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Celebrity chef Stone visits area

Curtis Stone visited Wyuna's Mercuri Family as part of a Goulburn Valley visit yesterday.

ALEXANDRA BOLKAS February 13, 2014 4:08am

Meeting supplier: Celebrity chef and Coles ambassador Curtis Stone and Mercuri Family Farms partner Damien Mercuri.


It was long day yesterday for chef and Coles ambassador Curtis Stone, who began his visit to the Goulburn Valley with a trip to Wyuna’s Mercuri Family Farms.

His visit is part of a national tour of Coles’ Australian produce suppliers.

The growers have supplied the supermarket chain with Entice tomatoes for 30 years.

Damien Mercuri said the family business that produced 1.4 million tomato plants a year on 89ha had come a long way from his grandparents’ humble Neapolitan beginnings.

‘‘They came out in the mid ’50s,’’ he said.

‘‘My grandfather was sponsored out here by a family that grew tomatoes, so in order to pay his voyage he had to work for them.

‘‘And this is where we’ve ended up today.’’

Mr Mercuri said it was important for supermarket chains to support local growers.

‘‘Supermarkets are major players in the retail sector and without their backing of the product it is very hard to go ahead,’’ he said.

He said supermarkets buying imported goods — such as canned Italian tomatoes — at dumped prices was a problem for Australian growers.

But it did not affect his fresh tomato business.

‘‘It’s definitely an issue, it’s more of an issue for our government to take up with tariffs and protecting local industries rather the the supermarkets themselves,’’ he said. ‘‘But I think the consumers have got to get on the front foot and let supermarkets know they want to support local produce. If we get enough people power we can put pressure back on them not to do it.’’

His comments come as an Anti-Dumping Commission report found canned Italian tomatoes had been dumped below the cost of production, affecting local producers such as SPC Ardmona.

Stone said it was up to consumers to support local growers at the supermarket checkout.

‘‘The consumer is always in charge, as a consumer it’s easy to point the blame on other people,’’ he said.

‘‘Imported products are cheaper, but we have to have discipline and say ‘no, we’re not going to buy that’ to support local businesses.’’

Stone said consumers had skewed priorities when buying fruit and vegetables.

‘‘We’ve created a bit of an environment where our priorities have gotten a little bit wrong,’’ Stone said.

‘‘The appearance is really important, convenience is really important and taste and health is important, but third or fourth — it should be the reverse.’’

He said it was refreshing to visit the family-run business.

‘‘I go all over the world and meet farmers from everywhere, but when you go to the farms the reality is there are chairmans and it’s a big business,’’ Stone said.

‘‘But here the majority of farms are family-run businesses; it’s a beautiful thing you can’t care about something as much as you care about your own family’s things.’’

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