Following the recent Hepatitis A contamination scare that left a handful of Australians sick, for many people imported frozen berries now carry a dangerous association that’s hard to shake.
Matt and Ruth Gallace, also of Rebello Wines and Cheeky Rascal Cider, saw an opportunity in all of this and went for it.
Their farm, Sunny Ridge Strawberries, has grown berries on the Mornington Peninsula since 1964 and, as of five years ago, also in the Yarra Valley and Queensland – properties that were purchased to keep up with demand and allow for the production of berries during winter. Earlier this month they officially launched Matilda – Australia’s first large-scale frozen-berry distributor.
In Australia, frozen berries have only been available in small quantities due to the high cost of large-scale production. It made sense for suppliers to stock cheaper, imported berries from countries such as China and Chile, but it seems the recent health scare has shifted the demand.
“As consumers we rely on Australia’s high governance of food safety, but when it comes to imports, we just don’t know anything about the berries,” explains Ruth. “We don’t know where they’re grown, how they’re farmed, how they were processed and what standards were involved in that.”
Matilda’s berries will be sourced from the Sunny Ridge farms, which grow blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Frozen strawberries will be the first product to hit the shelves of major supermarkets when production starts in a few months, to be followed by frozen mixed berries.
According to Ruth, the aim is to produce enough frozen berries for all of Australia without compromising the integrity and quality of the fruit itself.
“At Sunny Ridge, what we do is very honest,” she says. “People can see where we pick the fruit and they know it’s safe and trustworthy.”
Although the berries will retail in supermarkets for slightly more than the imports, Ruth insists there will only be a few dollars between the products, a “small price to pay” for what she says is a superior product.