WITH its wine bottle packaging, slick labelling and attractive golden hue, Hansen Tasmania is taking apple cider to a whole new level.
Marketing manager Baden Ribbon said the company wanted to directly add value to its juice grade apples.
"For any Australian cider producer using 100 per cent real apple juice there is no choice but to be in the high end cider market," Mr Ribbon said.
"In Australia the cost of growing and harvesting apples is very expensive and once you add the storage, production and logistical costs of creating a retail ready cider you are looking at a much more expensive product than the mainstream apple ciders made from concentrate."
In terms of branding and style, Hansen Orchards deliberately aimed for the premium market as opposed to the craft market.
"We feel there is a difference between the two and that there was more of an opportunity in the premium space," Mr Ribbon said.
Getting to the point of launching a high-end product comes off the back of a long history of apple production for the Hansens, and within that, a willingness to branch out to new areas and explore innovation.
The Hansen family has been growing apples in Tasmania for four generations.
These days Carl (third generation) and his son Howard (fourth generation) are in charge of the business.
The Hansen family orchard lies in the green hills of the Huon Valley, Tasmania, beneath the rocky face of Sleeping Beauty.
The cool climate, fertile soil and pure air allow for a long, slow growing season, which makes the Huon Valley the perfect place for an orchard.
The business grows Envy, Jazz, Eve, Rockit, Ambrosia, Royal Gal a, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Fuji, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious apple varieties.
Leading the charge for many of the innovative approaches has been Howard Hansen.
The committed farmer and Tasmania advocate was taken by the apple industry from a young age.
"The thing I enjoy most about being a grower is producing healthy fruit out of nothing more than sunlight, water and love," he said.
He brought years of informal training with him when he studied farm management on the mainland at Marcus Oldham College at Geelong, Victoria from 1992 to 1994.
His drive to seek out new options for the family business could be seen in his major research project in his final year where he looked at the opportunity of growing sweet cherries.
"As a result of studying it, that's now become the most important part of our business and we're significant growers and exporters of cherries," he said.
Howard's great grandfather, Carl, began growing apples in Tasmania in the 1890s at Nubeena on the Tasman Peninsula.
In 1944, Mr Hansen's grandfather, Rupert, relocated his family to the Huon Valley with the purchase of an existing apple orchard at Grove.
Now, after more than six decades, that property is still the base for the family business.
It houses the cool stores, packing facilities, offices, plus the homes of Mr Hansen and his father.
In total, the business is currently producing from 85ha of apples and 130ha of cherries throughout southern Tasmania.
The cherries are harvested in January and February, with the apples coming on soon after in March.
Both crops are sent to retailers right throughout Australia.
According to Baden Ribbon, there are opportunities for family-owned farming businesses.
"Australian people are very loyal and supportive of family-owned farms so as long as we can continue to offer up reliable, good quality produce that represents reasonable value then we feel our future is as optimistic as it's ever been," he said.
The need for continual innovation within the horticulture sector has pushed the Hansen family to think beyond standard practice.
The operation is also working with a Tasmanian research body to improve cherries in general.
Hansen Orchards has partnered with the ARC Training Centre for Innovative Horticultural Products within the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture on a research project looking at extending the shelf life of cherries.
The project involved PhD candidate Claire McCrory, who followed the journey of Hansen Orchards cherries to Queensland last summer, measuring different storage and transport temperatures during the cherries' trip north.
"Storage temperature is extremely important for the shelf life of fruit, and cherries are particularly vulnerable to temperature changes," Ms McCroy said.
"The time between picking and cooling cherries is really important. They need to be cooled fast so they maintain that high quality that Tassie cherries are known for."
Hansen Orchards donated more than 2000kg of cherries to the research.
Mr Hansen said the business was fully on board with improving the industry as a whole.
"People can't get enough of Tassie cherries over summer, so I'm supportive of any research to keep them fresh for longer," he said.
"This research will also reduce waste, which is really important for such a highly prized little fruit."
Beyond the farm gate, the business is known for its community involvement and generosity through the donation of apples to youth sporting events and schools.
"We were alarmed to discover that nearly two out of every three Tasmanians are considered obese or overweight and that nearly one out of every three young Tasmanians between the age of two and 18 were also considered obese or overweight," Mr Ribbon said.
"Apple consumption is on the decline in Australia and is currently recorded at 8kg/person/year.
"That is not even one apple per person per week. At Hansen Orchards we feel that we are in a great position to have a positive impact on the health of Tasmanian people and therefore we developed a strategy to hand out free high quality apples across the state."
In association with the Tasmanian School Canteen Association and SecondBite, Hansen Orchards created the "Free Apples for Tassie School Kids" campaign, giving away fruit to educational institutions.
Last year, the business gave away 140,000 free apples to Tasmanian school students.
It took 18 months with the logistical support of Loaves and Fishes Tasmania which distributed the apples to more than 250 schools across the state.
"We grow some new and exciting apple varieties such as Jazz and Envy," Mr Ribbon said.
"We are confident that if Tasmanian people get the opportunity to try a high quality eating apple such as Jazz and Envy they are likely to enjoy it and want to eat one more often.
"We gave ourselves the ambitious target of handing out a free apple to each school student in Tasmania.
"With thanks to the logistical support of Loaves and Fishes we recently delivered apples to every school in Tasmania with a total of 140,000 free apples handed out.
"We hope that these young Tasmanians enjoyed the apple and will get themselves into a healthy lifetime habit of eating an apple a day."
That investment back into the community is part of the Hansen Orchards ethos.
"Investment in people, investment in varieties, investment into growing practices, investment into retail partners, investment in technology and investment into supply chain management to ensure our apple and cherry consumers get the best eating experience possible," Mr Ribbon said.
- A special Signature Properties lift out will feature in your agricultural weekly on May 2, so be sure to pick up your copy of North Queensland Register, Queensland Country Life, The Land, Stock and Land, Stock Journal or Farm Weekly on Thursday, May 2.