A research paper released earlier this year found that fewer than 15 percent of consumers were willing to buy or eat apples that had external defects. Another paper by the same authors found that half of all fruit and vegetables worldwide aren’t consumed because of visual imperfections. In February 2017 Countdown introduced The Odd Bunch range of packaged, imperfect produce, sold at a lower price. For Sally Gallagher, the answer was far more straightforward – juice them.
The Apple Press is the brainchild of food innovation specialist Gallagher and long-time apple grower and exporter Ross Beaton, born out of a meeting over a cup of coffee. “Ross was on a mission to identify ways to add value to the cosmetically challenged, or blemished fruit that didn’t meet fresh quality standards for export,” she said. “New Zealand grows some of the best apples in the world, so he was asking why we were letting this fruit go to waste and not turning it into a value-add food that can be shared with the globe. Adding value is often discussed but can be difficult to achieve – this soon became my aspiration too.”
This meeting was five years ago, and The Apple Press has been available on supermarket shelves in New Zealand for eight weeks. “It sounds simple, but to create an apple juice that actually tastes like the variety from which it came is difficult,” Gallagher explained. “The difference comes from how we treat our apples from the time they are gently handpicked, selecting a specific variety of apple, through until they are bottled using ‘super clean’ filling technology. This technology enables us to achieve an extended chilled shelf life which means we can explore export opportunities.”
As The Apple Press’ dedicated food innovation specialist, Gallagher’s role involves translating ‘food ideas’ into commercial reality. She trained in food technology and nutrition and combined this knowledge with technical and business development roles across the dairy and nutritional industries in both New Zealand and the USA. “I moved to Hawke’s Bay for lifestyle and found a world that was all about apples,” she said. “Combining this new world with my previous experience has meant that The Apple Press was an easy and natural fit.”
The Apple Press range currently includes base juices from three varieties – Jazz, Braeburn and Royal Gala. The juice from the specific varieties is blended with other fruit to create further variations including Royal Gala & Feijoa and Braeburn & Valencia Pulpy Orange. “Apple varieties all have different flavour profiles, so it becomes more about personal preference,” she said, although she admitted that her current favourite is the Braeburn & Hawke’s Bay pear. “We have created an option for all – from Royal Gala, with a sweeter taste, through to a Braeburn which has more tart and tang. By incorporating other fruits, this broadens the offering for the consumer.”
Provenance is key to the Apple Press brand story. “Origin and traceability back to the orchard is a key part of our whole proposition and being,” said Gallagher. “If we need to use fruits from regions other than Hawke’s Bay we are very careful that they also have a similar mantra around traceability and origin.” Sustainability is also important – The Apple Press manufactures its own bottles and has optimised the bottle weight to use the smallest amount of plastic possible, which is all 100 percent recyclable.
Gallagher has an NPD pipeline packed with innovative ideas, such as low-sugar products, which she is looking forward to New Zealand consumers over the coming months. “Working with an entrepreneurial personality like Ross means we are always looking forward to the next opportunity.”
The Apple Press has grown exponentially over the last 18 months, going from two employees to 31 in that time. “Incorporating new faces into an ever-growing team provides a very dynamic work environment. However, we have a great team, and everyone is up for everything!”
The Apple Press is currently available at New World and PAK’nSAVE stores across New Zealand, as well as other specialty stores and outlets. The Apple Press customer is one who is looking for premium products of known origin, true to type and which delivers on the taste experience.
“We’re on a mission to make beverages that actually taste like the fruit from which they came,” she said. “For me, my personal mission is to ensure that the product is just like drinking a fresh apple.”