WOOLWORTHS supermarket has come under fire for failing to source produce for its own brand tinned fruit from Australian growers.Fruit for the Woolworths Select Fruit tinned range is imported internationally, from countries such as Greece.
Victorian growers have contacted Weekly Times Now to express their concern over the overseas sourcing as the tinned fruit industry suffers ongoing strain - with heat damage, gluts and reduced demand plaguing Victorian growers throughout January.
This comes as processor SPC was last month forced to stop accepting apricots amid higher than expected yields leading to an oversupply.
Woolworths spokeswoman Kristen Young said the supermarket giant had stopped using local fruit because it was not of a standard Woolworths could use.
She refused to say when the supermarket stopped using Australian produce and where it was previously sourced from.
"At the end of the day we can only sell a product that is actually of an acceptable quality to our customers, so we have to be able find the right products before we can have a locally sourced product,'' she said.
"We have done that.''
Ms Young announced the supermarket giant would again source fruit from Australian growers for 16 new Select Fruit lines of canned fruit, due to hit the shelves midway through the year.
"We are trying to move as much of our sourcing as possible back locally,'' she said.
"The new lines will be sourced nationally - this is great news for Australian growers.''
Fruit Growers Victoria general manager John Wilson said he welcomed any commitment by Woolworths to buy Australian fruit, but said it was only for part of their range.
"They should have been doing it all along, and the change is refreshing, because Woolworths merchandising tactics with regards processed fruit have been deceptive at best and deceitful at worst,'' he said.
"They have used copycat packaging to mimic the Australian product and they have been very careful to not draw attention to country origin.
"They want consumers to make their buying decisions based on price, they do not want patriotic loyalty to be a factor, let alone confidence that the fruit was grown under the best food safety regulations in the world."
Mr Wilson said four years ago the cost of producing canned fruit in Australia stood at 95 per cent of the world median cost, and was now 120 per cent.
"SPC Ardmona peach and pear intakes have been in free fall in recent years," he said.
"Peaches have dropped from 53,000 tonnes five years ago to 25,000 tonnes this year.
"Pears have dropped from 35,000 to 19,000 tonnes. That represents more than a $20 million a year reduction to fruit growers, so it is no wonder that many of them are upset.''
Mr Wilson said he had been through many foreign canned fruit factories and orchards was "totally'' confident that Australian canned fruits production was equal to or better than all other countries.
"It is about time that Woolworths and the entire distribution channel realised that they have an obligation to support Australian horticulture better,'' he said.