AN innovative citrus grower from the Sunraysia region will receive $500,000 funding from Coles to invest in infrastructure to increase its volume of premium-grade figs by 30 per cent and create up to 20 new jobs.
Third-generation family business Sim Fresh will use an interest-free loan from the Coles Nurture Fund to invest in growing infrastructure and a custom-built grading machine at its Gol Gol farm, which will help the business grow more premium grade figs and create harvesting efficiency.
Figs are the first new product which brothers and Sim Fresh co-founders Joe, Tony and Mario Simonetta have trialed since they started the business 25 years ago.
Sim Fresh is known for its thriving citrus business, which produces more than 40,000 tonnes of fruit each year, and they started trialing fresh figs in a small number of Coles supermarkets around four years ago and has since doubled its production to supply Coles supermarkets in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Joe Simonetta’s daughter, Amanda Cini said funding from the Nurture Fund meant Sim Fresh would be able to fast-track its investment in infrastructure to expand its fig operation.
“Without funding from the Coles Nurture Fund, the project would have taken up to four years to complete. We’re now looking to complete the project in two years which means we can ultimately boost yield and supply more figs to meet growing demand in domestic and international markets,” she said.
“The citrus season happens during winter, so figs are a great additional crop for our business because they are a summer fruit. One of the biggest benefits is that by building up our fig production, we can keep our employees on for 12 months of the year and supply fruit to Coles all year around.”
Coles Managing Director John Durkan said Sim Fresh was a deserving recipient of the Coles Nurture Fund.
“Sim Fresh has been supplying Coles with fresh produce for more than 15 years and we are thrilled to support them as they diversify their business,” Mr Durkan said.
“Customer demand for figs is growing rapidly, so this is also a great outcome for our customers who will be able to buy more fresh figs at Coles.”
Currently around half the fig trees at Sim Fresh are grown on trellis under specially-designed netting to protect the fruit, which has proven to increase yield of premium fruit.
Funding from the Nurture Fund will help the Sim Fresh business fast-track installation of trellis and netting on the remaining eight hectares, according to Mrs Cini.
“Growing figs under nets is really important because it helps to protect the fruit from birds and adverse weather, which means we can get higher yield and produce better quality fruit,” Mrs Cini said.
“The family will also build and install a grading machine which will increase productivity and allow fruit to be sorted faster, reducing the need for manual sorting and packing which it does currently.”