Japan receives Australia-first trial of QLD-grown melons and 'Ecoganic' bananas

Japan receives Australia-first trial of QLD-grown melons and 'Ecoganic' bananas

In a global banana market dominated by lower-cost exporters like Ecuador and the Philippines, finding an Australian banana on the shelves overseas is a rarity that could only be justified commercially by some kind of premium feature as competing on price will always be an uphill battle.

But with eco-friendly and organic fruit fetching premium prices in Japan, growers in Far North Queensland may be able to carve out a niche to help diversify a sector that is currently 99 per cent destined for domestic markets.

In an Australia-first trial aimed at breaking into the potentially lucrative Japanese market, Pacific Coast Produce's red-wax-tipped Ecoganic bananas and Daintree Fresh's Emperor’s Pearl melons have been sent to a tasting and promotion event in high-end Tokyo retail store Yaoko.

For the first time, bananas were also air-freighted directly from Cairns instead of shipping via Sydney, saving time and cost for what is already an expensive crop by global standards.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) horticulturalists have been working with industry partners for four years to analyse the impact of shipping and supply chain conditions such as storage temperature, and ripening conditions, on the appearance and flavour of the fruit.

Direct air travel also makes it easier to maintain optimum supply chain conditions, reducing the risk of food waste and ensuring the fruit arrives in its best condition. Data from this shipment will look at the possibilities and obstacles of exporting bananas as airfreight from Cairns.

"We’ve been exporting Ecoganic bananas since 2009 to Singapore and Hong Kong, but the unpredictable arrival quality of our fruit has been a barrier to future market growth," says Pacific Coast Produce managing director Frank Sciacca, who developed the idea of the 'wax tip banana' with his wife Dianne Sciacca.

"Our Ecoganic farming system is underpinned by strong evidence-based science to prove ecology restoration in commercial food production is possible.

“The project and the DAF team has shown us how critical it is to monitor supply-chain performance for identifying opportunities to improve practices that ensure consistent delivery of a premium product.”

Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, highlights bananas are an important crop worth $600 million to the state, noting it's "vitally important that we keep exploring new potential markets".

"By optimising how we export this fruit, we can ensure that the produce is as fresh and delicious when it arrives on the shelves in Japan as it is when we buy it here," Furner says.

"DAF’s horticulturists play a key role in supporting industry to access more export pathways for Queensland produce, creating economic growth and benefit for Queensland."

Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, with Emperor's Pearl melons.
Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, with Emperor's Pearl melons.

 

DAF horticulturists will also conduct blind tastings with the Japanese public to identify consumer preferences and compare Australian-grown bananas with imported fruit.

The results of the project will be fed back to the Australian fruit-growing industry, with a view to local growers tapping into the Japanese market.

According to data from UN Comtrade, in 2022 Australia exported just 40,566kg of fresh or dried bananas in 2022 with a value of US$107,187 ($163,379), with Nauru, New Zealand and Japan as the largest markets - the latter purchasing just $18,321 worth of the fruit. The year prior Japanese consumers purchased $103,000 worth of Australian bananas.

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