Demand for organics drives growth
When Robert and Shannon Auton stepped away from their busy corporate lives seeking a new lifestyle with their three-year-old triplets, they embarked on a journey that would eventually become ‘OOB Organic’ – bringing their customers the world’s best organic certiﬁed fruit and producing delicious organic ice cream.
Researching what to grow, exporters suggested that blueberries were in short supply and high demand globally.
“We thought, ‘we can we grow these organically’ and that was our point of difference,” says Robert. “So we went out and bought a whole lot of plants and started looking for somewhere to grow them, the reverse of the normal.”
An orchard was found north of Auckland in Omaha that had ideal soil conditions, established shelterbelts and some blueberry plants already growing.
That was back in 2001 and Robert and Shannon began supplying fresh organic blueberries grown in sunny Omaha to the New Zealand market under the ‘Omaha Organic Berries’ (OOB) brand.
The brand has grown over the last seven years, as has the range of organic products that now include organic ice cream. So the name has naturally evolved to become ‘OOB Organic.’
“After expanding our product range, we couldn’t get enough supply domestically; we’d already take up all the supply from organic growers around New Zealand. So we searched further aﬁeld ending up in Chile with a connection to a grower of organic fruit.”
With issues around ‘country of origin’, OOB Organic’s Chilean grower extended the product range to include raspberries, strawberries and blackberries enabling oob organic to say the entire product range from Chile is sourced from one farm. Banana’s and Mango’s are sourced from Peru.
While the business and its range of products has evolved, OOB’s commitment to being organic has never been compromised – it’s at the heart of everything OOB does from tending the soil, pest control, processing the fruit right down to the cleaning products for washing hands.
“We’ve always believed there was a place in the market for organic products where quality, great tasting, healthy food options could be made more accessible and mainstream to everyone,” explains Robert.
“We believe eating organic is better for you and better for the planet. Being certiﬁed organic is a commitment to the land, the plants, our farmers and staff and to our customers.”
Robert says that while the organic market started off quite small at the turn of the century there has been double-digit growth for the last 4 – 5 years in terms of organic products, especially on supermarket shelves where the majority of organic products are bought.
“Globally, the increase is running around 12 – 13% and I think Australia was 15% last year. In Australia we represent 10% of the frozen fruit market – but that is 10% of the market. New Zealand is probably a little bit lower – but close.”
While organic is a higher priced product and can generate high revenues for the supermarkets, Robert explains that the higher price is also part of the consumer challenge.
“The challenge is working out how to educate the consumer not only what organic means but why it costs more. There’s a lot more labour involved in being organic – you can’t use herbicides and insecticides, so there’s a lot of hand weeding to tend the plants. You also need nutrients to feed the soil and sometimes those products are a lot more expensive. The yield that we would get versus conventional artiﬁcial nutrients is also less.”
But it is precisely those cost factors that provide the beneﬁts to the health conscious consumer.
“Organic doesn’t have any chemical residue on the product. That’s pretty much what we’re trying to convey to consumers. There have also been reports that organic is more nutritious and it’s really for the same reason.”
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