Viberi and the Blackcurrant industry

Blackcurrants are a household name in New Zealand and in the cooler areas of NZ, all the old home gardens had a bush or two. A lot of our grandparents would have fed us up on them to fight off colds and flu's, and with good reason as blackcurrants are very high in vitamin C, typically 5 times more than oranges and many times more than most other fruits and berries.

What wasn’t so well known in days gone by are the other properties of blackcurrants that new research is beginning to show in everyday health. There has been a range of research papers that have shown positive benefits in areas such as memory retention and brain function, reduced blood pressure, improved eye health, enhanced immunity, fat burning properties and improved muscle recovery leading to better sports performance (2.4% in a recent UK trial, which for elite athletes is a massive benefit). There is ongoing research as to why blackcurrants are causing all these great benefits but the fact that blackcurrants are very high in antioxidants (measured by the levels of anthocyanins) is considered a key component, particularly New Zealand blackcurrants which can have up to twice the level of European fruit

This year the New Zealand blackcurrant crop was down in yield by about 20%, from 8500 tonne to 6500 tonne, harvested off 1500 hectares. Approximately half of this goes to Frucor for the well-established Ribena brand.

The market is changing for the New Zealand crop away from the traditional markets of jams and juice, partly because of the concerns around sugar intake and partly because the markets, particularly the export markets of Korea and Japan, are using blackcurrants more for the health and nutrition benefits. Whole freeze dried fruit or powder (which is from the freeze dried, but milled) is very popular as there is very little nutritional or anthocyanins lost through manufacturing as there is no heat used and all the fruit, including the skin of the fruit is retained (with juice the skin and fiber is discarded). The other advantage of freeze dried or powder is that the product can keep for many years if kept in airtight conditions and the product is light meaning minimal cost for freight. There are also extract products that have elevated levels of anthocyanins but as there is heat involved the vitaminC is lost.

13 years ago my wife, Afsaneh, and I bought a blackcurrant farm and were blown away by all the health benefits that many research papers were showing. Hand in hand with this was the desire of the industry to minimize chemical use to produce fruit with little or no chemical residues. People that are concerned with health and wellbeing are also very concerned about the environment and that what they ingest is pure. With this in mind we decided to convert our blackcurrant operation to organic. Now all our fruit is certified Biogro organic and the only large scale organic blackcurrant property in New Zealand.

To differentiate ourselves in the market we created our own brand, ViBERi New Zealand and have a range of retail products including frozen free flo, soft dried (sweetened with organic apple juice), freeze dried and chocolate rolled. We were fortunate to be finalists in both the 2015 and 2016 NZ Food Awards for the freeze dried and the dark chocolate rolled blackcurrant products. We have just extended this retail range to include 3 different sized packs of powder and 3 new chocolate variations. We also supply a number of other food manufacturers for cereal mixes, ready to drink juices and snack bars. Export sales of powder to Korea have been particularly strong in the last 6 months after a TV documentary on New Zealand blackcurrants was screened, followed by several TV Home shopping channels featuring New Zealand blackcurrants.

It’s really rewarding growing and producing pure certified organic superfood products and taking this to market.

Since 2011, husband and wife owners, Tony and Afsaneh Howey, have been producing their ViBERi range: 100 per cent organic, artisan, super-foods, created from their finest, freshly picked New Zealand blackcurrants. 

Located in South Canterbury’s Pleasant Point, ViBeri is the largest certified-orgnanic blackcurrant orchard in New Zealand.