Hepatitis A scare ‘could boost sales of local berries’
Blueberries New Zealand president Liz Te Amo said a recent hepatitis A scare could even benefit local growers as buyers decide to buy only local berries.
The berry industry is likely to benefit from the recent hepatitis A scare caused by the import of frozen berries, say berry growers and exporters.
Last week, the Ministry of Primary Industries warned berry lovers that there was a risk of contracting hepatitis A from eating imported frozen berries. This was after three people contracted the disease.
Hepatitis A was not found on the berries, but the three people who contracted the disease all regularly ate frozen imported berries, and the strain of hepatitis A they contracted was genotypically linked, New said. Zealand Food Safety.
Blueberries New Zealand president Liz Te Amo said sales of local berries were trending up after a health scare as consumers were wary of imported produce, she said.
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It was important for consumers to understand where their food came from and how it was processed or handled, Te Amo said.
The extra hygiene practices adopted during Covid-19 were now the norm and added a layer of safety beyond what was required, she said.
A berry exporter, who did not want to be identified because he did not want his brand associated with the food crisis, said sales of New Zealand berries had doubled since a hepatitis A scare in 2015 related to berries imported from China.
Over 5 million bags of frozen fruit were sold every year. An additional 2 million bags were also sold in catering cafes and restaurants, he said.
Patrick Malley from Maungatāpere Berries explains how his company is working with Ngāpuhi to create Kaikohe Berryfruit and create jobs in the area.
This was enough for about 35 million servings of berries per year. But there had only been three cases of hepatitis A, he said.
However, Daniel Laufer, an associate professor of marketing at Victoria University of Wellington, said the berry industry needed to counter possible negative public perceptions that locally grown berries could also be a source of infection. hepatitis A.
Some growers had previously said they feared the health warning would lead to a knee-jerk reaction by consumers who would then stop buying local berries, which were not associated with fear.
It was important for New Zealand berry growers to differentiate their berries from imported berries, he said.
As an example, a case of product tampering, where needles were found in strawberries imported from Australia several years ago, was handled well by local growers, Laufer said.
In an organized public campaign, the strawberry industry showed that local growers were mostly small family farms, where growers and workers had a good relationship. This showed the public that product tampering was unlikely, he said.
This contrasted with Australian strawberries which were often grown by large corporations. The campaign showed that large companies were impersonal and there weren’t as many personal working relationships as family growers would have, Laufer said.
If a company was experiencing crisis contagion, it should monitor social media to see what public sentiment was, Laufer said.
Horticulture New Zealand spokesman Andrew Bristol said country of origin labeling was important in such cases.
The Commerce Commission said earlier this year that it was mandatory to say where certain fresh and thawed foods came from. The requirement to disclose only applied to salted pork products and single-ingredient fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood and meats that were not more minimally processed.
From May next year, the regulations will also apply to frozen foods in the above categories.