GROVE JUICE - WHERE DREAMS BEAR FRUIT ALONGSIDE FIELDS OF CITRUS

Dick Estens and Archer Walters are growing more than oranges in Northern NSW, together they’re forging a future where farmers are dealt a fair hand.



Within seconds of chatting with Dick Estens two things become abundantly clear: he’s the salt of the earth with some serious business nous.


His Australian accent is thick, strong like his work ethic and our conversation is peppered with laughter. It’s clear Dick Estens’ family-owned business Grove Juice secured success thanks to a heavy dose of determination, a drive to do what’s right and the kind of core values you often find cloaked in the dust of regional Australia.


Ask him where that business nous comes from though and he’ll tell it to you straight.


“I don’t know where all the genes came from,” he says.


“I don’t know what got me into cotton. I don’t know what got me into oranges. You never quite know where life’s going to take you these days do you? For me, it all comes back to how I love the challenge, I love driving the outcome. You’ve got to set your goals and take a running jump at them,” he says.


And there it is – an in-built willingness to take a leap and throw everything he’s got behind whatever comes his way.

A CROP WITH A THICK SKIN

Dick’s first business leap saw him land in Moree with cotton, which he started farming on his property Beela in 1981. By 1997, and with the support of the Gwydir Valley Cotton Growers Association, Dick used his farming work ethic to establish the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES) with the goal of providing support for Aboriginal people in Moree looking to enter the job market.


It was a move that saw him awarded the Human Rights Medal by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 2004. Come 2009, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.


Suffice to say, Dick doesn’t shy away from a challenge.


So when the region’s climate grew increasingly volatile in his cotton farming days, he began his search for a crop with a thick skin.


“Oranges were a no-brainer in my book, but first we needed to check we had a market.


“So in 2008 we headed north to Brisbane to check out a small juicing business. We bought 50% on the spot and headed home to start planting.”


By 2017, with new business partner and Grove Juice’s Managing Director Archer Walters by his side, Dick’s thick-skinned orchard was starting to take shape. While it took a further five years for the orange trees to be properly established, Grove Juice is one of the largest Australian owned fresh fruit processors in the juice category today.


“Currently we’re growing 10,000 tonnes a year and have 200,000 trees on 350 hectares – presently we’re doubling the size of the orchards, too. We’re squeezing more than 300,000 fresh oranges and pressing around 180,000 fresh apples daily at our facility in Warwick,” says Dick.



LEADING BY EXAMPLE

It’s a success story, certainly. But business hasn’t come without its challenges – the environment for one being an ongoing battle.


“The drought has had a huge impact on the industry, particularly the price of water,” says Archer.


“When those prices go up, the farmers need to look at where they can best deploy the water they have to get the best return. And the thing is, juice prices haven’t been high enough over the past few years. Thankfully, that’s changed in recent months and they’re now sitting at a more fair and equitable price for both the farmer and the consumer.”


Archer, like Dick, is no stranger to hard work. Before joining Grove Juice he’d spent the best part of a decade working in agribusiness and commodity trading in Singapore. The pair stayed in touch throughout the years, their families had grown up together in Moree after all and, back in the day, Archer put himself through university by driving tractors on Dick’s farm.


A business partnership forged on such rock solid foundations has undoubtedly contributed to the pair’s business success, along with their family values and passion for open communication with every member of the supply chain. In fact, the revision of juice prices in recent months was driven by conversations led by Dick and Archer.


“We spearheaded a really large charge there,” says Archer.


“We’re a family business so we’re pretty hands on and we don’t shy away from honest conversations. We meet monthly with our retailers to keep them in the loop and ensure everyone in the supply chain is looked after.


“Industry leaders like Citrus Australia and the Beverage Council were also a remarkable support, but it was Dick’s ground-level work with the AES that meant we had pre-existing, genuine connections and relationships with people in those organisations. We could speak openly and honestly, and work together to do what’s right.”


It’s a transparent approach Grove Juice also applies to their whole communications and social media strategy. With 140 people in the business, Dick says every single one of them chips in to help tell the Grove Juice story from growing, picking and processing across their branding, digital marketing, social media and website content.


“We have nothing to hide. We’re open, honest, and we’re a quintessential Australian business. There’s no beating around the bush here, what you see is what you get and that’s the approach we take with our communications too,” says Dick.


“We’re happy to share what we’re doing with everyone, especially other farmers, because I think furthering that agriculture information is the way of the future.”


When I asked Dick and Archer about their plans for the future, they agreed Grove Juice is only just moving into second gear.


“We want to lead by example. There are a lot of challenges within Australian agriculture right now, but we’re trying to make it right. We’re working hard to keep it Australian and keep it family owned and we’re building a platform for the next generation,” says Archer.


“We also want people to feel good when they come to work,” adds Dick,


“We encourage people to work for how it makes them feel, to take a look at what they’re contributing to, alongside their mates. You don’t want people coming to work just for the money, that’s when you’ll lose that spark. We want to make work enjoyable for people, filled with purpose and passion. You’ve only got one life after all, you don’t want to waste it.”



“We’re working hard to keep it Australian and keep it family owned and we’re building a platform for the next generation”

THE POWER OF PROVENANCE STORYTELLING

Grove Juice is a prime example of the power of provenance storytelling. The communications approach adopted by Dick, Archer and their entire team has helped them establish a remarkably strong foothold in Australia’s horticulture industry, one based on trust, transparency and strength of character.


In 2020, it was those key qualities AgriFutures Australia identified as crucial components of a business’s storytelling strategy. They realised current and potential clients alike had an undeniable appetite to understand the process behind the produce, to know where their food comes from and the people who grow it.


That’s why they’ve developed the provenance toolkit, a suite of practical downloadable resources aimed at Australian producers who want to build an impactful provenance narrative of their own.


“Giving consumers line of sight to where and how their food and fibre is produced is no longer a strategy reserved for small boutique business,” says Jennifer Medway, AgriFutures Australia’s Senior Manager, Business Development.


“Market insights from the research showed how producers can take their own production stories and turn them into successful marketing strategies. The resources in the toolkit are tailored for small to medium-sized food and fibre businesses – and they equally fit with family farms to sole traders. You don’t need an army of communications specialists to make this work for you and your rural business.”


It’s a strategy the Grove Juice team has down to a fine art – it comes naturally to them because it’s who they are, it’s how they choose to do business and consumers and brands alike are hungry for it.


After all, humans have been sharing stories for as long as we’ve had a language to tell them in. It’s how we connect, problem-solve and rationalise the world around us. It’s how we’re wired. And since one in five consumers make food and beverage purchasing decisions based on provenance, it’s more important than ever to arm yourself with the tools needed to share your story.


Start today by visiting: www.agrifutures.com.au


{words: Steph Wanlessphotography: Melanie Jenson}