Australia’s Favourite Apple

Batlow Fruit Co-operative

Today, nearly a century later, the association remains 100 per cent grower owned and 100 per cent Australian. Its famously delicious apples have become an Australian staple and the co-op sends a whopping one million cartons to market each year.

Batlow Fruit Co-operative is made up of thirty one active orchards, a quarter of which are owned and operated by the co-op outright. The association is designed to put power into the hands of the growers themselves, who collectively elect a board of directors to make decisions on behalf of the group. Ultimately, the business model provides members with greater profits than they would get from going solo. General Manager John Power explains that, because the organisation is grower owned, it inevitably offers a greater return to the producer than other business models would. In fact, the entire business is run with the goal of keeping member charges as low as possible. Consumers benefit from this set up as well. Batlow Apples are renowned for their superior quality and taste, and the co-op is committed to maintaining the highest standards.

Batlow Apple Co-operative offers several key services to its members. Each one of these services is designed to ensure that only the highest quality apples reach consumers – and that the growers themselves reap the bulk of the profit. One of these key services is the provision of advanced cold storage facilities, which can maintain an apple’s crisp texture and delicious flavour for an entire year. The high-tech facility is driven by the need to provide apples Down Under during all 12 months of year – without resorting to costly imports. By locking in freshness through cold storage, apple profits stay in Australia, benefiting both the growers and the economy as a whole.

The co-op’s cold storage facility is one of the largest of its kind in Australia. As soon as the apples are placed inside, the room is completely sealed to prevent any air from entering. The temperature is then slowly lowered to one degree Celsius over a series of weeks, which allows the fruit to gradually adjust to the increasing cold. The atmosphere is also tightly controlled during this process; the oxygen level is lowered to around 2 per cent and simultaneously replaced with nitrogen. Carbon dioxide scrubbers also remove as much CO2 from the room as possible. “The reason that we do that is because the apples are actually sitting there alive and breathing,” Mr Power explains. “We are trying to slow them down so much that they almost go to sleep. That means that when we open the room and expose them to the atmosphere again, they will immediately start ripening.” As a result, the apples emerge as fresh as the day they were harvested.

Batlow Fruit Co-operative also provides its members with a packing service. All packing operations take place within a state of the art packing shed – one of the few in Australia to earn the world recognised quality standards of ISO 9002 and HACCP 9000. The first step in the packing process is to remove the apples from cold storage, submerge them in water, and gently float them to a washing station. Employees inspect each apple as it floats by and remove any fruit that looks damaged. Next, the apples receive a high pressure washing and after that, the fruit spins underneath a bright light, where a camera takes seven pictures of each rotating apple. A computer processes these images and grades each apple by colour. The computer is also able to recognise blemishes and imperfections – even those beneath the skin – and removes these apples from the line. Unblemished apples go on to receive a thorough washing using food grade detergent and a series of rollers. Lastly, the apples are sprayed with a fine amount of wax, dried, and packaged into a carton by weight.

The third core service that the co-op offers its members is representation. This responsibility falls on the Australian Produce Group (APG), which is wholly owned by Batlow Fruit Co-operative. The Sydney based business markets the Batlow brand and sells the apples for the growers. In doing so, “we allow our growers to focus on what is happening inside the farm gates, which is what most growers prefer to do,” Mr Power reports.

Some of the fruit is sold to wholesalers, as well as directly to major supermarket chains including Coles and Woolworths. Wherever the apples are sold, growers are virtually guaranteed a larger cut than if they were to go it alone. The co-op’s large size provides it with bargaining power, and the staff at APC are experts at negotiating the best deal. Single growers, on the other hand, are far more likely to be squeezed out by larger businesses, Mr Power explains.

Batlow Fruit Co-operative also offers complete transparency every step of the way. “Every piece of fruit we account for,” Mr Power reports. “It is all transparent. They can see where it went, how much it sold for, how much they got back, right through to the market.” This stands in stark contrast to the experience a grower would have on his or her own. “A grower dealing with a Sydney wholesaler will certainly not get that kind of transparency,” Mr Power explains. “That’s another key thing that we offer.”

Consumers appreciate this model as well. They know exactly where every Batlow Apple comes from and the special care that it has received. They also know that their dollar is going directly back to the family farms that grew the fruit – not to middle men or anonymous corporations.

Batlow Fruit Co-operative has also recently launched the company ToughNet. The 100 per cent member owned business was formed in response to growers’ need for greater surety in production. The potential for unexpected – and potentially devastating – crop damage was simply too great and as a result, the team spent three years developing a European style “controlled release” netting system to protect orchards from the ravages of hail, sunburn, wind rub, bird and fruit bat damage. The company designs and fabricates the netting in-house and will carry out all installations on site. Best of all, this one-stop solution is offered at an affordable price.

Batlow Fruit Co-operative has been representing local growers for almost one hundred years. The association’s suite of crucial services – and its grower-owned business model – has provided invaluable support to generations of family farms. The co-op has also cemented Batlow Apples as an Aussie staple. Renowned throughout the country for its great taste and high quality, the brand has certainly lived up to its motto as “Australia’s favourite Apple.”

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September 20, 2018, 5:32 AM AEST