Hills Orchard group wants more WA fresh produce in Coles

Roleystone fruit grower Peter Casotti. Picture: Matt Jelonek d452596d
Roleystone fruit grower Peter Casotti. Picture: Matt Jelonek d452596d

ROLEYSTONE fruit grower Peter Casotti was forced to dump 30 tonnes of nectarines last week due to “a marked increase in eastern states grown imports being stocked on WA shelves”, according to the Hills Orchard Improvement Group (HOIG).

The group comprises more than 70 orchards which sell into the Perth market and has accused retail giant Coles of “turning its back on local growers”.

“It is a shame that a WA-based retail giant ignores a fresh product that can be placed on shelves within 24 hours,” HOIG spokesman Brett DelSimone said.

“Instead they choose to stock an imported product that has been harvested up to a week or two prior, is transported to WA on trucks for days and then transported again through distribution centres.”

Mr DelSimone said wholesale stone fruit prices had plummeted 30 per cent, to levels unseen since 2011.

But a Coles spokesman said 85 per cent of stone fruit sold by Coles in WA was grown by WA producers this year.

“We are working with our suppliers to increase the proportion even further,” he said.

“Our stone fruit season did finish earlier in WA than other states this year due to quality issues we were finding in our distribution centre and a number of complaints from customers about fruit from some WA suppliers.”

The spokesman said there were currently gaps in its WA supply due to crop timings.

“While these gaps are being filled by new varieties the trees require a few years to grow before they can produce a full crop,” he said

Mr DelSimone said stone fruits were available for nearly seven months of the year, from September to April.

While acknowledging Coles’ response that WA growers supplied 85 per cent of stone fruit may be correct, he suggested it was on a downward trajectory.

“Even at this level, we still have growers dumping fruit,” he said.

“Let’s lift that level so there is no longer any further waste of fresh WA produce and let’s stop the long haul transported stuff.”

Mr DelSimone said consumers were being duped.

“For Coles to claim to be a ‘Little Better Every Day’ is in direct conflict with their policy of ignoring WA stone fruit in favour of an imported product,” he said.

“Their customers should know that each day an imported piece of fruit sits around waiting to be transported across the Nullarbor, it loses its freshness and becomes a ‘little worse every day’.

“Shoppers can’t tell between a fresh local product and one that has been sitting around in an interstate cool room until they take it home and taste it.”

The Coles spokesperson said it was working with a WA fruit business to establish a new packing shed with modern technology to facilitate the packing of fruit for many growers in WA and create further efficiencies in the supply chain.

“The new shed will mean growers are able to expend their energies in their orchards rather than on packing, refrigeration and freight,” he said.

He said the business was also working with growers on variety selection and growing techniques to ensure the success of WA orchards into the future.

But Mr DelSimone said future plans to develop hi-tech packing sheds did not help stop the dumping that was taking place now.

“These plans are all well and good but until they are up and fully functional it’s really just a projection at this point in time,” he said.