Wealmoor develops plant-based snack range, targets growth for understated papaya

June 18 , 2019

From the pages of Produce Business UK

UK-based produce specialist Wealmoor is developing a line of healthy, plant-based snacks under the Crave Simply brand, and revealed its ambition to demystify papayas in a bid to raise the market penetration of the so-called superfruit. The move forms part of Wealmoor’s intention to gain independent recognition for its brands and the high quality, responsibly-sourced produce they represent.

The grower-packer-distributor of fruits, vegetables and subtropical produce from around the world made the announcements at The London Produce Show and Conference 2019 (LPS19) last week, where the firm sponsored the event’s exclusive Media Masterclass on June 6, 2019.

Launching healthy snacks

“We’re working on an incredibly exciting new venture, using our own manufacturing sites to bring the newly-created craze for plant-based foods to the market in a different way,” revealed Wealmoor CEO, Avnish Malde, who spoke at length about the family-run company’s entrepreneurial and passionate spirit which goes right back to Wealmoor’s founder Rati Dhanani, who pioneered the year-round supply to the U.K. of various global speciality produce types.

“We’ve got the team and the product ranges,” continued Malde. “We’re looking to bring a great tasting, very clean plant-based snacking product to the market. It’s an opportunity to merge some of the plant protein work we’re doing. This is just a flavor of what we’re looking at.”

The Crave Simply line will use rescued produce to minimize waste in the supply chain. The raw, plant-based ingredients are air-dried, rather than being preserved or fried, to create a clean, unprocessed snack that retains more nutrients.

Set for expansion, currently the range includes sweet potato crisps in variety of flavors (cheese and onion, original and salt and pepper) as well as Coconut Bites.

Wealmoor’s Executive Chair Leena Malde told PBUK that the range is the creative vision of the firm’s New Product Development Chef, Enzo di Marino.

“Crave Simply is Wealmoor’s first move away from produce but it is intrinsically involved with fresh produce,” she emphasized. “It’s an opportunity to rescue produce that might have been wasted but is still good quality. You won’t find anything like this on the marketplace at the moment.”

Di Marino explained that Crave Simply is a “healthy, sustainable and nutritious brand”. “The products are air-dried, not fried, which makes the crisps much healthier than normal crisps,” he noted.

Demystifying papayas

Wealmoor also used the occasion of the LPS19 to announce its intention to raise the profile and sales of the humble papaya.

Avnish Malde, together with Paul Tilbury, Head of Fruit at Wealmoor, delivered an in-depth presentation about the papaya trade and the fruit’s virtues. Later Chef Di Marino gave a live demonstration of a papaya risotto, breaded papaya and papaya salad recipe in the LPS19 Chef Demonstration Kitchen.

“We’re really excited about papaya,” exclaimed Malde (Avnish). “It’s understated. It’s a really exciting product for the market, and although we have a long way to go, we feel passionate about bringing it to life.”

Tilbury described the papaya as the “underdog” that no-one knows too much about but with huge potential given the current climate on the U.K. consumer market.

“We estimate that the papaya has a U.K. market value of £13-14 million (m) worth of retail sales, but within that the market penetration probably is no more than about 3% (only 3% of households consume papaya at least once a year), whereas mangoes might be 24% for comparison,” he explained.

Tilbury believes U.K. market penetration could double to 6%, although he admitted there is much work to be done to “demystify this fantastic product” in order to raise its usage among consumers.

In terms of global production, Tilbury estimated that some 12m tonnes of papayas are grown per year, a figure that has risen by 4m tonnes over the last 20 years. For comparison purposes, he pointed out that global banana production falls in the region of 113m-115m tons, apples 80-85m tons and mangoes 50m tons.

“The papaya has a global reach but it’s an underdog,” he pointed out. “If you look at the U.K. market, it is still minuscule.”

When it comes to supply, Wealmoor was keen to emphasize the company’s year-round papaya availability, thanks to its close partnerships with growers around the world – links which go back to when the firm’s founder Dhanani pioneered the first papaya consignment from Brazil to the U.K. in the 1970s.

Today, Wealmoor sources two papaya varieties; Solo Golden from Brazil, and Solo Sunrise from Jamaica and West Africa (Ghana).

“It’s a very difficult crop to grow and export,” explained Tilbury. “It doesn’t need much from the soil but it needs sunlight and warmth (28-32 degrees Centigrade) and it doesn’t like lots of rain or humidity. The plant looks like a giant Brussels sprout, standing at 2.5m-3m high. You harvest probably one to two fruits per plant per week, then you select fruit for export, so you’re down to maybe one fruit per plant per week. It’s very volatile.

