Australian growers are discovering the differences between locals and Chinese consumers when it comes to nectarines. So what are some of the challenges facing Australian producers exporting the fruit to China?
When Australian nectarine producers were granted access to the Chinese market in May, it was cause for celebration. Mainland China was the first new market for the fruit in 20 years.
Gaining access to this market has taken over ten years, according to Claire Fitchett, International Trade Development Manager for fruit company Montague, but the company is happy it's finally happened.
While all Australian nectarine growers are now eligible to export to China, Montague says they're one of the few businesses that have gone through the additional level of registration to be approved.
"Government officials came to audit all of the pack houses that we're packing fruit for China just to make sure they meet the guidelines that are required by the Chinese officials," says Claire.
"It's making sure that the Chinese government is happy that the product we're sending meets their strict import protocol requirements, in the same way that Australia has strict biosecurity protocols about what we import."
Growing for the Asian palate
But Montague's plans to expand further into Asia start a lot higher up the supply chain than their pack houses.
"Everything we've planted over the last few years has been planted with Asian markets in mind," says Claire. That has included sourcing varieties they believe are the best varieties to grow in Australia that suit the Asian palate.
Claire says consumers in Asia like very sweet fruit, whereas in Australia we like a more acidic or tangy flavour in our stone fruit.
"We also know that Asian consumers prefer to eat their fruit a little bit firmer and crunchier, whereas we might like ours softer and juicer, so it's about selecting varieties that are going to stay firm even after harvest."
That doesn't mean Australian consumers are missing out, they just might prefer to let their fruit ripen for a few days before they eat it.
Your business name in Chinese
Another challenge Montague faced was how to translate the name of their family-owned business into Chinese and make sure it didn't mean anything undesirable.
"The last thing we want to do is launch our company name in Chinese in China and have it mean something inappropriate," says Claire.
"We went through a three or four stage process talking about what Montague as a family and a company means, and seeing if we can find a translation that would work well in Chinese."
The name they ended up choosing means family and orchard, reflecting what they see as the brand values they're trying to promote.
Educating the consumer
With over ten years' experience exporting their stone fruit to other Asian markets like Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, Claire says they know "it's absolutely critical that you back up your sales with a strong promotions and marketing campaign".
Asian consumers aren't overly familiar with stone fruit, so in order to get them to try a new product there needs to be a strong educational component to your marketing.
"For us it's about educating consumers about how to store and how to eat stone fruit," says Claire. "So if you want it to ripen leave it at room temperature, if you don't leave it in the fridge."
Claire says consumers also need to be educated about the flavour profile of different stone fruit varieties, for example white flesh versus yellow flesh.
"It's about educating them so that they know what to expect, and then delivering on that."
Montague's decision to enter China is based on the sheer scale of opportunity they see there, particularly given the rise of the middle class in China and the fairly flat domestic market back home.
"We are really targeting that niche high end [market], we're certainly not trying to feed the masses in China."
They're hoping other Australian horticulture companies will follow suit.
"For us it's about, where are the opportunities?" says Claire. "As one of the larger companies in the industry we see it as a bit of a role for us to perhaps help lead the way and encourage others along the journey."