| NABOWLA, Australia, July 18
NABOWLA, Australia, July 18 Half a dozen older
ladies, all kitted out in lilac shirts, chat affably as they
rhythmically stuff and sew up cuddly purple-coloured bears, cups
of tea littering their workspace.
It could easily be a women's club gathering anywhere in
middle Australia, but these women are producing a teddy bear
that has become one of the most sought after commodities in
Bridestowe Lavender in Tasmania is the headquarters of
"Bobbie Bear", a lavender and wheat stuffed soft toy that
became a craze after sultry actress and model Zhang Xinyu said
it was her favourite bedtime companion.
In the year since Zhang's endorsement, sales of the bear -
created by the 90-year-old company to use up offcuts of dried
lavender - have soared and Chinese tourists have inundated the
small farm on the remote northeastern coast of Tasmania to buy
from the source.
"We were run off our feet and people were changing clothes
in the parking lot because we imposed a limit of one Bobbie per
customer," said Bronwyn Bishop, sales and marketing manager at
Bridestowe's "lilac ladies" pumped out 40,000 bears last
year, currently selling for A$89.95 ($84.33) a piece - still
well short of a demand that saw some 300,000 counterfeit bears
produced elsewhere in Australia and China.
The problem with those copybears was that they couldn't
replicate Tasmania's reputation for clean produce. China
temporarily banned all imports of the bears after one of the
fake bears was found to contain moths and weevils.
Bridestowe Lavender is one of a number of niche producers in
Tasmania taking advantage of the export gold star afforded by
the state's genetically modified organism free status.
The rapidly growing whisky industry also benefits from the
squeaky clean image that status brings.
From a standing start just over two decades ago, there are
now eight distilleries across the island.
"We've got perfect water, an ideal climate temperature wise
and from a moisture point of view and incredible barley and
grains from the field," said Phil Fitzpatrick of Redlands
Distillery, which is working on a special vintage for a Japanese
This year, a whisky from the Sullivans Cove distillery in
the state capital of Hobart was named best single malt at the
prestigious World Whisky Awards in London, a prize that has been
dominated by Scottish and Japanese distilleries.
Elsewhere in the state, Tasmanian Saffron Pty Ltd is
building up a following in Asia for exports of the most
expensive spice, gram by gram, in the world. Shima Wasabi Pty
Ltd now makes up the biggest wasabi crop in the southern
hemisphere, producing fresh wasabi for both Australia and small
export volumes to Asia.
($1 = 1.0667 Australian Dollars)
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)