A major Australian wholesale vegetable seed supplier says it is making itself more available to vegetable growers by increasing its online presence and reducing minimum pack sizes on a select seed range to cater for a wider range of clients.
Fairbank's Selected Seed Co. National Sales Manager, George Jelbart says the company has historically dealt mostly with the larger growers.
"But over the past few years, there has been increased interest from smaller growers who are only producing for local markets," he said. "These growers need professional-quality seeds to ensure successful production but could not buy in large enough volumes to meet our previous smallest pack size. While we are still focused on servicing professional growers, we want smaller growers to have access to the same professional varieties the large growers use by offering smaller pack sizes and online availability.”
Fairbanks Seeds uses the brand ‘Fairbanks Fresh’ in their social media marketing to help educate consumers about these professional vegetable varieties and also to introduce new and unique vegetables to the fresh produce industry.
"Many professionals in the fresh food industry don't understand the variety selections that occur in the background for developing reliable varieties," Mr Jelbart said. “The improvements can be agronomic; improving disease resistance or increasing yields, and other times it is cosmetic or functional; such as better colour, flavour or shelf-life. We are always looking for improvements.”
Fairbanks Seeds imports vegetable seed (non-GMO) from a range of breeding companies around the world, then works closely with local growers to determine the best varieties for their farming practices and location.
“We strive to provide our customers with real improvements on the market standard varieties, these improvements should be obvious to the growers when observed in the field,” Mr Jelbart said.
He added that sometimes the company comes across new and unique vegetables, such as the purple cauliflower, red Chinese cabbage and red and green kale sprouts. Mr Jelbart says these new varieties have only a very small market to begin with, but many of the smaller growers are excited to have a novel new vegetable to introduce to their local customers.
"It shows that the grower is excited and proud of what they grow, and that they are passionate about keeping their local consumers interested in what is in season,” he said.
Niche and exotic vegetables also receive a boost from popular television shows such as MasterChef, according to Mr Jelbart.
"It has a big influence on trends in the industry," he said. "One example is our purple cauliflower; we have noticed an increase in production after they featured on MasterChef. Supermarkets started stocking them as a regular item and they are growing in popularity, we have just introduced an orange cauliflower now, and will also have a green cauliflower variety coming shortly too."
Fairbanks Seeds have also started utilising online video platforms to showcase their latest vegetable varieties, as physical access to farms became difficult due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Traditionally we would set up large numbers of trials on many growers’ farms to introduce our new varieties and show their benefits," Mr Jelbart said. "But with our visits restricted to essential work only and having an expanded base of smaller customers, we needed to change the way we do things for new introductions to be effective”.
Fairbanks Seeds have started a YouTube channel, allowing customers to subscribe to see introductions of new varieties. These variety introductions are also used throughout the Fairbanks website to help provide a detailed product profile.
The company has recently expanded its operations into New Zealand. Commencing in 2018, in partnership with Syngenta, Mr Jelbart says Fairbanks Seeds found opportunities in the market with their unique range of vegetable varieties.
"While we have the exclusive distribution rights for much of the Syngenta vegetable seed range in New Zealand," he said, “we have also introduced some of our more successful varieties from Australia. So, it is a relatively new business - but we have had tremendous support from the industry in New Zealand.”
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