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Canberra international flights a boon for regional food producers

by December 28, 2016 General

Stallholders at the Capital Region Farmers Market are celebrating a noticeable jump in sales following the start of direct flights between Singapore and Canberra.

Since September, overseas travellers arriving in the nation’s capital have been buying thousands of dollars of premium and packaged food produced in the ACT and New South Wales.

Vacuum-packed, or cryovaced, beef from Minto Galloways at Springrange in NSW is among the most popular bulk purchases by foreigners who find themselves at the market.

The brisk trade is a welcome development for co-owners Greg Stuart and Chris Hart, who as small farmers, rely on direct customer sales.

Mr Stuart said his farm chiller was practically empty due to new customers vying for his premium cuts of eye and scotch fillet, sirloin and porterhouse steaks.

“The competition of buyers is fantastic,” he said.

Mr Stuart said a group of Chinese visitors who had flown in from Singapore recently bought all the farm’s beef at the markets and shipped it back to Singapore.

“It was a very good sale, they bought about $400 of top cuts,” he said.

“They assured me providing the meat was cryovaced and had labels with the correct regulation approvals they could easily take meat back to Singapore.

“We do six markets a month and sales have been steadily increasing for quite some time and some of that is the Singaporeans.”

In October and November Singapore Airlines carried more than 26,000 passengers on the Singapore, Canberra and Wellington route, which runs four times a week.

Qatar Airways will begin another direct international service from Doha to Canberra in 2017, which means potentially even more new customers for stallholders at the markets.

Tourism should ‘promote sales from the market’

Every fortnight Mr Stuart yards two steers for the butcher and all cuts are sold direct to customers at markets including the Capital Region Farmers Market.

He said his herd of hairy and rare Scottish cattle are in top condition after a wet spring.

“Some people say that they are teddy bear cows,” he said.

“Their fury face and short legs sort of add to that …. there’s lots of meat on their bodies as well.”

The boutique beef farmers began direct marketing in 2002 during the drought.

“This is a great opportunity and it would be very helpful if the market and Singapore Airlines could get together with ACT Tourism and actually promote sales from the market,” Mr Stuart said.

‘Learning opportunity’ for stallholders

The Capital Region Farmers Market at Mitchell in Canberra’s north has been run entirely by volunteers since 2004.

It was created to provide an outlet for small regional producers to sell fresh local food and to raise funds for Rotary community projects.

Since its beginning more than a decade ago, the number of registered stallholders has grown from about 10 to 150.

“We have certainly noticed a lift and you feel it sometimes when customers don’t just buy one product, they buy a whole bundle,” stallholder Peter O’Clery said.

Mr O’Clery has operated Homeleigh Grove Olives at Wallaroo since the late 1980s and is among a handful of farmers and Rotary Club of Hall members who created the market at the Mitchell site.

He said the new passenger sales were providing a valuable boost to the bottom line for traders and an opportunity to showcase the region’s best produce to the world.

“Certainly international visitors are looking for a food experience and to experience the community,” Mr O’Clery said.

“We have got to push ourselves into being considered a must-see visitor experience.”

Mr O’Clery said increased demand for presents and gifts was also creating opportunities to present local products differently.

“Present a little bit better in a way that someone would be happy to take home with them and give to their loved ones,” he said.

“This is a learning opportunity for all of us.”