THEY say you should not mix business with pleasure – but nobody told Henry Bartosiewicz that.
He has spent two decades planting, developing and challenging Australian consumers to love his produce – because, to him, they are the perfect fruit.
“We are growing the most nutritionally dense fruit on the planet,” he enthuses.
“They are nature at her finest – the blueberry of the future.”
Henry is talking about the kiwiberry, a grape sized version of the more commonly known kiwi fruit – but with one defining difference.
“If you could take the normal kiwi, and re-design it, I think most people would firstly take away the fuzzy hair on the outside, then maybe up the sugar content, introduce more tantalising flavours, add colour to the skin and flesh, give added nutrition and make them fun size,” Henry said.
“That’s exactly what a kiwiberry is – a bite sized fruit ready to eat, the same as any other berry.”
Kiwiberries originated in the sub-arctic circle, and are now most commonly produced in New Zealand, Europe and USA.
Henry and his family own the only commercial kiwiberry farm in Australia.
A researcher at heart, Henry looked long and hard before settling on his crop of choice; dismissing both native Australian bush foods and red dragon fruit before settling on the kiwiberry.
“I compared all the characteristics, I did a lot of research,” Henry said.
“I looked at the likelihood of consumer acceptance, the climatic needs of the crops, orchard management, the water usage etc – I wanted it to be good for your health.”
What Henry could not have foreseen was the slow uptake by the Australian market.
To date, even 20 years on from the first planting, that has been the biggest hurdle.
“People have just never heard of them – they think we are selling olives, not berries,” Henry said.
“It has been extremely slow to overcome public perception.”
To combat this, Henry hit the road – travelling to fruit markets across Melbourne, spruiking his produce.
“We realised immediately that very few people knew, so we started selling where we could talk to customers.
“We needed them to taste it, because then they would love it and buy it and I never heard so many OMGs.”
Now, Henry has contracts with Coles, Costco, Woolworths and also supplies to the berry wholesale group YV Fresh – with 125 gram punnets retailing at a similar price point to blueberries.
And although the market grows each year, it is an on-going challenge.
Luckily for Henry, challenges are something he likes to face head on.
“I believe in the product, I believe in their benefit – which is good, because it’s not been easy,” he said.
From an initial planting of around 50 imported cuttings, Henry now has more than 1000 vines under production across 23 acres at Gembrook, in the Dandenong Ranges.
Taking up to seven years to reach maximum production, each vine is capable of fruiting 25-30 kilos – but not without sucking up considerable moisture first.
“They use a lot of water, anyone thinking of growing them should know that,” Henry said.
“Up to 200 litres – they aren’t designed for Australian conditions, so we have to take steps to help them through the summer, developing new strains and importing new cultivars.”
Water isn’t an issue for Henry, who has two stream fed dams on his property.
The sun, however, is a little harder to manage.
“We have learnt a lot over the years,” he said.
“Having the right plant varieties, and with improved canopy management practices, the berries can be somewhat protected during hot summer days.”
Harvested mid to late February, different strains of kiwiberry mature at different times – all up, including the month long cool-room life, Henry has a crop for sale for around 12 weeks each year.
“It is very intensive, getting the fruit to the consumer – every berry is hand-picked, processed and packaged on the farm,” he said.
Still working part time off-farm, there is no doubt Henry has embarked on a labour of love.
He has hopes of expanding his business to an annual production of 30 tonnes.
Most importantly, he wants to see the Australian population realise what’s on offer.
“Kiwiberries are amazing; a 100g serving of kiwiberries has 20 times more vitamin C than apples – and twice as much vitamin E as an avocado,” he said.
“They are also the richest dietary source of vitamin B8.
“Furthermore, kiwiberries are rated as one of the healthiest foods in the world.”