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Importance of provenance in Australian produce

For many people, food is an experience shared with family and friends – evoking similar emotions. It is this tie in, and with a growing movement of knowing produce is sustainable and creating a connection with the source, that could offer an opportunity to farmers to value add their product.

Surrounded by canola fields, sheep, cattle, apple and cherry orchards as well as a burgeoning wine making industry, the Orange experience has lessons that can help growers and producers brand a product and attract a premium for it that will stand out from international competitors.

A vigneron’s experience: Swinging Bridge, Orange NSW

Chatting to AustralianFarmers is Tom Ward a vigneron and a member of the Orange Vignerons Association, whose property Swinging Bridge produces chardonnay and pinot noir wines.

Explaining that good wine really depends on the person drinking it, Tom says building a consistent story and brand goes a long way in building consumer demand. Outlining four markets for his wine – cellar door (direct to consumer), on premise restaurant or bar, off premise restaurants or bars where creating a strong demand for wine is essential, and finally export marketing.

Consumers want to know you care, are part of something and that Orange as a region works together in creating a food and wine destination.
Tom Ward a vigneron and a member of the Orange Vignerons Association

These different marketing avenues require a different take on a consistent theme to build and strengthen the brand story. He said one of the reasons why provenance and regional marketing appeals to him is because of the cluttered nature of the wine market. By getting the basics right and working from the ground up the Orange vignerons, through Brand Orange, we are able to sell a consistent story.

“Consumers want to know you care, are part of something and that Orange as a region works together  in creating a food and wine destination,” Tom says.

Keeping to the consistent themes of cool climate wines, sustainably produced by family businesses that pair with the region’s food, they have been able to build the region’s profile attracting more visitors to the area.

Tom’s advice for farmers who want to take a provenance or regional approach to sell their produce is to deliver a consistent product and brand story. He also said it’s important to understand your consumer and if you are offering them a farm visit that you make the experience enjoyable.

Saying people visiting from the city, like Sydney, will want the rustic feel of the farm but will not want to be walking through muddy vineyards and to drink wine from dirty glasses.

Instead, you have to invest in creating a top-level experience. Arguing it is better to offer a premium experience matched with a premium product rather than compete on price point.

Swinging Bridge produces chardonnay and pinot noir wines

In September this year, Tom has opened to the public creating a cellar door to sell his wines. Explaining producing wine grapes was one of the few opportunities the producer got direct feedback from the consumer on the product.

It’s helpful in finding out if your product is meeting demand, but Tom explains it also has its challenges in that he has to gain expertise across a diverse skill set. Saying what he needs to know to grow grapes to making wine, marketing and selling it, and making sure he’s getting the money back in the door to pay the bills is a challenge.

“Just because you’re a good wine maker doesn’t make you a good business person. You need to know what skills you need and get in those that you don’t have,” says Tom.

Tom’s advice here is to identify what you do well and outsource to a professional or business those areas that you are weak in.

Building a regional brand

Starting with a group of Orange vignerons, a need to promote the region as an emerging wine region was identified to collectively build the profile of their vineyards and to attract people to the region.

It was here the idea for Brand Orange (formerly Taste Orange) was born and with funds made available by Tourism NSW and local government, the group developed a marketing strategy and event calendar to take the region’s produce to people in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Supporting Brand Orange was a group of producers and others with an interest in promoting the region to the wider community. The group was focused on lifting the regions wines – similar to that of the Hunter Valley in NSW or the Barossa in South Australia.

At the end of the initial three years, the team behind Brand Orange could see they’d started something that benefited the region.. Hosting wine festivals and a food week festival, Brand Orange appeals to city people to come to the region and experience the produce.

This continuation shows that the local producers see value in branding the region, but there’s still room to grow further.  

International experience: Napa Green

Across the Pacific and in the famous wine region Napa Valley a similar approach is also taken with the local vigneron association (Napa Valley Vintners) albeit through the soil to bottle sustainability program, Napa Green.

Patsy McGaughy from the Napa Valley Vintners says the Napa Green initiative was born out of a push in the late 1990s to clean up the river that runs through the valley. Bringing together government, wine growers and makers, as well as environmental groups, the program has grown from purely improving the environment to providing the region a point of difference with other wine growing areas. The first Napa Green certification was in 2004.

The Napa Valley Vintners have set a goal that by 2020 all eligible members will be in the Napa Green program. As of this year, they are half way there covering 22,000 acres of vineyards and 60 wine makers certified with many more in the pipeline.

In order to become certified the vineyard or the wine maker must meet set requirements to reduce waste, energy and water use. They don’t have to do it alone, as Napa Green provides consultants who can work with the vineyard and the wine maker to map out where they are now, what the goal is and how they will get there.

Like Australian consumers, American taste and demand is shifting to not only expect a good product but one that is also sustainably produced.

Patsy McGaughy says more consumers are increasingly asking for sustainably produced wines.

“The California Wine Institute released a study this year that demonstrated there was a measurable increase in demand for sustainable wine,”

“More and more wineries [in Napa] are putting the Napa Green logo on their bottles and displaying signs on the vineyard to show consumers that the region is committed to sustainable wine production,” Patsy explained.  

Patsy said the vignerons in Napa Valley could see the benefit of working together to create a common story around sustainability.

To assist in promoting the region’s sustainability and as a way of appealing to those consumers who want sustainable wine, the Napa Green website has wine tour itineraries. Visitors to the site can select from 12 itineraries to create a tour that suits their tastes.

In the future, Patsy explains, they will continue to grow the program and to promote it to consumers so they can tap into the increasing demand for a sustainable product.

Taking Australian produce to the world

Also talking to AustralianFarmers is Ron Choong from Food Industry Australia Limited (FIAL). He says that telling a compelling story behind the produce is becoming more effective in compelling the consumer to buy the product. FIAL is a not-for-profit organisation responsible for growing the share of Australian food in the global marketplace. They do this by upskilling the industry, encouraging collaboration and pushing for the removal of red tape.

Ron Choong says offering a value-added product that’s branded and marketed toward consumers will creates premium produce. By creating an effective brand, utilising social media and packaging it’s possible to attract consumers to buy your product over someone else.

...producers and food manufacturers can also tap into Food Industry Australia Limited information that outlines consumer data that can be used to identify changing tastes and trends.
Ron Choong, GM International, Food Industry Australia Limited

Some of the push for provenance is to take advantage of Australia’s reputation for clean and green produce as well as to be confident in the safety of the food. Traceability and processing of the produce are two important factors particularly for Asian markets where concerns about food safety are pushing for the food story.

A relatively quick and effective technology that taps into this desire is QR-codes. Ron said the consumer can scan the code in the shop and instantly find out where the product was grown, and who produced it and what their business ethics are.

The consumer will use this information because they want the assurance the product is sustainable, and ethically produced.

Not just a one-sided flow of information, producers and food manufacturers can also tap into FIAL information that outlines consumer data that can be used to identify changing tastes and trends.

Ron explains this information can assist in making a premium product that can give Australian produce at an advantage over international competitors.

By working with industry stakeholders such as Austrade, Meat & Livestock Australia, Horticulture Australia and other groups, FIAL is helping to tell this story. By creating concepts and working closely with the states and industry groups FIAL has set a goal to align marketing strategies so that a consistent brand is sold internationally.

Ron said through 2018 they hope to have the aligned story agreed to by the various industry, states, and federal stakeholders and presented internationally.

Chris Gillies is a freelance writer and agricultural journalist based in Sydney.

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