A fruitful relationship –

The Auckland Retail Fruiterers’ Association and Turners and Growers

Half a century ago the marketing and retailing of fruit and vegetables was very different from the scene today.

The markets were centrally located on the Auckland waterfront, and greengrocers’ shops abounded. Turners and Growers elder statesman Jack Turner recalls that there were five very good fruiterers within less than a quarter of a mile of Lower Queen Street. He remembers the characters who owned them, too; Mr & Mrs Dave Hutton, Henry Chin and Wong Chong, Mr Stoddard, Gum Leong, Shan Dha and Frank Tanner, whose wife specialised in selling high quality fresh flowers.

“Auckland was a much smaller place in those days. Places like Newmarket were considered ‘outlying’. There were no supermarkets, no motorways for high speed access, and no Auckland Harbour bridge.

Yet surprisingly we had many fruiterers travel by train from as far as Te Kuiti, Taumaranui and Rotorua.

He recalls too, the early meetings of the Auckland Retail Fruiterers Association. Not the first meetings, as Jack was unhappily in a POW camp in Germany when the Association was formed, but on his return he would often see the retailers meeting at Turners and Growers market around 10 o’clock, having completed their morning’s buying.

The Association was formed when the three existing retailers’ groups of Chinese, Indian and European greengrocers recognised the need to speak with one voice over the thorny issue of container charges.

Communicating to address problems has been the key factor in the relationship between Turners and Growers and the Association over the years. Soon after the opening of the (then) New Auckland City Market in 1966, Turners and Growers provided a rent free office in the building for the Association. “There were advantages to both parties,” former Secretary Jimmy Lowe remembers. “If a problem arose we could get together and deal with it on the spot, before it became a major issue.”

The Association, Turners and Growers and other industry groups jointly undertook activities such as advertising and promotion of fresh produce, and today Turners and Growers initiatives such as broadcasts and telecasts by Roger Clark, and assistance with the production on ARFA’s fortnightly “Market News” are important aspects of consumer awareness and retailer information.

Information exchange and co-operation are fundamental to the relationship today. The monthly meetings of the ARFA and Turners and Growers executives deal with operational problems and ideas, health and safety issues and so on.

And the future?

“Think what changes the past 100 years have brought,” says Turners and Growers Market Development Manager Roger Clark. “A far wider variety of fresh products. Improved strains and growing techniques. Remarkable improvements in harvesting, transport and storage. An increasingly wider range of produce imported from all parts of the world, stimulating new taste experience and choices for New Zealanders.

“And if, as is claimed, the rate of change is speeding up, then the next 100 challenging and exciting.”

The greatest change, Roger Clark says, is in the lifestyle, expectation. “Many of today’s home managers have other jobs, and little meals.

“Many consumers are more discerning and more aware than any other generation of the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables in maintaining their family’s health. Many are keen to try new fruits and vegetables that are new to them – but it is important that their fruiterer has the knowledge to guide them.”

They are also more environmentally aware, with a steadily growing number wanting organically grown produce.

“These will be growing trends,” Roger Clark predicts.

“What tomorrow’s consumers will need are products that are appetising to look at, convenient to buy, that will store well for up to a week, convenient to prepare, quick to cook, that are delicious, nutritious safe – and good value.

“Of course they will want fresh, but if we in the fresh produce industry can’t help them to meet the other criteria, then they will turn increasingly to processed, frozen or canned products.

“Increasingly our industry is becoming aware that ‘she’ll be right’ isn’t good enough. With consumer emphasis on quality, correct handling by everyone along the food-chain from field to retailer is vitally important. So is the presentation and product information available to consumers at the fruit shop.

“While we at Turners and Growers can look back with pride over the past 100 years, and enjoy many a tale shared with the Association’s members, we also look keenly to working together to meet the challenges of the future.”