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There’s so much to love about the sweet, aromatic mangoes at Coles

Find out more about the Manbulloo mangoes at Coles.

There’s nothing more Australian than eating mangoes during the warm weather. The juice running down your arm as you bite into that golden flesh, along with the deliciously sweet taste. Marie Piccone, Managing Director at Manbulloo, agrees. “All we want is for people to have a smile on their face when they eat our mangoes, and to be really disappointed when they get to the end,” she laughs. While Manbulloo is one of the biggest producers of mangoes in Australia, unlike many other growers, Marie isn’t a generational farmer. She didn’t grow up on farms, and didn’t have that first-hand knowledge of how challenging life on the land could be. “I originally did agricultural science at university,” Marie says. She then spent years consulting with farmers, but was always looking for her own opportunities.

Those opportunities came in the way of three dilapidated mango farms – one in Katherine, Northern Territory, and two near Townsville in Queensland. “The trees, brand and infrastructure were all rundown,” she says. “The only reason I bought them was because we could afford them! And that’s how I became a mango grower.”

While Marie has no regrets, she admits there have been some big challenges. One of those has been the remoteness of the farms, particularly Manbulloo Katherine. “The isolation is very real,” Marie says. “There are challenges from finding great suppliers to building supply chains and getting key staff. At our Katherine farm, we might have 10 people during the year and then we swell to 200 during the season.”


Mangoes on a tree

The heat in the top end is also a major factor. “The fruit doesn’t like it too hot and neither does the machinery, and we obviously don’t want people out if it’s too hot,” Marie says. To combat that, picking starts around 4am so the crews are finished by the hottest part of the day. “Katherine can get to 42°C by 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” Marie explains. On the flip side though, the location is partly responsible for the top-quality mangoes Marie grows. “The fruit literally glows,” Marie says.

“When the picking bins come in, the fruit has this pretty pink blush and the skin is glowing. The soil type gives them the colour and all the sunshine gives them their wonderful flavour.” Marie says everything they do comes back to that eating experience and delivering quality fruit to Coles. This is particularly true in picking season when it’s all hands on deck. The fruit is all handpicked by crews of three to four people. Some are dedicated to picking while another person is just responsible for washing the fruit in a de-sapping bath (as sap can burn the fruit). There are also teams wetting down the red soil roads to stop the dirt causing abrasions to the fruit.

Looking after the land

While producing quality fruit is of the utmost importance to Marie, protecting the natural environment is also a top priority. “Since the day we bought those farms, we’ve had sustainable practices,” Marie says. “Whenever we’ve been able to do something that’s better for the environment, we have.”

Some of those practices include having a robust solar infrastructure, and installing soil moisture monitoring devices to prevent overwatering. “In terms of packaging, we use recycled and recyclable trays, and to move fruit around Australia, we use rail where possible instead of road transport to help reduce our carbon footprint,” Marie says.

Manbulloo mango farm

Team Mango

Since 2005, Manbulloo has grown from three locations to seven across Queensland and the NT. “Our growth was all about increasing volume to keep up with demand,” Marie says. “That’s exciting because it means more mangoes for Australians.”

Marie is quick to recognise the support she has received growing the business, particularly from Coles. “Our relationship with Coles is really solid,” she says. “We call Coles ‘Team Mango,’ rather than Coles,” Marie says. “Coles’ success is our success and our success is Coles’ success.”

These days, Marie refers to herself as a Northern Australian, following the mango season across the country. And while it hasn’t always been easy, life on the farm has always been exciting. “I do love the challenges, and I love what we’ve built as a team,” Marie says. But most of all she loves producing great-tasting mangoes for Aussies.