Ross Beaton has turned his blemished apples into an exciting new export opportunity and it’s all the result of some excellent teamwork.
Since 1982 Ross Beaton, the founder of apple juice company The Apple Press, has been growing and exporting apples from his Hawke’s Bay orchard. Beaton became concerned by how the 10,000 tonnes a year of “ugly fruit” that didn’t make the grade for fresh consumption was going to waste.
“While still highly nutritious, the apples had minor blemishes and, just like the ugly duckling, were not aesthetically pleasing,” he says.
Wanting to find a meaningful use for the blemished apples, Beaton sought assistance and in 2013 found it in Sally Gallagher, who had a background in food technology. “We went on this journey to see what we could do with the ugly fruit,” Beaton reflects. “We had this fabulous ingredient that we wanted to do something special with at scale and take to the world.”
With the objective of adding value to a product that would otherwise go to waste, Ross and Sally embarked on a voyage of discovery, considering options from baby food to pet food. In the end their feasibility indicators pointed to a beverage. The result was “genuinely the world’s best tasting apple juice”, he says.
Beaton says he is most proud of his team’s attitude to “take over the world one bottle at a time, and being able to adapt and grow with all the new challenges a start-up business throws at them.”
A bumpy ride
Beaton says there were several start up challenges, like the public perception of apple as a cheap concentrate or juice base. “We make varietal-based apple juice – much like you would a fine wine. Each variety has its own personality and tastes that vary in acidity and sweetness, appealing to different people’s preferences.
“We said wine is produced from single grape varieties, and the question was, why couldn’t we do that for apples?”
Beaton and Gallagher decided to hero new apple varieties individually, rather than blended together. Not being able to get over and visit export customers face-to-face has been a challenge, but it has made Beaton think of new and innovative ways to keep in touch.
Despite the hurdles, in the past year the company managed to nail down some big export deals, which is massive for its growth and meant it needed to grow the team.
“It’s been a struggle trying to find space for everyone, we’ve just installed a Portacom outside to create more office space,” he says.
A good place
Beaton says it’s a great benefit to be New Zealand-made in the food and beverage space. “We come from a good place – that’s reflected in our product quality, product safety and the way we do business.”
The Apple Press business is split about 50/50 between New Zealand and export markets, and Beaton is expecting exports to continue to grow and become a bigger part of his business. His advice for start-ups is, “if you don’t know, ask. They can only say no.”
And his philosophy?
“Life is too short to drink bad apple juice.”
Catherine Beard is executive director of ExportNZ and ManufacturingNZ, divisions of BusinessNZ – New Zealand’s largest advocacy body. Email [email protected]