Find out all about Eureka blueberries, exclusive to Coles.
Ridley Bell is considered to be blueberry royalty in Australia but there was a time when he had to put everything on the line for the sweet little berry. “Dad was working in a research institute in Victoria in the 1970s and brought in a whole lot of rare fruits to Australia,” says Ridley’s son, Andrew Bell, Managing Director Mountain Blue Farms. One of those new fruits was the blueberry. “He grew a few, then went down to the markets and wandered around until someone decided to buy them. He got a phone call the next day saying ‘When can I get more?’.”
As interest grew, Ridley quickly realised that the future of the industry wasn’t in Victoria. Blueberries needed a more moderate climate to thrive so he threw in his safe government job, packed all of his belongings and moved to Northern NSW.
He believed blueberries had a big future with health-loving Aussies. “Growers used to say to him, ‘Ridley, it’s all about yield, no one cares about flavour. People cook with blueberries’. Dad didn’t believe that point of view,” Andrew says. “He saw a future where people would pick up a punnet and eat them fresh.”
Jump forward to 2008. Ridley had established a successful blueberry business, Mountain Blue Farms, and blueberries had become the snacking option he knew they could be. Ridley, however, was still searching for the next big thing. And then he found it… the Eureka blueberry. “It was a step change from anything anybody had seen before,” Andrew says. Much larger than a regular blueberry, the Eureka blueberry could be called a jumbo berry. It is dark blue in colour and has a distinctive crunch, or pop, when you bite into it.
As you’d expect, the discovery was a eureka moment for Ridley and his family. “Every year we plant thousands of different seedlings of potential new varieties, and then Dad and his team walk up and down the rows looking for new, exciting, interesting things,” Andrew explains. “One day he was out in the field and came across this berry. He called his wife – my stepmum – and said you’ve got to see this. When she saw it, she exclaimed ‘Eureka! You’ve found it.’ And that’s how the name came about.”
Soon after the discovery, Andrew contacted Coles to tell the team of the new find – a 100 per cent Australian berry that would have customers clamouring for more. The team agreed, which is why Eureka blueberries are now found exclusively at Coles.
These days, Andrew has taken over the business side of Mountain Blue Farms, while Ridley spends his time in the nursery, concentrating on research and development. The main operation is still in Tabulam, Northern NSW. “The climate is perfect,” Andrew says. “Blueberries really thrive here. We have a small amount of chill through winter and a warm spring, we have great land and good access to water. You put all those things together and it’s just the perfect area to grow blueberries.”
To increase the supply of blueberries across the year, Mountain Blue Farms has expanded into Queensland and Victoria. While they’re not quite there yet, the goal is to increase the growing season so you’ll find Eureka blueberries on shelves all year round. Andrew is adamant about one thing though: “We’re not going to compromise on quality to have a Eureka product on the shelf that doesn’t live up to the standards we have set,” he says.
Quality is the number one priority at Mountain Blue Farms. The berries are hand picked to ensure all care is taken with the delicate fruit. They’re also grown under protected cropping – or ‘tunnels’ – to provide even more protection. “In our main production area, we often have a really wet October, so having the ability to pick in the rain is pretty helpful for us,” Andrew says. The tunnels also protect against frost and can help with yields, as well.
The Bell family’s dream of blueberries becoming an everyday snacking option has definitely come to fruition. “Blueberries were a specialty product back then and certainly weren’t eaten like they are now,” Andrew says. “Now I like to think they’re a snacking product that competes against chips and biscuits, particularly for kids.”
Andrew believes part of the blueberry success story is the healthy relationship the Mountain Blue Farms team has with Coles. “It’s built on years of trust and consistency,” he says. “Fresh produce isn’t like producing ice cream or some other product – we’re subject to the weather and a whole range of different things, so having those relationships where we can ring up the team at Coles about anything is really important. At the heart of it – it’s good people working together to solve problems and get good quality products on shelves.”
So how do the growers themselves like to enjoy the fruits of their labour? While Andrew mainly likes to eat his blueberries fresh, he does have some ideas for using them in cooking. “My mother-in-law makes a great jalapeño and blueberry relish, so you really can get creative,” he says. And when it comes to buying your berries? “Look for good size, good shape and good bloom,” Andrew says. “The bloom is the white waxy looking coating on the blueberries. It is naturally occurring and it’s there to keep the product fresh for as long as possible.”