Apple growers press the flesh

NSW DPI Kevin Dodds pictured with Ian Kingham, from Woolworths.

Before the fun and frivolity of Saturday’s Ciderfest in Batlow, industry heavyweights, growers and cider producers gathered in town for the Cider Conference on Friday.

This year’s conference also launched the 2013/14 Batlow Apple Product Development Competition where around $5000 will be up for grabs along with a concentrated mentoring program for those who come up with the an innovative and marketable apple based product.

The Department of Primary Industry’s horticulturist, Kevin Dodds, organised the conference and said it was great to bring a range of stakeholders together.

“We had farmers, processors, cider manufacturers and retailers,” Mr Dodds said. “Having Ian Kingham from Woolworths gave cider producers an idea of what the growth of cider has been like and what potential there is for the product.

“The conference along with Ciderfest creates awareness of the merit there is in value adding for Batlow apples.”

Woolworths national merchandising manager, Ian Kingham, addressed the 50 strong gathering and spoke about the retail market for cider and what the opportunities were for growers.

As a beer lover, connoisseur and judge, Mr Kingham has been writing about beer for many years whilst travelling around the world learning all he could. He has made it his mission to get the supermarket giant back to beer basics.

“I saw a big gap in Woolworths BWS stores in terms of the beer we were stocking,” Mr Kingham said. “At Dan Murphy’s there was so many great things being done with wine, I thought why not in beer as well.

“I felt we should have been selling a range story in beer, not a price story. Beer had become commercialised, mass produced with the local brewing industry decimated. The product needs to be at the middle of it all.”

Mr Kingham’s passion for beer and craft brewing has now extended into the cider industry. Spending time in the UK and Belgium studying cider, its history and what the consumer wants, he feels the growing cider market is only a taste of what is to come.

“The craft brewing market for beer is growing and cider will be no different,” he said. “We have been doing a bit with The Apple Thief and are currently talking to Batlow Premium Cider. I am here in Batlow to press the flesh and build this cider market.”

The Apple Thief Charlie Ostaszewski and the founder of Ciderfest Harald Tietze.
The Apple Thief Charlie Ostaszewski and the founder of Ciderfest Harald Tietze.

Proprietors of The Apple Thief cider, local Dave Purcell and Charlie Ostaszewski, also addressed the gathering and spoke of their emergence into a respected and popular cider company. The pair possess a passion for apples and a marketing savvy attitude.

The importance of not keeping your apples all in the one basket was reinforced throughout the day with the notion that orchards can become more profitable using the value adding technique explored.

James Kendell from Small Acres Cyder was another of the guest speakers and shared his story of starting a boutique cider brand from scratch and all the highs, lows and lessons that accompany such a bold move.

Business manager of beer and cider for Pinnacle Brands/Woolworths, Mark Shimmen and Ciderfest founder Harald Tietze ran a question and answer session to finish the conference.

Immensely passionate about Batlow becoming more than just an apple producing town, Mr Tietze was thrilled that so many attended the conference and said he was excited his dream was growing.

“I couldn’t believe the turn up at the conference,” Mr Tietze said. “It was great having Ian from Woolworths speak as he was able to offer people really good advice.

“By launching the apple product competition, I imagine that Batlow could become like a German town that has everything Apricot.

“We are looking for people interested in producing anything from an apple. It is vale adding at its best.”

The products could include apple schnapps, shampoo, wine, lip gloss or anything else that is derived from apples and adds to the value of the apple industry. Mr Tietze believes enough talk has occurred and if locals wanted tourists to come, they have to start to make it happen.

“There is a lot in an apple,” Mr Tietze laughed. “I would love Batlow to have a sister city in Germany that also has cider, it could bring many people to our town.

“If you look at some of our local growers like Ralph Wilson, you can see how much value can be added. They make apple jam, ice-cream, pies everything.”

“Batlow now needs to stand on a lot of legs, as a family instead of individually so we can’t fall down again. If we all work together we can be successful.”

Ray Billing and Mendie Skein at the conference that discussed value adding and marketing your apple based product.
Ray Billing and Mendie Skein at the conference that discussed value adding and marketing your apple based product.