Based in the rolling hill country of Maungatapere, 12km south-west of Whangarei, NZ Tamarillo Cooperative Ltd represents over 20 growers, located mostly in sunny Northland where the subtropical fruit thrives.

Robin Nitschke, pictured, is the Chairman and Manager of NZ Tamarillo Cooperative Ltd. He grows the frost-adverse fruit in sunny Maungatapere.

With his four fellow Directors, Robin applied the successful co-operative business model to his industry and has managed ‘TAMCO’ since its inception in May 2014.

“We started the co-operative because we saw problems at the start of the supply chain with retailers playing tamarillo merchants off each other. At the end of the chain, we saw a demand for adding value to the products and now we produce relish and vinegar, which there is a massive demand for.

“The industry had been fractured and growers had been struggling to cope with demand. Now, we have more structure and control over the supply chain. There are plenty of benefits,” he says.

New Zealand’s niche tamarillo industry has had its ups and downs since the horticultural boom of the 1970s. It was hit hard by the tomato potato psyllid, an insect which bypassed border biosecurity and was discovered in tamarillos in New Zealand in 2008.

Since then tamarillo export volumes have fallen dramatically and about two-thirds of growers have abandoned the industry.

Robin helped to navigate the tamarillo industry through those most challenging years.

“When things stabilised, this was the ideal time to change our strategic focus and after consulting with experts and other producer marketing groups, it was decided the co-operative model would be the right fit for the tamarillo industry.”

Listed as one of the ‘lost foods of the Incas’ tamarillos, or tree tomatoes as they were once known, are an egg-shaped, highly nutritious fruit. Maori and Spanish words were fused to make up the new name: tama implies leadership in Maori while rillo is believed to come from amarillo, the Spanish word for yellow.

Introduced to NZ from Asia in the late 1800s, the exotic tamarillo is grown mainly in warmer and sheltered areas of Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay. Ours is one of only a few countries to grow tamarillos commercially and the New Zealand Tamarillo Growers Association and Tamarillo Export Council represent the industry here.

Quick facts

Tamarillos rate very highly as a source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants when compared with other common fruits and vegetables.

A report by Crop & Food Research attributes a key number of nutritional attributes to the tamarillo:

  • Low in fat and hence calories
  • Low in carbohydrates and the carbohydrate present is mainly in the form of fibre
  • High in potassium but extremely low in sodium, which is a desirable balance for a healthy diet
  • Contains other trace elements important for health, in particular copper and manganese
  • Source of fibre

Source of Vitamin A, B6 and C. Also contains Vitamin E and Thiamine

Like feijoas and kiwifruit, tamarillos are versatile; the flesh can be eaten fresh or made into a range of sweet and savoury dishes and condiments. Tamarillos are tangy and usually sweet. The fruit can be stewed to use on cereal or as a pie or crumble filling, added to stews and casseroles or made into a delicious chutney, which is especially good with chillies.