For the first time ever, Costa, Australia’s leading fresh produce grower, have sent a shipment of their premium Lovocados to Singapore by sea freight. The order of 3200 trays left Brisbane in May and arrived in Singapore in June, and there have since been twelve more containers shipped to locations across Asia including Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.
These shipments mark a major milestone for Food Agility’s Improving Avocado Exports project in collaboration with Costa and The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF). The project aims to develop data models that will identify the lead indicators of avocado robustness at various stages of the supply chain and determine if and when an avocado is suitable for export.
“Thanks to our efforts promoting the Lovacado brand overseas, demand has grown to the point where we could no longer send small orders by air – we need to ship much larger orders by sea,” says Costa Avocado Quality Control Manager Shara Jones.
This has been a win-win for Costa, not only from increased exports sales, but also by delivering a significantly higher level of supply chain control for factors such as temperature than is available through traditional air freight.
“Thanks to new best-practice export guidelines created by DAF through the research project, we are also able to amend the atmosphere of the shipping containers to prevent premature ripening and ensure that the avocados arrive in correct condition.
“We’re very excited to have this level of control. It’s going to enable us to deliver the right quality of fruit year-round, please customers in different markets, and reduce complaints and returns.”
The shift to sea freight is happening a year ahead of schedule, having been brought forward by a bumper avocado crop.
“This year’s larger crop and the very large sizes that have been produced have given us an exciting opportunity to increase our overseas sales quickly. Ultimately, we’d like to export a greater percentage of our overall production, including our Shepherd variety and mid-size avocados,” says Ms Jones.
“We are learning along with our export partners so we can grow together in the future – and grow our overseas consumer base.”
In addition to the best-practice guidelines being developed by DAF, the Improving Avocado Exports project team are also working to refine their understanding of the factors affecting avocado robustness – and their parameters. The next few weeks will see more controlled atmosphere trials on mature fruit to see if they will survive the three-week journey by sea, and the team are consistently working on how to measure things that, well, they just can’t yet measure.
“We know that factors like fruit turgidity are extremely important to the determining robustness and shelf-life, but we don’t know how to measure that yet,” says Ms Jones. “And if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it! Watch this space.”
Although the project is still in its early stages, Ms Jones says Costa is already seeing a positive impact for its business. The company have learned a great deal from DAF’s Costa-specific best-practice guidelines, for example, especially in the ways they differ from domestic guidelines.
Meanwhile, the Queensland University of Technology research team, have been laying the groundwork to deliver game-changing data modelling.
“QUT are like a breath of fresh air,” says Ms Jones. “They are helping us build a decision aid tool and watching each stage come together is incredibly exciting.”
What is most pleasing, says Ms Jones, is that the benefits of this research are set to be shared with the entire Australian avocado industry.
“We’re getting Costa-specific best practice guidelines, but as part of the project, DAF will create industry-wide guidelines as well. We believe that increasing exports from Australia as a whole is vital because local consumption is stable. For our industry to grow, we have to look overseas.
“A rising tide lifts all boats. Promoting supply chain excellence for all avocado producers will be fantastic for Brand Australia, and for all producers.”