Brendon Osborn was born and raised in New Zealand and worked for Mitsubishi Motors in Wellington after finishing his studies. From car man to apple man, Brendon, who originally hails from Nelson, New Zealand, says being successful in business is all about developing relationships with people. Brendon is the General Manager of Heartland Fruit, growers of the mouth-watering Luv’ya apples sold in Cold Storage and Giant supermarkets. Brendon is based in New Zealand but visits Malaysia a few times throughout the year.
“It takes a lot of time to develop a relationship, but it is critical especially in the produce industry. Selling fruit never goes to plan because it depends on so many uncontrollable variables such as the weather, shipping and currency,” Brendon says. Due to the unpredictable nature of the business and because things don’t go as planned, Brendon believes that it is essential to have strong and true business relationships.
The apple season runs for six months, but Brendon makes a few visits in between to get a feel of the market and understand consumers. He receives reports from Malaysia but Brendon stresses it is crucial to meet the actual apple buyers themselves. “The fact is, you can’t do everything by email or phone, you have to sit face-to-face even if it’s only for one or two hours. It is so important,” he stresses.
According to Brendon, Malaysia has been a great place to do business, especially for New Zealanders. The Malaysian government has developed relationships with New Zealand that include trade agreements, making it an attractive place for investors. Regionally, Luv’ya apples seems to have taken Southeast Asia by a storm – Heartland is about to look at India next, as well as Hong Kong and Indonesia. Previously, Heartland had an agency to develop relationships with retailers but then decided that they wanted a more hands-on approach.
“We wanted to better understand the other party, and the way to go was to make a conscious effort to develop the relationships ourselves,” says Brendon, who has always had an interest in the apple industry. Having received an offer in 1998 to join a produce company, he never looked back – claiming that it is an interesting job as they have to deal with the forces of Mother Nature.
“Apples are a great fruit,” says Brendon, flashing a smile with pinkish cheeks that resemble vibrant red apples. In New Zealand, Heartland has four apple orchards which have second and third generation apple-growers that have passed down the knowledge through their families – it takes a lot to get it right. According to Brendon, they produce approximately 18,000 tonnes of apples per year which equates to hundreds of millions of apples! Growing apples might sound like a simple thing to do, but in reality it is a long and sometimes painful process which has to involve a lot of patience, dedication and planning. Sometimes, two to five years ahead. The phrase “you must sow the seed, before you can reap the harvest” especially rings true for apple-growers. Brendon explains that the process of growing and tending the trees, right until the moments of the first crop can take up to four or five years.
“It would take three years before you even get your first crop of apples, but they wouldn’t be ready for exporting or selling because they’re not representative of the variety. It would be about four to five years before you get a profitable crop,” comments Brendon. Then there’s the whole science that goes into it. Deciding which trees to prune will affect the apples later, as pruning allows more sunlight to come through which increases the colour and the sugars of the apples. For bigger apples, pruning is encouraged. Apple season is almost the whole year round, starting in February or March which is when a lot of thought goes into analysing the red beauties before the harvest. Brendon says that things like firmness, nutritional content and bringing the fruit to the right temperature are all factors that need to be considered around this crucial time.
The Luv’ya apples that are seen in Cold Storage are the cream of the crop– one that underwent about 18 months of labour. However, when you taste them, it seems like all the effort was worth it.
“We want people to enjoy eating the apples,” says Brendon. His last word to people looking to be in the produce industry would be that it does take time to see results, but it pays off, especially when you take the time to cement relationships, which is apparently what makes the apple industry – and the world, go round.
Source: The Expat September 2011 Issue
This article has been edited for ExpatGoMalaysia.com
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