NUTTY PROFESSORS:Agrimac general manager Darren Burton, left, and executive chairman, John Wilkie
NUTTY PROFESSORS:Agrimac general manager Darren Burton, left, and executive chairman, John Wilkie

IT AIN?T PEANUTS

By NERIDA BLOK

UNITED States confectionery giant, Hershey's, has gone nuts over the Northern Rivers' macadamias.

And Alstonville based processor, Agrimac, has cashed in on the increasing demand by signing a 12-month contract to supply 220 metric tonnes of macadamias worth $3.8 million.

Agrimac general manager, Darren Burton, said the contract would represent 15 per cent of the processor's total annual production, which is expected to be 5000 tonnes of nut in shell (NIS) this year.

"It's very exciting because it can only create increased demand for macadamias in the US," he said.

"It's great for the region and it's great for the growers because creating demand is a way of keeping prices firm."

Mr Burton said 45 per cent of the world's macadamias were consumed in the US, so the market was the biggest in the world for Agrimac.

"I'm speculating, but with this deal, we will be the largest supplier of macadamias to Hershey from Australia," he said.

While excited by the deal with the company, which markets well-known brands including Hershey's, Reese's, Hershey's Kisses and Kit Kat, Mr Burton said the contract was not one Agrimac went chasing.

"Hershey's had been courting us for about a year," he said.

"They told us we've been targeted because of our worldwide reputation of reliably supplying high quality macadamias."

Mr Burton said Hershey's purchased major Hawaiian based macadamia processor and retailer, Mauna Loa, last year and estimated most of Agrimac's order would be initially used to ensure supply of macadamias for Mauna Loa's own product range.

"But I think we can expect to see our North Coast macadamias in Hershey products," he said. "There's huge opportunity there."

Mr Burton said consumer demand in the United States for macadamias was being driven by the nut's health benefits.

"In the US consumer perceptions of macadamias have changed dramatically from being seen as a fatty, unhealthy snack," he said.

"With research and promotion being done, people now understand how healthy macadamias are.

"Also in the US, you have the low carb diets like Atkins and macadamias fit into those diets very well."

Helping to secure the lucrative US deal was Agrimac's executive chairman, John Wilkie.

Mr Wilkie said the contract would essentially give North Coast farmers a direct conduit into the biggest retail market in the US.

"Mauna Loa are already the biggest retailer in the US and added to that we have Hershey's which are indisputably the biggest confectionery retailers in the US."



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