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Noni fruit could prove a winner for the Pacific

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated August 24, 2011 16:47:00

It smells awful, tastes ghastly .. and it won't win a beauty contest .. but a humble fruit looks set to become an economic win for the Pacific.

The noni, used as a medicine for hundreds of years by ancient Indians, could prove a boon for the Pacific Islands.

Chinese businessman Jack Chen has struck a deal to import millions of litres of noni juice from Samoa to China in a venture being overseen by former All Black Michael Jones.

The Natural Dairy contract requires it to supply 800 thousand litres of the juice by January, increasing to three million litres next year, and five million litres in 2013.

Michael Jones is Group Manager of New Zealand company, Pure Pacifika Limited.

He started by saying he's shocked by reports .. calling the fruit names like "vomit fruit" and "dog dumpling".

Presenter: Sonja Heydeman
Speaker: Michael Jones, Group Manager of Pure Pacifika Limited

JONES: It's funny, it's the first time I've ever come across that actual terminology for nonis. I'm not to sure if it's a Kiwi twist on it, because there's no doubt it's a different tasting product and it's an acquired taste, but certainly in the islands in the Pacific it's referred to more adoring names such as the Tree of Life which refers to the fact that when our Pacific forefathers came across the Pacific, they took it as they're not only a food source but as a medicine kit, so it could be used for any such a broad array of ailments and disease and infection. So it was actually referred to as the Tree of Life, because every part of the tree can be used for medicinal purposes and even the sacred fruit, because it was held in such high regard by our forefathers. So that is actually the first time I've ever seen it referred to in those terms.

HEYDEMAN: Well until recently, Samoa has mostly exported its noni juice to Japan, but in comparatively small quantities. Where are you finding new markets and what sort of volume are we talking about?

JONES: Well, we're fortunate to pursue an opportunity to China with a company that's actually a specialist in beverages and bottling and actually have amongst other things rice wines and capability to develop fruit blends, and so they're developing a lifestyle drink. The fantastic part of that also is that they have a retail capability in the form of a concept stores where they will sell our products as well, so from our end, our company Pure Pacifika, which is a Kiwi Pacific company, we will purchase the money off the families and the villages and safely way pay a premium price. We will juice it in our own juicing factories and not only Niue, but also in Samoa and we're also looking to do the same in the Cook Islands and then just ship it straight into South China and then the company will take it from there and not only manufacture it into a lifestyle drink where they blend it with other fruits like pear and orange and then they create a really fantastic lifestyle drink that doesn't lose the nutritional value. And then they sell it straight into their stores. So we're really targeting the 300 million middle class Chinese who have got a real appetite for high protein, but also high value products, special medicinal purpose products.

HEYDEMAN: Are there any other specific products, if you like, that might be in some way incorporated or you could get that sort of value once you opened up to the Chinese market?

JONES: What I mean noni has been exported out of the Pacific for a good ten, 15 even 20 years through the Tahitian noni which was the US company that first really commercialised it, so they're a billion dollar company and they use multi-level marketing and that's sort of been the traditional vehicle to get noni into Europe and the US and even a little bit, and off to Japan and even a little bit into China. But this is a different model, because it's really direct from the grower to the retailer. Noni's actually been exported throughout the Pacific. Cook Islands have traditionally exported to Japan, but obviously there's a little bit of a depressed market after the earthquake and the tsunami. So that's why we hopefully provide a solution for the depressed growing market in Raratonga in the Cook Islands and Aitutaki and so that's good story too. There are other products as you mentioned that Pacific products like ava which is the kava. There's a lot of interest in how that could be blended into all sorts of different things and that's proven to have some really wonderful medicinal purposes. But even cocoa, cocoa can be blended into a lot of things and even other products like natural artesian water. So these are a lot of Pacific potential that we see for the Chinese market.

HEYDEMAN: What does it actually mean for the families of Samoa at the moment? What sort of impact has it had?

JONES: Yeah, I mean it's been great. I mean even as we speak, we're able to pay nine tala for a packet of noni, which is twice as much as they were receiving previously and obviously we can do it under a lot more volume, because of the demand for the volumes that we're contracted to supply. We had to get it right across Samoa, so it's not just pockets of Samoa. it's actually right across Samoa. So yeah, that automatically is it's a cash crop, so it just goes straight into buying food, sending your kids to school, church obligations, whatever it is and then the multiply affect is quite significant and then its export earnings for the government and then we believe hopefully it will negate our dependence in the Pacific on remittances, especially out of New Zealand and Australia and the United States. So we know that with the global recession, that's really taking up and our people aren't sending back as much. This is a real positive in that regard.

HEYDEMAN: Michael Jones, just finally, how do you respond to people who might speculate at this point that it's possible your considering a career in politics. What do you say to that?

JONES: Yeah, I mean it's very flattering that different parties obviously the most I suppose prominent party here in New Zealand is the National Party and yes I have been approached by our prime minister, but just nothing that I'm really interested in right now.

HEYDEMAN: Does no mean never though?

JONES: Eh, no, it doesn't mean never. Of course I've got to be potentially prepared to go into politics if I feel really called into that and if that's my circumstances at the time, but it's certainly not on the radar right now.

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