Local innovation saves our strawberries from landfill
September last year saw Australia face a nationwide ‘strawberry contamination’, with over 100 cases reported from customers of sewing needles being found inside their punnets of store-bought strawberries.
It was estimated that up to seven brands of strawberries were effected by the crisis, including Donnybrook Berries, Lover Berry, Delightful Strawberries and Mal’s Black Label Strawberries, spanning a number of states across Australia, namely Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
The scandal forced supermarkets to pull strawberries from their shelves from most of their stores across Australia; and caused a major struggle for farmers across the nation, with lost sales as well as destroying tonnes of wasted fruit they had grown.
Farmers couldn’t stand to see the tonnes of oversupplied strawberries being sent off for the landfill, and many got creative to combat and minimize the waste and rescue their strawberries. Owner of Australian Vinegar Ian Henderson teamed up with Pinata Farms, and together they created Rescued Strawberry Vinegar, with 100% of the profits going to the charity group Foodbank. The venture produced around 600 bottles of the limited edition vinegar.
Perth Brewery joined to help out Aussie farmers save the strawberries being dumped, and purchased around 6,000 punnets to incorporate them into their drinks. Their range of strawberry beers include the Strawberry Blonde Ale, Strawberry Wheat Beer, and a Strawberry Berliner Weisse. Brisbane Newstead Brewing had a similar idea and purchased 120kg of strawberries from strawberry brand Luvaberry to help create a range of beers and ciders.
Sunshine coast couple and Luvaberry farm owners also got in on the action to help reduce the waste and began to turn rejected strawberries into dried products as well as beer also. They also started freezing and stockpiling strawberries before they became waste. Creating a Facebook group, they then went on to sell their excess stock to locals.
Local businesses also got behind their farmers, like Melbourne chef Brooke Nugent, owner of the catering company Feed Your Tribe, who took thousands of unwanted strawberries and made them into jars of jam to help support the farmers. Within just hours of posting her plan on Facebook, Brooke was inundated with hundreds of orders.
Annual Brisbane festival Ekka also showed their support and sold a huge number of 10,000 of their famous strawberry sundaes one Wednesday at King George Square. Lines started forming in the early hours of the morning, with many purchasing the $5 treats as a sign of solidarity to the farmers effected by the crisis. Proceeds went directly to the farmers.
Prior to the strawberry scandal in 2018, farmers were already beginning to wage a war on the waste that was forming as a result of discarded and irregular sized fruit that didn’t make into supermarkets. However, the needle incident that rocked the industry saw millions of dollars in costs and sales plummet drastically.
The strawberry incident brought on the introduction of stricter exporter rules, clearing fruit through metal detectors and x-rays before being cleared for a permit. The Queensland government also invested $1 million into helping boost the supply chain and help farmers through the rest of the growing season, and keep the $160 million industry alive.