“We can translate our Staycrisp product to Asia if we can sell the story about what we do” Don Ruggiero with his ANZ agribusiness manager Craig Clogg.
THERE’S not much Don Ruggiero doesn’t know about growing and marketing a lettuce.
He has turned paddocks of conventional iceberg lettuces into a popular consumer brand name, Staycrisp, in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
The specially bagged, longer shelf-life salad staple has also appeared on Sydney supermarket shelves in the past six months.
The Ruggiero family’s SA-based Swanport Harvest business is chipping away at the export market, where Mr Ruggiero sees great potential if he can convince overseas retailers to recognise what good lettuce looks and tastes like.
“You’d be silly to ignore the export market,” said Mr Ruggiero, whose Murray Bridge farm has been in the family since his parents Charlie and Maria moved there 45 years ago.
“I think we can translate our Staycrisp product to Asia if we can sell the story about what we do and the quality we produce.
“There are only 22 million people in Australia and in reality we’re probably over-serviced with a choice of retailers and growers.
“It’s unlikely to get easier to make money supplying the domestic market – margins will probably get tighter – but export markets could certainly help spread our risk.”
Mr Ruggiero and his wife Kathy triple-crop lettuce and broccoli on their 64-hectare irrigated farm where they employ about 40 staff and harvest six days a week, all year.
Every 12 months their enterprise produces about 1400 tonnes of broccoli and six million heads of iceberg lettuce, which are bagged in the field as they are picked, then graded for size, tagged for traceability and rapidly chilled.
“We decided we had to do something different …”
A new range of cauliflower and sweeter, half-sized petite cauliflower heads has also been launched this year, attracting strong consumer support in SA and Victoria.
Within 20 minutes of being taken from paddock temperatures of about 20 degrees Celsius, the freshly-picked Swanport crop is cooled to just two degrees, ready for transporting to supermarkets and greengrocers.