Booster Spotlight Series - Darling Group

11 August 2021

As New Zealand’s projected population growth is expected to hit 6 million by 2030, how do we ensure a continuous supply of produce to support a growing population?

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s global forecast for food demand has estimated a 60-100% increase in food demand over the next 30 years to cope with the anticipated population growth . New Zealand’s trend looks to be similar.

It’s an area that Booster’s Tahi investment team sees strong growth potential; further diversifying Tahi’s portfolio of investments and securing a long-term investment in a value chain of ‘land to consumer’ produce.

Healthy functional foods with good provenance

One key aspect for the Tahi team has been looking for investment opportunities in a supplier of healthy, functional foods with good provenance and an established value chain. Understanding where the food comes from and how it’s been grown is an important factor for long-term sustainability and retail appeal. 

Which is why we’re so excited about our latest addition to the Tahi investment portfolio: Darling Group.

Established by Andrew Darling, Darling Group is a leading supplier of avocados and citrus in the New Zealand market, representing approximately 20% of the domestic citrus crop and 25% of the national avocado crop.

Darling Group is a family-run company that comprises:

  • Just Avocados, New Zealand’s third largest avocado exporter 
  • JH Leavy & Co., a significant produce wholesaling, conditioning, and logistics company in Brisbane
  • Zeafruit, a marketer of avocados and citrus to New Zealand retail
  • Avoworks, an avocado, kiwifruit and blueberry orchard development and services company 

As well as working with third party-growers in New Zealand, Australia, USA, Mexico, Chile and Peru, Darling Group also procures from a range of owned or managed orchards, providing an end-to-end service from orchard development and management through harvest, packing, cool storage, and logistics through to distribution to end retail. With a focus on supplying New Zealand’s major supermarket chains with avocado and citrus all year round, chances are you’ll be eating fresh produce either grown or sourced and supplied by the Darling Group.

A family business

Andrew Darling’s passion for horticulture started in 1983 while working in a kiwifruit orchard and pack house. After a four-year stint in the USA, Andrew returned to New Zealand and purchased an interest in a packing facility in Katikati.

Over the next 20 years, Andrew grew this operation into the Darling Group – a land to consumer supplier of fresh produce; namely avocados, citrus and more recently, blueberries.

Two of Andrew’s sons hold pivotal roles in the business – Jacob Darling is the GM Group Sales and Marketing for Darling Group Marketing, and Nathan Darling is GM of Avoworks. Andrew’s wife, Jo, is involved in the Katikati blueberry orchards.

New Zealand’s unique mix of arable land and fresh water creates ideal growing conditions for quality produce. “We nurture our New Zealand produce in pristine growing conditions,” comments Andrew, “and we take a great deal of pride in our growing expertise and orchard management practices.”

This attention to detail will safeguard the longevity of their orchards and ensure supplies of fresh, quality, New Zealand-grown produce for many years to come. 

A company with purpose

“Our purpose is to help the world eat healthier – everyday! We do this by growing, packing and exporting a year-round supply of premium fresh produce from international origins including Australasia and North and South America,” states Andrew. 

“We’re a family-run New Zealand company who has taken quality fruit to Asia, Australasia and the USA for over 20 years. Our global supply network ensures we bring consistency of quality and volume to the marketplace for 12 months of the year.”

Darling Group’s business model

As well as working with growers in New Zealand, Australia, USA, Mexico, Chile and Peru, Darling Group itself is a significant supplier of avocados, kiwifruit, blueberries, and citrus in New Zealand.

Darling Group’s network of local and international produce growers ensures they are able to supply supermarkets with avocados and citrus fruit all year round. This makes Darling Group a preferred supplier of choice with key supermarket chains – able to fill seasonal gaps with globally sourced produce.

Darling Group is vertically integrated in the New Zealand avocado sector and has a unique model in the industry with owned orchards, a harvesting and orchard services company, a packing facility, a registered export entity, and a market presence for receival, conditioning, and sales of fruit in Australia and New Zealand.

Darling Group’s long-term strategy is for vertical integration in the horticulture industry – to be involved in the supply chain from growing through to in-market representation.

Booster Tahi investment

Darling Group’s vertical integration strategy and unique business model was a key factor for Tahi’s investment into the company.

“Booster was attracted to the Darling Group because of their vertical integration strategy and demonstrated achievements to date. When compared to others in the avocado industry, Darling Group’s model is unusual and offers Booster the ability to invest across the produce supply chain – be that vertically through the layers of the industry or wider into new fruits. It’s an opportunity to invest in a New Zealand company doing what they do best and help them to grow,” explains Duncan Wylie, General Manager – Strategic Development, Booster.

“Bringing in an external investor is a strategic decision to facilitate our continued growth and will enable us to continue our pathway of a fully integrated business in the international horticulture industry,” says Andrew.