Timing is everything with fresh fruit

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This is the second article in a series about Waikato business entrepreneurs and innovators, supported by the Waikato Innovation Park Business Growth Services team.

Selecting and enjoying fruit is a pretty personal experience for most consumers.

How often have you caught yourself, at the shops, squeezing an avocado to gauge its firmness, its readiness to eat? Or eyeing up tomatoes or summer fruit for colour, taste and perfect plumpness?

Delytics managing director Mark Loeffen uses mathematical algorithms to detect the best time to harvest fruit.

There is nothing as disappointing as purchasing fruit then getting home and finding it is poor quality – overripe or with an unappealing taste or texture.

Food marketers and growers know if they can harvest and deliver fruit to consumers at the optimum time – when it is perfectly ready to eat and tastes and looks its best – then they will come back and buy more. Get it wrong, and they are less likely to be back.

But how can you measure when fruit will taste its best?

Hamilton-based business entrepreneur and innovative thinker Mark Loeffen is onto a winner with his business Delytics, which uses mathematical algorithms and clever analytics to help fruit retailers and marketers to make those kinds of decisions.

“The technology we have developed is quite revolutionary,” says Mark, Delytics’ founder and managing director. “There is an incredible demand at the moment.”

Sitting in his office at Waikato Innovation Park, with pastureland outside the window, Mark turns to his computer to explain how Delytics works, and how it is attracting interest from companies from Australia, Chile, California, the United Kingdom and Spain. “Our vision is global – you are sitting here in the global headquarters of Delytics,” he says.

It’s crystal-ball thinking – the kind of innovation that is game-changing for an industry. “What we can do is we can predict a consumer’s liking for a piece of fruit before harvest,” says Mark.

Through a series of graphs and charts, he explains how Delytics’ clever mathematical software can help predict how a fruit will taste to consumers depending on when it is picked. It analyses attributes such as size, colour, texture (firmness/softness), sweetness (brix) or sourness (acid) at different points in time – and depending on your consumer market – helps growers and marketers to choose the best harvest window.

“Taste is a very subjective and complex thing,” admits Mark. “Too much acid is not good but too little and a fruit has no ‘bite’, no zing and can taste bland – so it’s about finding a balance. Each grower knows what they want to grow – we give them tools to make decisions to suit their market.”

In New Zealand Mark has worked extensively with citrus growers, with much success. Following new fruit quality maturity standards recommended to New Zealand Citrus Growers Inc (NZCGI) by Delytics, consumer acceptability of New Zealand navel oranges went from 62 percent to 93 percent in one season. Simply put: retail sampling of oranges by consumers showed they tasted much better.

When fruit tastes better, consumers will buy more, and will come back again.

This research, and Delytics’ reliable and innovative system, enables fruit growers and marketers to more consistently bring great fruit to market – fruit that is ripe and ready to eat. It’s that kind of reliability that is attracting international, as well as local, interest.

Mark has a background using science to support New Zealand’s primary industries. He spent 20 years in research and development at MIRINZ (Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand, now part of AgResearch) before founding Seafood Innovations. From meat to seafood, Mark applying his expertise to the fruit industry from the mid-2000s.

He was asked by Zespri, New Zealand’s successful kiwifruit brand, to develop a decision-support system in the mid-2000. From there, Delytics was born.

In the past few years Mark has spent a lot of time in Australia, using Delytics to support the development of the Queen Garnet plum (Nutrafruit.com.au), which is used as a nutraceutical, and the Calypso mango – renowned for its sweet tasting firm flesh, small stones and good quality. Mark has also worked with avocadoes, blueberries and there’s talk of pineapples in his future.

From a business growth point of view, Delytics has the potential to boom. However, the past few years have been about education, hard work, and strategy. “When you have a revolutionary product the early part of it is education,” says Mark. “People need to become aware of you and learn about how it works.”

The support he has received from the Business Growth Services team at Waikato Innovation Park has been part of Delytics’ evolution.

The Business Growth Services team is funded by the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN), a central government initiative to help build business capability for growth. RBPN is led by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and Callaghan Innovation. The aim is to support businesses that have high-growth aspirations and are also export focused, technology-driven or have innovative products or services with real commercial merit. The services are free to all greater Waikato businesses, not just those based at Waikato Innovation Park.

A Business Growth Services team member, Peter Maxell, had good connections in the United Kingdom, and helped open doors in research and development circles. “He put the word out, and that has been very helpful in creating connections,” says Mark. “People buy from people, and we are in the business of building long-term relationships.”

Business Growth advisor Peter Davey has been working with Delytics on strategy. “The key to a successful business is strategy,” says Peter. “What are you going to do with your business is a vital question. If you don’t know which road to follow, you are going to get lost.”

Calling on Business Growth Services’ expertise to assist Delytics has been invaluable, says Mark. “The company is going forward in a positive direction, thanks to strategic thinking.

“We don’t know everything about everything, and I believe it’s important to seek advice from others to grow.”

Like all emerging businesses, he admits it has been difficult, but thanks his wife Clare for her ongoing support and encouragement.

For inspiration, he references a famous quote, given by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941 at a school: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Adds Mark: “It’s important to have a support network around you – friends, business associates and family who believe in you and can encourage you not to give up.

“Has it been difficult? Absolutely, there have been tough times. But it’s in the process of taking off, and that’s very encouraging.”

For more information on Delytics see www.delytics.com


TIPS FOR NEW BUSINESSES

from Peter Davey, Business Growth Services advisor, Waikato Innovation Park

  1. Create a road map for your business, so you know where you are headed. The word ‘strategy’ sometimes frightens people off.
  2. Validate your idea or business. Test it in the market place. Ask people what they might pay, to get a sense of the true value. Test your assumptions before sinking a lot of money into something.
  3. Make sure that you have a sounding board (or two) in place. That might be a business advisor, your accountant, or a mentor. A lot of people work in isolation and that is dangerous (especially to your pocket).

People interested in getting advice and support for their new business idea, product or service can contact 07 857 0538 or businessgrowth@wipltd.co.nz

For more information see www.wipltd.co.nz/what-we-do/grow-your-business

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