If you’d been driving along Kennedy Road back in the day, you might have seen a five year-old Andrew Dunstan towing a billy cart full of kiwifruit to sell at the side of this Tauranga road. It was an early introduction to how business works, and while it wasn’t all plain sailing—sometimes Andrew and his brother Russell got paid in washers instead of cash—Andrew says those early years taught them a lot about business and kiwifruit. Since then, Andrew’s done nearly every job you can do running and developing an orchard and today he’s the CEO of his family’s orchard business, Southern Cross Horticulture, who now offer investors an opportunity to partner with them in new orchard developments. Andrew’s a typical Kiwi who doesn’t like the spotlight, but recognising that one of the biggest challenges for investors is to know who they can trust, he let us twist his arm to tell you a little about the man at the helm of SCH.
The Dunstan family comes from a long line of farmers and rural people. Andrew’s father, Chris, moved out here from Australia after their family farm got burnt out by a bushfire in 1969, and that’s how he discovered horticulture. He set up a packhouse on his parents’ land, then picked up some land of his own and started his first orchard in 1977. “He’s pretty dogged,” says Andrew, “so once he had one bit of equity behind him he just kept going.” That’s a fair bit of understatement.
Since its origins in the late 1970s, SCH has established a world-class operation nurserying, constructing, establishing, and managing orchards on behalf of its customers and investors. Today, SCH has over 100 permanent staff, around 130 seasonal workers, and around 200 contractors, with orchards and operations on 26 sites in various stages of maturity.
But as you might expect, making this progress hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Like others in the industry, the Dunstans were hit hard by PSA in 2010. Andrew had just finished a degree in finance and economics and had an offer to study overseas when the bacteria, which can severely impact kiwifruit vines, showed up on the Dunstan orchards. Andrew came home to help out and while he knew immediately that it was going to be a big problem, “within three months we all realised it was even worse than we could have imagined.”The family went through “a few pretty tough years” that affected many in the industry, losing 97 percent of revenue and laying off team members.
If you ask Andrew what got them through the crisis he simply says, “It’s all about grit.” He continues, “When I think about our current team and who will be successful over the long run, it’s the people who are more like a diesel than a two-stroke. You need to approach horticulture like a marathon – with a combination of positive attitude, determination to succeed, and mental grit.” So it’s no surprise that attitude is one of SCH’s core values alongside excellence, and you don’t have to be around Andrew for long to hear him talk about their commitment to “be better today than we were yesterday.”
These commitments are backed up by integrity, which means taking responsibility to do the right thing “even when no-one is looking,” and relationships, which means thinking of others first. For example, Andrew says if a mistake gets made or something goes wrong that SCH could have foreseen, “then we own it, even if it’s difficult or it costs us.” The last value in SCH’s constellation of commitments is teamwork, and SCH is organised into specialist units with industry-leading expertise, like investment or orchard construction, so that together the business achieves more than if they were simply a collection of generalists.
This combination of teamwork and specialisation also creates genuine resilience and longevity, which is good news for the team, customers, and investors who rely on SCH. Andrew thinks a lot about this: “we’ve made implicit and explicit promises that are bigger than any one person, so it’s about making sure that if something happens to one of us it doesn’t affect our capability to deliver on the promises we’ve made.” And SCH’s respect for expertise is why they work with Antipodes Capital on their investments. Andrew likes Antipodes because “they’re not your typical investment bankers” and they have the same commitment to values as SCH.
A lot of things have changed since Andrew and Russell first towed their billy cart around Tauranga. Reflecting on what’s ahead Andrew says, “Our future is our committed people and our ability to enjoy good times and be positive and resilient through tough times.” He also points to the world’s growing demand for fresh, healthy, safe food with a good origin story, an international trend that’s driving strong growth for kiwifruit. In the last few years, a number of investors have aligned themselves with Andrew and with SCH and partnered in one of our investment orchards. We reckon it’s because the Dunstans and the whole SCH team try hard to live their values, and they’ve got the track record to show they succeed. Investing alongside them is an opportunity to share in this growth—and to get paid in something better than washers.
Hear directly from the team behind our latest investment orchard, Hereford Park. Join Andrew Dunstan, CEO of Southern CrossHorticulture, and David Hay, principal of Antipodes Capital, at one of our free webinars on 25 November and 3 December 2021. They’ll explain the ins-and-outs of kiwifruit investing, why they invest their own money in orchard developments, and the opportunity at Hereford Park, and they’ll answer all your questions.