WITH more than 175,000 people employed and $33 billion generated annually in the NSW food and agricultural sectors, last week’s Fine Food Australia expo was an opportunity to further boost farmgate returns for regional producers.
The 16 wine and food producers sponsored by the NSW Department of Trade and Investment - 14 of these from regional NSW - reported consistent interest from buyers and agents from crowds of close to 24,000 over the four-day event, drawn by more than 1000 exhibits from 38 countries.
NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said interest in the Flavours of NSW stand was justified by the quality of produce on offer. He visited each of the 16 stands after addressing a 40-strong trade delegation from China. Buying groups from another dozen countries also attended.
“Once again NSW producers have shown that what they offer in food and wine is exceptional and international class,” Mr Stoner said.
Goodies from Bodalla Dairy on the Far South Coast struck such a chord with buyers that owner Sandra McCuaig ran out of her new product, chocolate wrapped in cheese, by the second day.
Anna Campbell from Honeycomb Valley Farm at Nabiac on the Mid North Coast sometimes found her stand under siege as buyers crowded four deep for samples of the rare and exotic Sugarbag Bee honey.
The honey is produced by native stingless bees the size of an ant, and - on the infrequent occasions when it is available - sells for around $200 for 20ml in collectible glass containers.
“It's not a commercial proposition, but the buyers who tasted it then tried other products,” she said.
“I'm delighted with the response we've had. They loved the honey infused with vanilla - and the honey with chilli.
“There has been a lot of interest in our products which we're hoping will lead to bigger things.”
A new southern NSW food trail at the event was also launched at the event by Minister for Primary Industries and Small Business, Katrina Hodgkinson.
Ms Hodgkinson praised the organisers of the newly formed Southern NSW Harvest Association, saying their work would entice people to visit one of the State’s finest agricultural regions.
Southern Harvest NSW project officer Richard Everson said the project addressed a significant regional need and offered a “win-win situation for consumers and producers alike”.
“The ‘short supply chain’ model of the regional food system bypasses traditional centralised markets, saving up to 20 per cent in transport costs, optimising freshness and dramatically reducing food miles,” Mr Everson said.
Ms Hodgkinson said more than 80 primary producers and food-related enterprises had already joined the program.
“This farmgate trail provides a unique opportunity for consumers to meet the producers of food and wine, to see animals and the crops, and to taste the fresh produce,” she said.
The Southern NSW Harvest footprint spans 14 local government areas and the initiative incorporates a digital trading platform designed to bring together stakeholders from across the regional food value chain.
Bakers Morpeth Sourdough also attracted attention, having “extensive talks” with representatives of two five-star Sydney hotels.
“This trade show has been very good for us,” company owner Stephen Arnott said.
Figures for the 2013 show are still being compiled, but organisers said trade deals were predicted to exceed previous years.
“Fine Food Australia exhibitors are predicted to generate an estimated $40 million in export orders over a 12-month period as a result of the show,” Mr Stoner said.