New Aussie products take avocado value-adding to new level
The Fresh Produce Alliance's new Avovita and Born Pure lines show high pressure processing (HPP) can be used for a lot more than just juice and guacamole. The Western Australian company recently invested AUD$6 million (US$4.5 million) in the technology to better harness the nutritional benefits of fresh produce, giving consumers allergen-free, preservative-free processed food that retains the taste and color of the fresh crop.
No lactose, no gluten, no nuts, the company's vegan-friendly chocolate avocado mousse found a last minute spot at the Melbourne Fine Food Show last month.
The product almost went back to Manjimup, Western Australia with a best new product award to its name, but lost out to a brand of tea.
"There are four products in our Avovita range but our hero line is obviously the avocado chocolate mousse, and that's the one we had all the packaging ready for," managing director Jennie Franceschi tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
"Some of the feedback we got is that it merchandises really well in the healthy, vegan, free-from sections in the chiller rather than the dessert section.
She highlights there are no preservatives or additives in the mousse, even to the point the company buys its own vanilla pods because vanilla essence contains alcohol for preservation.
"With the rice milk we do it ourselves as well rather than bringing in rice milk that has something in it to preserve it." Franceschi adds.
As for the cocoa, the group only sources powder from farms that meet the Fresh Produce Alliance's sustainability and fair worker treatment standards.
"I needed to know wherever we were getting ingredients we were contributing to a sustainable practice. Trying to get coconut milk, I couldn’t get coconut milk that met our requirements, so we get our coconut from Dr. Dan’s coconut project [Kokonut Pacific] in the Solomon Islands.
"He [Dan Etherington] has this project where he’s helping develop industry in the Solomon Islands that supports those communities and makes them less reliant on international aid, so I wanted to support that product," she says, adding the company imports coconut cream which is then turned into coconut milk in Australia.
Finding new avenues for Australian produce
The main ingredient in the mousse however is the Avovita's namesake avocados, a crop which has seen a rapid growth in plantings in Western Australia over recent years.
"I also run an export business, and we have limited market access in terms of where we can go with fresh product because of biosecurity," says Franceschi.
"We just don’t have the protocols – we can get into open markets but we can’t get into other ones because avocados just haven’t ranked highly for Australia.
"So I thought if we’re going to create an avocado product to access markets off-shore or domestically, which should help stabilize the fresh Australian market, then we need to have a product that could access all markets because all these volumes are going to come in.
"And if we don’t have an avenue to sell it, we could see market instability or lower returns to the grower."
This fact concerned Franceschi and her team enough to invest in HPP, which unlike other processing practices keeps the product cool, thus better maintaining flavor and nutritional attributes.
"I did a lot of market research and testing for a couple of years before we invested in this," she says.
Other products launched under the Avovita line include a 100% pure avocado purée, and avocado mango smoothie and an avocado kiwi banana smoothie.
"Not only are we working with the chocolate mousse, the smoothies and 100% Pure, but we wanted to know what else we could do for the rest of horticulture because 30% of horticulture doesn’t leave farm gate because it’s too big, too small, not enough color, too much color or whatever reason.
"We wanted to be able to help farmers within the region – we’re in a real food bowl here and there are so many amazing products grown in this region.
"But we are taking produce from other regions – the sweet potatoes are grown in Queensland but we still take them."
It all comes down to sustainability. For example, if a supplier can provide six metric tons (MT) of organic carrots per week, Franceschi will go to the company's food technologists for developing recipes to incorporate the crop.
"We’ve actually managed through all of our R&D to do Navel orange juice and we’ve got some we did on the 15th of June - we played around with pressures and timing, and it’s 100% Navel.
"Navels have an enzyme where as soon as they juice it and get oxygen to it within a short space of time it gets a bitterness to it. When they’re making juice usually they use Valencias because that enzyme is in the seeds and not the flesh.
"So they’ll only take maybe 20% of Navels to put into a Valencia juice but they won’t take more than that because of the bitter tone it creates."
She says traditionally the only way to get around this issue has been heat pasteurization, but that affects nutrition and flavor.
"People will still buy heat pasteurized Navel orange juice, but we’ve managed to cold pasteurize it and we’ve worked out how to do it so we don’t get the bitter tone.
"That means what we could do is instead of dumping all of those we could juice them and have a Navel juice line.
Developing better, healthier palates for babies
Franceschi says with all the potential fruits and vegetables the group's packing facility and equipment could process, there have been several brands in the works. One is Born Pure, and HPP baby food range that could be launched within the next two months.
"The baby food range is also targeting nutrition – we are making nutrient-rich food but it's cold pressure protected, not retort [processing practice], so that keeps the nutritional integrity of the product but it also has that flavor and color you get on HPP that you just don’t have on retort," she says.
She adds the baby food has to be kept in the fridge though, unlike more highly processed baby foods.
Australian companies and even individuals have been making a lot of money selling baby formula to China, where there is a general mistrust for local product. Could Born Pure find similar opportunities in the baby food space?
"We did go to China to have a look at what they had available in China and I was pretty disappointed – I was really disappointed in how many baby ranges have got a lot of sugar in them, and for some of them it’s the second ingredient.
"I even find that in Australia some baby foods even use apple juice concentrate, which is just concentrated sugar really. Born Pure does not use any concentrates or added sugars, flavors or colorings.
"Our Avovita chocolate mousse for example – if you’re a diabetic, there is some sugar in it but it’s coconut sugar so it’s low GI, and we’ve had insulin-dependent diabetics eat it and have absolutely no spike at all."