Exporters turn to agtech and media to combat COVID-19

The global pandemic has forced many agri-foods to think creatively and adapt fast. From South Australian wine exporters to Queensland fruit growers and Tasmanian distillers, fresh strategies are helping Australian exporters to thrive.

“Change brings opportunities you can never predict. To survive, you need to be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice.”
– Sam Cumming, Sales Manager, Sullivans Cove Distillery

Sharing secrets with customers

Manor Estate Wines, from South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region, is a great example of what can happen when business owners step out of their comfort zone to tackle a problem.

This family-run, boutique winery focuses largely on exports, primarily to the US. Founder Peter Cap and his daughter Sharleen spent a lot of time in the US marketing their brand. But with success almost within reach, the pandemic struck.

Without personal follow-up, they risked seeing all their hard work undone. So, to keep the brand front-of-mind among clients and consumers, Peter and his younger daughter Chantelle created a documentary series, Wine Secrets. This was shown on free-to-air TV in Australia and achieved worldwide recognition. The series captures Peter’s charisma — a key part of their in-person campaign.

“Thanks in part to the documentary series, we are maintaining our momentum in marketing to overseas markets,” says Peter. “We are also experiencing an uptick in local sales.”

Peter Cap from Manor estates

Threats become opportunities

In mid-2020, Sharleen returned to New York to continue the family’s export journey. Thanks to their hard work and creative thinking, Manor Estate Wines is now servicing more than 120 high-end restaurants and clubs in New York City. It has also progressed from selling products by the case to entire containers.

Manor Estate has also caught the eye of some online influencers, potentially putting them in front of millions of prospective customers.

“Never give up,” says Peter. “You may have to change your plans, but if you’re ready to think outside the box and take action, threats can become opportunities, and potential failures can become unqualified successes.”

Agtech helps citrus farm combat higher costs

In Queensland, another regional business has found success through innovation. Family-owned Killala Creek Citrus has grown fruit for more than 30 years for domestic and export markets, particularly China.


When Australia’s borders closed, the business faced a shortage of overseas workers. This put export orders and income at risk. There were also logistical problems due to shipping delays. This all happened against a backdrop of other challenges, including a water shortage, an increasingly unpredictable climate and Chinese trade restrictions.

In response, Killala Creek Citrus reworked its hiring strategy to attract more workers. It increased pay rates, offered training to people without experience and advertised through social media.

But owner Lisa Liang-Godber knew she needed to make the business more sustainable. So she turned to technology. Embracing ‘smart farming’, the business implemented drones and artificial intelligence–based tools to monitor crop health and growing conditions.

This will help to improve fruit quality and offset rising labour costs, while optimising the use of water and other resources. It’s all part of the plan to future-proof the business.

“Smart farming makes farm management more rewarding and sustainable,” says Lisa.

Tassie distiller connects straight to consumers

Another business that has adapted and tried new things is Sullivans Cove Distillery. Based in Tasmania, it produces whisky using 100% local ingredients. It was the first distillery outside of Scotland and Japan to win World’s Best at the World Whisky Awards.

Sullivans Cove whiskies are usually in very high demand, but in early 2020, every scheduled export order was cancelled. Then two other major sales channels collapsed: the cellar door and distribution to bars and restaurants. So, the business changed its sales approach to focus more on direct-to-consumer channels, including online sales.

The pivot instantly paid off. Demand soared.

“Releases that once sold out in hours were now selling out in minutes,” says Sam Cumming, Sales Manager. “People who could never get their hands on a bottle in the past now managed to join our community.”

In another first, Sullivans used web conferencing to connect with consumers. The team hosted online tastings, whisky dinners and other brand events.

“Our efforts to connect with our consumers during the hard times have been repaid to us in both brand loyalty and brand support,” says Sam. “Change brings opportunities you can never predict.

“To survive, you need to be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. Trust your people, trust your brand — and most of all trust your customers.”

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