Ice Ice Baby: Mackays cracking frozen food market

Consumer demand for convenient, healthy and easy to prepare foods continues to propel the frozen fruit and vegetable market across the world. 

For one of the country’s leading agricultural producers—which has spent almost a decade researching and developing their own frozen fruit line—hard work and persistence is paying off. 

By Sonia Campbell 

Cameron Mackay with some of the Mackay frozen banana produce.

There’s no evidence of a crystal ball in the offices of the Mackay Farming Group.

But the company must have known something eight years ago, when they decided to start trialling the commercial production of frozen banana products, as a viable marketing option.

Almost a decade later, the country’s largest banana producer is now set to take on the fast-growing, retail-ready frozen fruit market, with plans to have their own frozen banana packs on supermarket shelves within 12 months.

Company director Cameron Mackay explains how a simple pursuit to value add, has evolved into a new and exciting venture.

“It started off in trial phase, looking into processing frozen bananas for the food manufacturing industries,” Cameron said.

“Initially our product was going into juice bars, bakeries, restaurants and a few different other lines. But most of our product was going into bakery (products), Australia-wide.

“We just saw it as an opportunity to value add and offer something that is attractive to a customer.”

Their instincts were spot on.

The frozen fruits and vegetable market has grown considerably in recent years, driven by a consumer thirst for convenience and a global trend towards cleaner, healthier eating.

A 2017 study by international market analyses company Market Research Future projected that the frozen fruits and vegetable market would grow at an annual rate of 5.34 per cent worldwide—reaching 751 million tonnes by 2027.

For the Mackay’s—an innovative, family-run company managed by brothers Cameron, Stephen and Daniel and their cousins Gavin and Barrie—it’s a global trend that is presenting opportunities across their broad farming network.

“The retail ready market is an emerging and popular market now,” Cameron said.

“In the next 12 months we will have a retail ready pack for frozen bananas. Once we have the system down pat for bananas, then we will look at other tropicals. We’re already doing trials with papaya, blueberries and we might look at mangoes next year as well.”

But, their success has not come without a lot of effort and perseverance.

Cameron says the process of manufacturing frozen fruits for retail sale is labour intensive and has involved a great deal of trial, error and financial investment from the company to finally produce a product that will soon be ready for retail shelves.

He says a major driver of increased retail demand for their product has been new Australian labelling laws, which commenced in July 2016.

Under these laws, all packaged food must identify the products’ country of origin, including where the food was made, produced or grown; manufactured or packaged.

“As those labelling laws have come online, we are now identifying that the product is Australian and that has benefited the business as well.

“Whether the consumers are concerned or not (that the product is Australian), the retailers are very much aware of it. So a percentage of consumers must be  questioning the food manufacturing industry and asking ‘where is this food from?’.”

And the Mackay’s are not the only ones reaping the rewards from their newest venture.

The company is sourcing fruit from other local growers to meet their processing demands.

With almost all of the bananas used for the frozen line classed as seconds produce, it’s also helping the Mackay’s—and others in the industry—make the most of the fruit grown across the Far North.

“Currently outside of our farm we have brought in four other growers from our marketing group and we are taking fruit off them as well.

“So hopefully we can continue to grow this line of business and bring other growers in line as well.”