The summer stonefruit season is only 10 weeks long, from mid-December to March, but New Zealanders certainly make the most of it. Figures from Summerfruit NZ show that in the 2016-17 season, New Zealanders consumed 4,064 tonnes of nectarines; 3,579 tonnes of peaches; 2,366 tonnes of plums; 1,737 tonnes of apricots and 1,683 tonnes of cherries.
Export volumes are much lower – apart from cherries, which do well in Asian countries. Around 66% of New Zealand’s cherries are exported – some 3,396 tonnes last year.
“Stonefruit is very much a summer product, and there’s a sense of urgency about it because by the end of March it’s all gone,” Chairman of the Yummy Fruit Company John Paynter said. “When the weather is warm, people love summerfruit, it sells so well.”
Over those 10 weeks, the Yummy Fruit Company produces 2 million kilos of stonefruit from its Hawkes Bay orchards. Of this, 70 percent is sold through Foodstuffs’ supermarkets – New World, PAK’nSAVE and Four Square.
“We have a long-standing relationship with the Yummy Fruit Company,” Foodstuffs North Island’s GM Merchandise David Stewart said. “The quality of the stonefruit they provide us with is superb – our customers really look forward to it,” he says.
John Paynter and his sons are the fourth and fifth generation of Paynters to be involved in this family business.
“My family started growing fruit in Nelson in 1862, so that’s 155 years. I founded the Yummy brand in 1974. It’s a story of survival really. You don’t do this for the money – if you didn’t enjoy it, it would be really hard work. I have 100 people on my role of honour, who’ve been with the company for five years or more. There are some who’ve been with us for 40 years. The corporate knowledge is immense. You learn it on the job, it’s not something you learn at university. They are unbelievably dedicated people, and I want all of them to treat the business as if they own it.
“Our staff work six days a week over the summer, and long hours. The vagaries of the weather affect the dynamics of the business. You can have the best-laid plans, and then it’s wet in the morning. So our staff have to be very dedicated.
“During the harvest we have up to 600 people working for us, and 300 in the off-season. Some come back to work for us every season.
“Most of my friends are retired, but I still enjoy what I do. I still do a lot of store visits myself. Last year, we did 100 around Auckland. I know all the produce managers and they know me.
“A stonefruit tree lasts 15 years, so every year we produce new trees in our company nursery.
The company has eight orchard operations covering some 600ha of the Heretaunga Plains.
“When I started in the business, we only had five hectares,” said John.
“We are always combing the world for new varieties of nectarines from Europe and America to bring to New Zealand. It takes 10 years to get it into production from when we first see it. We’re always looking for better taste, bigger fruit and nicer colours – all the things that appeal to consumers.
“In the last few years, we’ve introduced nectarines with different flavour profiles and colourings. We have a range of yellow and white flesh nectarines. Some of them taste like the nectarines of old – these are our Classic range. Then there are our sweeter nectarines - our Hunny range - which are not as tart. They have a broad appeal and are now our number one stonefruit product. We also have white flesh pearl nectarines.”
Schoolchildren know the Yummy brand well because they can collect the Yummy stickers from their fruit on behalf of their school. The schools then exchange the stickers for new sports equipment every year.
John Paynter and his team are hoping for a long, hot Auckland summer.
“When the weather is warm in Auckland, summer fruit sells really well. It’s such a great feeling when you can’t keep the retail shelves full.”