Motueka apple growers seek to salvage hailstorm-damaged crop with new 'Stormy Fruit'

The idea came to fruition after the company's crop was "absolutely hammered" in the December hailstorm.
The idea came to fruition after the company's crop was "absolutely hammered" in the December hailstorm. Photo credit: File / Getty

A Motueka apple company has been forced to think outside the box after much of its crop was damaged in a devastating hailstorm on Boxing Day last year.

Golden Bay Fruit has launched a brand of apples that are cosmetically damaged but are otherwise just as tasty and nutritional as fruit with a perfect appearance.

The idea for Stormy Fruit had been floating around for a couple of years but came to fruition after the company's crop was "absolutely hammered" in the December hailstorm, says chief executive Heath Wilkins.

Although many of the company's apples had to be thrown away due to their damage, there was still a proportion that could be salvaged though they were not in a condition to be sold as class 1 export grade, Wilkins told Magic Talk's Rural today on Thursday.

"Obviously there's a lot of fruit in the district that can't be sold at all and has to go to juice but there are certain orchards on the fringes that were affected by hail that we are able to extract a little bit of fruit out of and get to customers around the world," Wilkins said.

He said his team scrambled to get the new brand operational as quickly as possible and overseas customers "loved the concept and got on board with us right from the start". 

"If we hadn't got the Stormy Fruit brand up and running we might not have been packing a lot of fruit this year because with not having a class 2 option there wouldn't have been enough fruit out of the bin that we would have made it viable."

Normally, fruit that isn't considered class 1 is essentially thrown away - sent to be juiced or sold for little return.

Despite its flaws, he said the range is "100 percent nutritional, [with] the same taste - it just lacks the appearance of a perfect-looking apple".

"Ultimately when you eat the fruit it's going to give you exactly the same experience taste-wise and nutritional value-wise as a normal class 1 fruit."

Now the concept is up and running, Wilkins said the company would keep the brand going forward "whether we've got hail or not".

Even in years where there is no severe weather event, there is always fruit that is "kissed by nature", with wind rub or sunburn affecting its cosmetic condition, Wilkins said.

"There's always going to be a percentage of our fruit that's going to meet these criteria." 

Although the company - along with other growers in Motueka - was still hurting as a result of the hailstorm, Wilkins said there was little choice but to "roll our sleeves up" and get back to work.

"I've never seen this amount of damage or this widespread damage in our little town so it's a real shame for Motueka, and Motueka is going to be feeling the effects of this for quite a while," he said.

"But at the end of the day from a business point of view we just have to roll our sleeves up and get out there and protect the trees for the following year - we have to get the real bad fruit off and we have to try and salvage as much of the product that we can and try and add a bit of value to it."