New varieties developed at The University of Queensland (UQ) of the delicious berry-like ancient Chinese red bayberry fruit (Myrica rubra) are closer to a global market launch following a licensing agreement signed with a Victorian-based grower-owned berry production and marketing company, Y.V. Fresh.
UniQuest, UQ’s main research commercialisation company, negotiated the deal after successful trials with growers along the Australian east coast, engagement with tree propagators and fruit marketing companies, and a number of fruit test marketing activities.
UniQuest Managing Director David Henderson said the partnership between UniQuest, UQ, Y.V. Fresh and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) will facilitate establishing the red bayberry industry in Australia with Australian government and industry funding.
“Partnering with one of the Australian berry industry’s major stakeholders is a significant move forward for the red bayberry project in terms of market readiness, and also because Y.V. Fresh will be funding ongoing R&D, and that will be supported with a HAL grant,” said Mr Henderson.
“UniQuest has licensed the UQ red bayberry Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) to Y.V. Fresh so that they and their sub-licensees can propagate trees for fruit production and sell that fruit.
“Y.V. Fresh has also licensed the Ruhbi trademark from UniQuest, which will become the product’s brand. Thus, it’s a multi-level intellectual property deal involving royalties from both the use of the trademark and the sale of trees propagated under the PBR licence in Australia and New Zealand,” Mr Henderson explained.
Red bayberries (also known as Yang Mei) are sized similar to cherries and have been grown in China for centuries for their refreshing flavour and perceived health benefits. Nutritional analyses of the red bayberry in Queensland, China and Japan show high levels of antioxidants and other potentially beneficial phytochemicals. The fruit has properties claimed to be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic.
“The red bayberry has some key advantages for entering the lucrative fresh fruit market. Firstly, it has a pleasant fresh taste, whereas other recently commercialised ‘superfruits’ are almost exclusively marketed as relatively lower value processed or dried products,” Mr Henderson said.
“Secondly, as a tree fruit crop red bayberry should cost less to produce, but can still command a premium retail price similar to blueberries and raspberries. These are important return on investment factors for attracting commercial partners.”
Red Bayberry has not been widely propagated as a commercial crop in countries other than China. However, Professor Daryl Joyce of UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences has been selecting and evaluating new varieties in collaboration with colleagues overseas and in Australia, including from Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
“Funding from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) has been crucial for developing our varieties in readiness for commercialisation – enabling a scoping study and the pilot research into germplasm evaluation, seed and vegetative propagation, agronomic and postharvest handling practices, and consumer acceptance,” Professor Joyce said.
“These genotypes are now thriving from Queensland in the north to Victoria in the south, and commercial yields of the fruit can commence in just three years after transplanting well-developed nursery plants.”
"Y.V. Fresh is committed to new industry developments and technical innovation for the benefit of consumers. Working with The University of Queensland is an exciting new way for us to introduce another delicious summer fruit to Australian families,” said Y.V. Fresh CEO/Director, Mark Chapman.
“Y.V. Fresh growers produce more than a third of Australia’s raspberries and blackberries, as well as blueberries, strawberries, krimsonberries, loganberries and red currants. We hope the Ruhbi Red Bayberry will become another Aussie family favourite from our berry basket in just a few years,” Mr Chapman said.
While Y.V. Fresh focuses on developing the crop in Australia and New Zealand, UniQuest will continue to seek investment and partnership arrangements to establish global production and marketing networks.
The UQ Red Bayberry
The fruit look like berries but are not berries.
The attractive and tasty fruit are deep red in colour when ripe; bite-sized like a lychee (approx. 2.5-3 cm diameter); and have a soft texture with a central seed about the size of a cherry stone.
The main Chinese varieties, such as BiQi, are not available outside of China.
The sugar:acid balance and flavour are agreeable to the European palate. Focus group research shows that consumers enjoy the berry-like fruit, describing it as similar to mulberries in flavour; juicy, ‘explosive’, plump and fleshy; fresh and crisp; flavour-intense; and having a good balance of sweetness and tartness.
The evergreen Red Bayberry trees grow vigorously in the sub-tropics, reaching approximately 4m in height after three years.
The fruit is wind-pollinated, with male and female flowers borne on different trees.
If left unpruned, the cropping tree will gradually develop a skirt of branches touching the ground and an open, spreading habit.
Flowering in Queensland occurs from mid-August to early October and crops must be harvested every 1 to 2 days for 2 to 3 weeks directly from the tree with gentle finger pressure.
A 2-year-old transplant tree can produce approximately 5-20 kg of fruit, with yields potentially increasing to approximately 30-40 kg per tree in the third year.
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UniQuest Pty Limited
Established by The University of Queensland in 1984, UniQuest is widely recognised as one of Australia’s largest and most successful university commercialisation groups, benchmarking in the top tier of technology transfer worldwide. From an intellectual property portfolio of 1500+ patents it has created over 70 companies, and since 2000 UniQuest and its start-ups have raised more than A$450 million to take university technologies to market. Annual sales of products using UQ technology and licensed by UniQuest are running at A$3 billion. UniQuest now commercialises innovations developed at The University of Queensland including the Institute for Molecular Bioscience and its commercialisation partner institutions: the University of Wollongong, University of Technology Sydney, James Cook University, University of Tasmania, Mater Medical Research Institute, and Queensland Health. A recent addition to the company is the Queensland Government-supported ilab technology business incubator and accelerator. UniQuest also provides access to an expansive and exclusive network of independent academics to tailor a consulting or project R&D solution to meet the diverse needs of industry and government, facilitating some 500 consulting, expert opinion, testing, and contract research services each year. UniQuest is also a leading Australasian provider of international development assistance recognised for excellence in technical leadership, management and research. Working with agencies such as AusAID, NZAID, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, UniQuest has developed and implemented more than 400 projects in 60+ countries throughout the Pacific, South-East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Africa.