Blackcurrants have been grown commercially in NZ for over 40 years, predominantly in the Nelson and Canterbury regions. The New Zealand Blackcurrant Co-operative was formed by growers in 1997 to be the marketing arm of the industry.
The prime role of the New Zealand Blackcurrant Co-operative (NZBC) is to source fruit from its grower Members, process most of it into concentrate and frozen fruit, and supply local and overseas markets.
NZBC does not produce local consumer products such as bottled juices or jams, but provides products that can be used as inputs to these, as well as specialised ingredients for more sophisticated foods and beverages and for the global nutraceutical market.
So what makes the humble blackcurrant such a sunshine-filled ‘superfood’?
General Manager Mike Kearney says the co-op provides customers with unique New Zealand varieties, developed through world-class research, and plant breeding.
“These varieties have been developed to provide higher levels of colour, flavour and health-giving antioxidants. The result is a blackcurrant with an intensity of colour and nutritional benefits that is without equal in the world,” he says.
“We reviewed the published scientific studies of the health benefits of blackcurrants, the results of which are publicly available.”
Mike Kearney says the co-operative’s blackcurrants undergo an intense harvesting period in summer, strict grading and then immediate processing into frozen fruit, juice concentrate and purées.
“Our products are used in ready-to-drink juices, yoghurts, muesli bars, jams, ice creams, breakfast cereals and bakery goods. In today’s climate, consumers are rightly interested in the food they consume, and where it comes from. Our customers can be assured not only of the quality and nutritional value, but our fruit is fully traceable,” he says.
“In addition, all NZBC products are free of all known allergens and are GMO-free and preservative-free.”
Cooperative Business NZ CEO, Craig Presland, met with Mike Kearney at fellow co-op NZ Hops’ offices near Nelson in September 2016 and reports as follows:
“NZBC operates within a difficult global market which is dominated by supply from Poland which is subsidized by the EU and this has resulted in challenges with price competitiveness over recent years. Such challenges, along with the susceptibility of blackcurrants to strong spring frosts, has led to volumes produced fluctuating significantly over the last 19 years since NZBC was formed.
“Despite that, this co-operative has continued to endure and survive while optimizing returns to its grower Members each year. The health and nutritional benefits of this fruit mean that future demand should be assured, both locally and internationally, while the co-operative business model promotes true sustainability to members and local communities,” Craig says.
There are 17 growers in a 350ha area on the Upper Moutere, 30 minutes out of Nelson.
The blackcurrants are grown in a band of fertile plains encircling Banks Peninsula (Woodend to the north and Leeston to the south). Further south, blackcurrants are grown in Ashburton and South Canterbury.
Approximately half of the 8,000 tonnes grown annually are provided to Frucor directly for Ribena manufacture, this falling outside of NZBC.