Leadership and collaboration are vital to keep New Zealand’s horticulture industry blooming, says the new president of the country’s only pan-produce organisation.
New president Jerry Prendergast says the produce industry is entering a new era of business, just as United Fresh celebrates its 25th year.
“New varieties, sustainability, new technologies and competitive advantage are just some of the factors guiding our strategic plan into the future,” he says.
The people who work in the industry are essential to delivering on these targets, he says.
“In New Zealand we need to be collaborative to survive. We have a wealth of talented people that make our industry great and this is what will take us to the next level.”
With New Zealand’s horticulture sector enjoying stellar growth, Prendergast says United Fresh will continue to offer strong leadership, support and advice to its members.
“As the only organisation of its kind in the country, our main responsibility is to be the trusted opinion leaders, the ‘go-to’ people within the produce industry,” he says.
United Fresh provides members with guidance and compliance advice on issues such as food safety and traceability, biosecurity, industry standards, and health and nutrition claims. It does this through e-newsletters, workshops, meetings, strategic partnerships and network opportunities.
It has taken the lead in food safety and traceability by forming the Food Safety and Traceability Committee, chaired by United Fresh Executive member, Dr Hans Maurer.
“The reputation of our produce industry would be under threat if food safety was compromised, so it is an area where we cannot be complacent,” Prendergast says. “This committee plays a vital role for biosecurity matters relating to our produce industry and will be a key focus for United Fresh into the future.”
Protecting New Zealand from pests and diseases that could put our multibillion- dollar produce industry at risk is another key focus.
“Working in partnership with the Ministry for Primary Industries and Horticulture New Zealand is vital to being able to move swiftly during a major biosecurity event,” says Prendergast.
The core of United Fresh’s work involves practical guidelines and advice. It also manages two high-profile initiatives: the 5+ A Day campaign and Fruit In Schools.
United Fresh is contracted by the Ministry of Health to provide the fruit and the logistics for the highly successful Fruit in Schools initiative, which provides 23 million pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables to around 115,000 children annually.
“The 5+ A Day campaign has been very successful in raising awareness and consumption rates in New Zealand,” says Prendergast. “As an organisation we are immensely proud of both of these initiatives and the benefits associated with them.”
Prendergast has taken over the role of United Fresh president from David Smith, who has been president of the organisation since 2011.
Prendergast was previously vice president of United Fresh and has over 35 years’ experience in the produce industry. He is national key account and brand development manager at MG Marketing.
Smith has moved into the role of Chairman of the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust. “My new role is less hands-on and is more of an ambassador for the industry,” Smith says.
Developing United Fresh’s sustainable business model has been a highlight of his time as president.
“The way the industry is co-ordinated and structured means we have strong grower representatives who work with the Government on research and development,” says Smith.
He says intellectual property has underpinned growth for the produce industry, which has developed new varieties of fruit and vegetables, and product groups. It’s also seen the expansion of subsectors, like avocado and blueberries, among others.
Smith is also proud of the Fruit In Schools initiative and the work of the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust, which provides free educational resources on the health benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables to early childhood centres, schools and health professionals.
There are currently 92 United Fresh members from across the entire fresh produce value chain. Members include Horticulture New Zealand, Foodstuffs, Countdown, Plant & Food Research, T&G Global, MG Marketing, Freshmax, Fresh Direct, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated, Pipfruit New Zealand. There are also several Horticulture New Zealand product groups, and service providers such as CHEP New Zealand and GS1 New Zealand.