causes great concern for parents who have children with allergies. My daughter has anaphylaxis and I’m only too well aware of the need to ensure there is no chance of contamination. The beauty of having our own site means it’s only used exclusively for fruit, so there is nothing else processed on site.”
Ruth said the origin of each product is completely transparent too and is labelled on each and every bag, so consumers know which region the berries came from.
“We’re really proud to be able to provide a product which really challenges the current food labelling system. There needs to be far more transparency as to food origin, how it’s processed and packaged.”
Ruth says it’s now up to the consumer to show they want a wholly Australian product and to ask for it at their local retailer.
“Demand will now be driven by the consumer, and the people really do hold the power, if you ask for the product, your retailer will order it in.”
Matilda’s frozen strawberries hit quality independent supermarket shelves in Victoria on 1st December including Leo’s, IGA’s, FoodWorks’ and LaManna’s across the State. They will be in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia in coming weeks.
Summer fruits are back on Australian tables. We’ve long known cherries and other stone fruits provide a range of essential vitamins and minerals. But here’s another reason to make sure they’re on the shopping list: they’re good for the brain.
Flavonoids are nutrients that contain more than 6,000 unique compounds. They’re widespread in plants, and are grouped into five subclasses: flavonols, flavan-3-ols, flavones, flavonones and anthocyanins.
The major sources of flavonoids in the diets of older Australians are black tea (89%), oranges and orange juice (2.7%), green tea (1.3%) and bananas (0.9%).
Flavonoids protect plants from microbe and insect damage, which may explain some of their observed health benefits in humans. They contribute to the sensory characteristics of foods such as flavour, astringency and colour.
Anthocyanins, for example, provide the red, blue and purple pigments in fruits such as strawberries, cherries, blueberries and plums. They’re also found in red wine, tea, coffee, and some vegetables such as red onion and cabbage.
How do berries improve brain health?
Anthocyanin-rich fruits have been shown to affect the brain in several ways. It is thought that a number of pathways work together to improve cognition and prevent degeneration of the brain.
First, the high antioxidant content of these fruits may scavenge free-radicals and reduce inflammation in the brain.
Additionally, flavonoids in the fruit have the potential to inhibit cell death of nerve cells (neurons), and improve connections between the neurons, especially in the areas of the brain associated with learning and memory (hippocampus).
Flavonoids may also disrupt the aggregation of amyloid beta (Aβ) in the brain and thereby prevent formation of amyloid plaques. Amyloid plaques are sticky buildups of these proteins which accumulate outside neurons, and are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease development.
Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in older adults aged over 65 years and is the second leading cause of death in this age group. Even small delays in the onset of dementia and its subsequent progression will have the potential to significantly alleviate the burden of this disease on society.
Our research team has shown the potential for anthocyanin-rich cherry juice to improve memory in older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s type dementia. A feasible serving of 200ml a day of juice was provided to participants in order to overcome the issue of seasonality.
After 12 weeks, people who regularly consumed the cherry juice had significantly improved scores of tests related to memory and word-recall compared to those who were provided with an alternative fruit juice that contained minimal anthocyanins.
The purple fruit frontier
As more is discovered about the health effects of anthocyanin-rich fruits, the demand for fruits with superior health benefits is growing. An Australian-bred plum developed by Queensland government scientists, the Queen Garnet, has up to five times the levels of anthocyanins present than in normal plums.
Animal studies show impressive results so far for its potential to improve health. Obese rats fed with the Queen Garnet plum juice showed that their high blood pressure, fatty livers, poor heart function and arthritis returned to normal in just eight weeks.
We are now investigating the role of the Queen Garnet plums on cognitive function in people with early signs of memory loss.
How can you be sure it’s the fruit?
Food-based studies are complex. First, we need to understand how the body metabolises the bioactive compounds.
Anthocyanins are quickly broken down in the digestive tract to a range of different digestive substances (called metabolites), many of which are excreted in the urine within about six hours. It may be the intact anthocyanin compound itself that exerts physiological effects. Or it could be one of its many metabolites.
The “dose” of anthocyanin required for health benefits, and how this can be achieved from foods remains unclear. An acute cross-over study, for instance, found the blood pressure lowering effects of cherry juice over six hours were only seen if 300ml was consumed as a single serving, rather than as three 100ml servings over three hours.
Lastly, it is likely that anthocyanins in food may interact with other nutrients, and combinations of foods may show synergistic effects. In other words, they may have a greater combined effect than if consumed in isolation.
While the role of diet for improving cognitive health looks bright (purple), a bowl of cherries won’t counteract other lifestyle factors implicated in cognitive decline. Quitting smoking, cutting down on saturated fat and being physically active are also crucial for keeping ageing brains healthy.
Tasmanian berry producer, Westerway Raspberry Farm is teaming up with Coles to put Tasmanian-grown berries in supermarket freezers around the nation.
Westerway, with the support of Coles, will install the only berry freezer tunnel in use in Australia. As a result, Australians will now be able to choose fresh frozen Tasmanian raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, blueberries and mixed berries, rather than imported frozen berries.
Tasmanian growers already produce all of the vegetables used in Coles’ frozen vegetable line and it’s fantastic to see that Tasmania will once again be feeding the nation, this time with frozen berries.
This announcement will see Westerway increase its plantings, open up new markets for Tasmanian produce and critically, employ an extra five people full time, with hopefully more jobs to come as the company looks to new markets for its premium products.
Coles’ connection to Tasmania goes back over 100 years. The Coles family owned and operated a general store in Wilmot in early 20th century and now Coles supermarkets employ more than 1,800 people across 31 sites in the State.
Responding to the release of Patties Food Limited 2015 (FY15) financial results, which showed a significant slump in earnings mainly due to the impact of the recent frozen berries recall, Patties CEO Steve Chaur said that future is looking much brighter for the food maker thanks mainly to their diverse food portfolio.
“The FY15 reported Net Profit After Tax [NPAT] result was significantly impacted by the frozen berries recall, which led to a $13.6m non-cash impairment (pre tax) of the Frozen Fruit business,” said Chaur.
“Our core savoury products, which represent over 90 per cent of our business earnings, performed solidly, delivering an increase in sales revenue and profit growth in our iconic savoury brands,” he added.
However, financial results are a lot like berries – you can always pick the better looking ones, and as such, the figures look worse when you notice the EBIT- or Earnings before income Tax result – where the drop in earnings went from $26.0 million in FY14 to $9.1m in FY15.
Chaur also noted that mechanisms have now been put into place to prevent a repeat of this problem.
“[It’s] Not appropriate to comment, other than to say we are continuing to test every batch before it is released to the market with nil detection found to date. Patties Foods frozen berries are amongst the most rigorously tested berries in the Australian market. “
Another meaty issue that is rubbing the Patties ledger the wrong way is that of beef prices, which have increased by about 40 per cent since the beginning of the year, a fact that is impacting on Patties profitability.
“Beef prices are at record highs in Australia, impacting all processors in our category. There’s been continuing growth in the global demand for Australian beef, so price inflation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future,” said Chaur.
“Patties Foods responded early in the past year to put steps in place to mitigate the ongoing impact of rising beef prices, such as a strategic procurement program, price increases and operational cost reductions.”
“We’ve also restructured our operations and driven our Bakery Continuous Improvement program, which has positively impacted on earnings over the past and coming year. “
“We are focused on expanding our savoury business, optimising our cost base, driving efficiency gains at our Bairnsdale bakery, and delivering profitable growth.”
Moving forward, concluded Chaur, it’s all about staying firmly in the black.
“New product development, effective marketing and channel focus have an important part to play in achieving growth.”