“We supply papaya 364 days a year, and that’s a real testament to the passion and commitment of the growers that we work with.”

Having established a supply chain over the last 40 years, Wealmoor believes the time is ripe to champion the papaya and its attributes among U.K. consumers, especially its superfood virtues and versatility of usage.

“It is a changing marketplace,” Tilbury stated. “There is more and more interest in the food that we consume, and what’s good for us. The papaya fits into a lot of those needs. We need to demystify it, and to encourage people to try it and understand its versatility.”

According to Wealmoor, the papaya is a “wonderful eating” superfruit that is full of nutrients (Vitamins A, C, E and K) and antioxidants, with many healthy benefits.

Going all the way back to the 1400s, Tilbury shared the story of Christopher Columbus who hailed the papaya as ‘the fruit of the angels’ after the indigenous people of the Americas recommended eating it to alleviate his indigestion. Tilbury added that super athletes often “bulk up” on papayas before endurance marathons.

Despite being very healthy, Di Marino noted that the papaya is relatively unknown. “Just 100g of papaya gives you 75% of [the recommended intake of] Vitamin C for the day,” he claimed. “You should really eat half a papaya every day!

More than just a breakfast ingredient, Di Marino said the papaya has a unique flavor, meaning it can be used either ripe and raw, or unripe in various cooked dishes. His suggestions included: raw papaya with a squeeze of lime, or cut in half and served with berries, oats and yogurt; and unripe papaya cooked in a curry or risotto, much like a marrow or courgette.

Di Marino revealed that papaya seeds can be used in a variety of ways too; either by drying them to grate or grind in a pepper mill, or eating them raw with a spoon. “Some nutritionists recommend a tablespoon a day,” he advised.

As part of his LPS19 recipe demonstration, Di Marino prepared a papaya mojito to showcase one application of the fruit for the drinks industry. The cocktail comprised papaya, rum, mint, lime, coconut sugar and soda water.

Promoting brands

Furthermore, during the LPS19 Media Masterclass, Wealmoor revealed its ambition to raise the profile of a number of provenance-focused brands created by the company in recent years: Chillifresh, Herbfresh, Love Me Tender and Saxon’s Asparagus.

“We want to get that independent recognition,” Malde (Leena) told PBUK, explaining that the firm supplies most of the U.K.'s retailers and the foodservice sector. “We’ve been happy working behind the scenes but now we feel we need to promote our business.”

Wealmoor has just launched the Saxon’s Asparagus brand for the firm’s own production, which spans 1,000 acres in Suffolk, Shropshire, Evesham and Warwickshire.

“This forms part of an ongoing farming investment; it’s an area we’re really excited about,” Malde (Leena) said. “So far, we have over 500 acres of new asparagus, and ongoing field trials. We’re extending the season with early to late varieties, and trialing varieties for flavor and growing conditions.”

Chillifresh marks another brand that Wealmoor is developing for its year-round own production of various chili pepper varieties in West Africa, Peru and the UK.

“People want a diversity of chilies,” noted Malde (Leena). “Everyone is traveling more, and being more adventurous with their cooking. We’ve had three years with Chillifresh but it’s only been spoken about within our company.”

Herbfresh, meanwhile, is a brand that represents Wealmoor’s own production of a range of herbs that are grown in Surrey during the U.K. summer season, and sold predominately to restaurants and the catering trade.

“Our Herbfresh business covers 1,000 acres in the Thames Valley just down the road [from London],” explained Malde (Avnish). “The provenance of this brand is an amazing story.”

At the premium end of the market, for the last five years Wealmoor has supplied restaurant-quality, responsibly-sourced fresh ingredients under its Love Me Tender brand. Based on provenance, quality, taste and trust, Love Me Tender includes perfectly-ripe mangoes and papayas, aromatic or Japanese stir-fry vegetables and purple sweet potatoes, among other products, and is marketed by U.K. retailers such as Ocado.

Established in 1973, Wealmoor describes itself as a global-local business that handles almost 150 different fresh produce items from around the world, sourcing by road, sea and air from either its own production bases or through close grower partnerships.

Above all, the firm has a reputation for its range of ethnic and exotic produce, as well as producing homegrown seasonal vegetables and herbs. At the heart of everything, Wealmoor actively strives to make a positive impact on the communities and environment wherever it operates.

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