By Elaine Fisher
This article was first published in the November 2020 issue of The Orchardist.
The pride a Bay of Plenty orchardist showed when, in a Japanese supermarket, he invited a mother and daughter to sample kiwifruit he had grown reinforced for Mel Auld the reason she is part of New Zealand’s horticultural industry.
“I had accompanied a group of growers of the sweet green kiwifruit to Japan where we watched sampling in a large supermarket. The growers were checking Kpins on the trays to find their fruit when I saw Ross Bawden of Pukehina, with tears in his eyes, proudly holding a tray of his fruit,” recalls Mel.
Ross shared some of the fruit with a mother and daughter, telling them, through an interpreter, that he had grown it. They in turn thanked him and said the fruit was delicious.
“It was a heart-warming moment which enabled growers to connect with their customers and illustrated the passion growers have for what they do and how proud they are to grow fruit which is healthy, delicious and of such high quality.
“That’s why I’m in the horticultural industry. It is creating value for New Zealand and is full of great people who are down to earth, deeply caring and have the grit to get through tough times like Psa-V, the attack on Zespri’s single desk status, and Covid-19,” says Mel, a former Zespri global marketing manager, and now global marketing manager for BerryCo.
Also a member of Women in Horticulture, Mel describes herself as a passionate environmentalist and is inspired by some of the changes happening in the primary sector.
“I’m looking forward to a greater focus on human practices (including farming) that are regeneratively aligned with the ecological systems they’re a part of. In addition, I’m a big supporter of improved representation of women, youth and different ethnicities on leadership and governance teams that will bring fresh perspectives to enliven discussions and outcomes.”
Her working life began in the hospitality sector. Mel grew up immersed in nature at Lake Okareka
near Rotorua and attended Rotorua Lakes High before completing a course in hotel reception at the Waiariki Polytechnic. She then worked at THC Waitomo Caves Hotel and the Royal Lakeside Novotel Rotorua as part of the opening team.
That was followed by working in London, and then with four great mates, travelling Europe in an orange Kombi Van called ‘Tumeke’. One of those mates was Bran Auld from Dunedin. “We fell in love in Rome in 1999 and have been together ever since.” The couple, who now live in Tauranga, have two sons.
When Mel returned from her OE she joined Carter Holt Harvey’s communications team in Auckland. That was where Mel experienced firsthand how influential a mentor can be. “My manager, Dellwyn Stuart, was a staunch leader who encouraged and supported my continued
education, giving me the opportunity to complete a graduate diploma in communications and public relations, for which I am forever grateful.”
Later Mel worked for SkyCity as part of its investor relations communications management team. It was while she was there that Mel was offered the role of communications manager with Zespri
in Mount Maunganui and the prospect appealed. “It felt closer to heartland NZ and people working the land. It was the complete opposite to SkyCity.”
Turners & Growers’ legal challenges to dismantle the Zespri single desk status (under which only Zespri can market New Zealand grown kiwifruit to the world (except for Hayward green to Australia) was among the big comms projects Mel headed.
“The overwhelming support growers showed for the single desk through surveys we did, reinforced the commitment to stand firm in the long campaign to defend it. The positive to come out of the challenge was the unity it created among growers.”
The strength of that unity was again demonstrated when the vine disease Psa-V was discovered on a Te Puke orchard in late 2010. “I was communications manager at the time, and I remember the longest of the long days the team worked was 22 hours.”
Mel is proud of how the industry came through the crisis, how growers were supported, and despite the incredible stress they were under, there were no suicides. A new gold G3, with tolerance to Psa-V, had just been released enabling the industry to quickly recover.
In 2018 Mel left Zespri to focus on family and her transformational coaching and consulting business. By early 2019 Mel was asked to join BerryCo. The company licences New Zealander growers to grow blueberries sourced from Mountain Blue Orchards in Australia. “These berries are large, crunchy and exceptionally delicious, unlike any blueberry I’ve ever seen in New Zealand.”
To date, 80ha of the licensed varieties are growing in New Zealand for local market and for export to Asia, with major markets including Vietnam, Taiwan and Singapore. Mel has visited the markets and says there are plans for a new brand launch next year which will differentiate BerryCo blueberries from the competition, strongly resonating with consumers and bringing more value back to growers.