Consumers switching from cheaper imports to Australian produce are creating a boom for small businesses championing local goods and finding uses for odd-sized fruit destined to rot in paddocks.
- Food producers are taking Australian fruit otherwise destined for waste heaps
- These collaborations are helping reduce food waste and create jobs
- Consumers want to know “where their product comes from”
Farmers and boutique manufacturers report a surge in consumer demand for local produce since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kokopod founder Brigid Woolnough said that, with international travel off the cards because of COVID-19, her Buderim, Queensland, chocolate business had at least doubled in 12 months.
“I’ve noticed consumers care more about local,” Ms Woolnough said.
“COVID has allowed us to connect with more consumers than we were before because it’s even more important to them to find out where their product comes from.
“I think people are wanting to indulge, and if they’re not able to travel and they’re not able to spend on other luxury items, they at least are able to have a small luxury.”
Ms Woolnough buys ingredients from Australian producers for an “artisan” range that includes flavours like lemon myrtle and macadamia, orange and fennel, sour mandarin, plum pear and pepperberry, and chilli raspberry.
The former primary school teacher, who started chocolate making as a hobby on maternity leave, now employs 12.
Her collaborations with Australian beekeepers and farmers have led to more than 20 chocolate products, including Tasmanian leatherwood honeycomb, ginger macadamia, and orange and almond.
And Ms Woolnough has helped farmer Mandy Schultz find a use for excess fruit at her LuvaBerry farm as part of her “war on waste”.
Three years ago Ms Schultz was forced to dump “perfectly good” strawberries deemed too small for supermarkets, but which Ms Woolnough said were “the perfect size” for covering in chocolate and freeze-drying.
Ms Schultz said dealing directly with consumers and wholesalers had created new avenues for orders for frozen and freeze-dried fruit, some of which “I haven’t been big enough to handle”.
“We’ve got more and more people buying from a wholesale perspective for ingredients for cookies, chocolate and cakes,” she said.
Demand doubled for Stuart and Allison McGruddie’s range of frozen Australian fruit last year, helping them end dumping and waste due to supermarket specifications.
“This is creating so many jobs.
“We’re finding a home for berries that don’t make it to supermarket shelves.”
The couple launched MyBerries in 2012 after watching perfectly ripe, flavoursome fruit from their brother Richard McGruddie’s farm buried or fed to cows because it was judged too small, too large, or too ripe for retail shoppers.
They employ between 14 and 25 people, depending on the season, and are planning to expand with a purpose-built factory.
After using MyBerries strawberries in a specialty biscuit last year, Arnott’s has incorporated their fruit into a Moreton Bay dark choc raspberry Tim Tam.
Brisbane-based Nutradry freeze dries their fruit while Beerenberg in South Australia has purchased strawberries to meet increased demand for their jam.
‘They want to buy Australian’
Mr McGruddie says consumers are more conscious of where their food comes from.
“A lot of our current retailers who might have stocked one line or two lines, have turned around to make that extra space and take on all our lines, because people are asking for it.”
According to the latest figures from Hort Innovation, Australia imported more than $3 billion worth of horticultural products in the year ending June 2020. Of that, $1.1 billion was processed fruit.
The nation exported $3 billion in horticultural products in that 12 months, mostly fresh fruit.