If knowledge is power, John Said and his team at Fresh Select are well on the way to establishing a sustainable export business.

John, Fresh Select CEO, and his Chief Financial Officer Julien Palamara believe their understanding of the Hong Kong, Malaysian and Singapore markets has been crucial in having their broccoli, cauliflower and iceberg lettuce stocked in premium supermarkets.

They knew, for example, that gaining trust in the sophisticated, health-conscious markets was as much about ensuring Australia’s reputation for food safety was upheld by a stringent supply chain process as it was building a trusted brand through consistent size, appearance and quality of produce, packaging and presentation. The only element missing was knowing how and where to gain a bigger foothold.

“We have learnt much over the past three years, but we have always been focused on what the market wanted and had the discipline to deliver the quality that consumers demand,” John says.

That’s why they looked into the Vegetable Industry Export Program (VG16061), a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund. This project is coordinated by AUSVEG and includes a wide range of activities that aim to improve the industry’s export capabilities, such as export readiness training, international market development activities and market access representation and prioritisation.

Julien says the AUSVEG Export Development team, Michael Coote and Andrea Lin, have been invaluable in creating networking opportunities at events such as the Asia Fruit Logistica trade show in Hong Kong.

“Andrea and Michael have so much knowledge on who to meet with in each market and how to make it happen. We really can’t speak highly enough of the experience,” he says.

“They are almost like matchmakers in how they bring suppliers and buyers together.”

Julien Palamara and John Said from Fresh Select.

A show of faith

Perhaps the best display of the project’s influence was hosting over 20 international fresh produce buyers at Fresh Select’s Werribee South farm in June 2016 as part of a Reverse Trade Mission.

“At a trade show you have about 90 seconds to sell your services, but to be given the buyer introduction at your HQ is key,” Julien says.

“A picture truly tells a thousand words and having an hour in which buyers are able to see your product, touch it and feel it, and to see how everything comes together, you get so much more engagement.”

Kicking export goals

With a dedicated quality assurance team maintaining SQF, a Global Food Safety Initiative benchmarked system, Fresh Select’s hand-selected crops are nurtured from seed to delivery in open field and protected cropping sites across Australia. They can be vacuum cooled in 20 minutes before being sent to Singapore in the same time that it takes to dispatch produce to Sydney.

Such speed speaks volumes about efficiency, but Julien is content to slowly continue building relationships through the Vegetable Industry Export Program, safe in the knowledge that fresh will always be best.

“Exports are not going to happen overnight, but year on year we’re getting more traction and there’s scope to do more as supply chains across Asia improve their awareness around the capability of Australian producers,” he says.

Summary

  • Project VG16061 provides growers with a range of capability building activities such as export readiness training, accessing key export markets and opportunities for growers to develop export trade, with the ultimate aim of improving farm profitability.
  • John Said and Julien Palamara from Fresh Select in Victoria have benefited from their involvement in the program and have accessed resources, hosted international buyers through the Reverse Trade Mission and attended international fresh produce trade shows such as Foodex.
  • Vegetable Industry Export Program has been funded by Hort Innovation using the vegetable research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.
John Said and Julien Palamara.

This article first appeared in the 2017 Grower Success Stories: Real results from the vegetable R&D levy.