VoiceOver users please use the tab key when navigating expanded menus

Kings of the apple aisle

“I was born into the apple industry but for me, there was no romantic notion attached to it because I could see it was in decline from its peak in the late 1960s.” – Andrew Smith, Managing Director, R&R Smith

Andrew and his dad Ian

Andrew Smith is happy to admit when he was 20, sailing a yacht in the Mediterranean just off Sardinia, Tasmanian apples were the furthest thing from his mind.


It was the mid-1990s when he set out for Europe, leaving behind the R&R Smith farm – which his family had owned and operated since 1888.


At the time, the future of the apple industry looked bleak.


“I was born into the apple industry but for me, there was no romantic notion attached to it because I could see it was in decline from its peak in the late 1960s,” Andrew says today.


“I guess the industry has gone from over 1100 fruit growers in the state to probably around 20 now. You either competed or you got out.”


Andrew was more interested in travelling and sailing than working the farm. So he struck a deal with his Dad to work for six months before heading off to Europe.


While crewing a yacht in the biennial Fastnet Race, he got a phone call from his Dad, Ian, that changed everything.


“I was on a boat in Sardinia, having a ball going around the Med, and my old man called and said, ‘you need to think about this. This might not be here if you don't come home’.”


“I made that decision and I came home.”


Looking back, this call from Andrew’s Dad set him on the path to business success.


A time of change


Under Andrew, R&R Smith was the first apple grower from Tasmania to get a national vendor number with Woolworths. Another innovation included launching the popular Willie Smith’s cider brand.



But along the way, there were plenty of things which could have upset the Smith family’s apple cart.


Like the 1967 bushfires which destroyed the packing shed and the near collapse of the apple industry following Britain's move to join the European Common Market.


The farm endured though thanks to innovations such as controlled atmosphere storerooms, improved apple graders, adoption of modern cardboard packaging and a focus on Asian exports.


But global trade pressures by the mid-1990s were becoming too much.


Luckily for Ian, Andrew had also spent time on his European trip meeting apple growers everywhere from Holland to Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. One change influenced by his time in Europe was planting high density orchards.


“We got a lot of strategic advantage out of doing that,” he says. There was obvious resistance and people looking over the fence. Fruit growers and farmers are great at looking over the fence to see what other people do.”


Willie and Elsie Smith – Andrew’s great grandparents and the first generation


Organic growth


His next move was to get the business certified organic. “It saved our backsides,” he says.


Capitalising on the burgeoning locally grown, fresh produce market was a savvy move, but Andrew says those early days were tough. The business was losing money and he wondered if the gamble would pay off. It did – but it took four years.


“We nearly drove the business off a cliff” before securing a lucrative distribution deal with Woolworths which changed everything.


Ian sadly passed away last year but not before he saw his faith in his son pay off – and knowing the family business was in safe hands.


“We were in a category that was shrinking and we moved over into a category that was growing,” Andrew says. “We took that opportunity and we took it with both hands.”


Unidentified people on the farm


A happy accident


Andrew says the next significant growth stage happened almost by accident.


In 2008, the business had grown so much he noticed second-grade product was sitting in the backyard before it was disposed of.


“The alcopops tax (which taxed pre-mixed drinks) came in and we thought here's an opportunity to produce some alcohol.”


Andrew flew to Sydney and established a business relationship with a marketer working at Diageo.


“We got together, we put some seed money on the table and started Willie Smith’s, which is now a medium-sized cider producer and very close to 1 per cent of the Australian cider market.”


But the business is not standing still. Andrew has built a scalable organic management plan for horticulture, to the delight of many major customers.


“We feel we're all on the growth journey. If you're not growing, you're going backwards.”


Mark Bennett is Head of Australian Agribusiness with ANZ


Aus agri: expanding relationships in India

The newly signed free trade agreement between Australia and India will create opportunities for growth in parts of the local agri industry.

Bae: more than a ‘cute idea’

Inspired by an overseas jaunt, Bae Juice is now stocked in major retailers across Australia and the US.

Why this small business is the torque of the town

Passionate car enthusiasts are helping drive a surge in business for WA-based mechanic Monsta Torque.