Avocados have always been the key to success for Jennie Franceschi. Now serving as the Managing Director for Avocado Exports, Franceschi first started working with the fruit on her father’s farm in 1974; her summer job soon became her passion, and she has carried that passion throughout her journey with the company.
“Avocados have probably been my life ever since that, and an industry that I love,” she says. “There’s a lot of really interesting people, and I know people from all over the world because I’ve been in it quite a long time.”
In 1987, Jennie and her husband Wayne moved to Pemberton, planting orchards to expand growing grounds beyond Perth. After 20 years of growth, the Franceschi’s sold their share of the orchard, investing in a packing facility in Manjimup to meet the industry’s high demands for their product, and focus more on the development markets for local growers.
“The export company came about in 2009, and that was something we were equally passionate about.” The company started through Avocados Australia, a key organisation within the industry. After a facilitated meeting was held to outline potential export models for industry leaders, Avocado Exports was formed.”
In 2011, a conflict of interest arose with the current general manager, and Franceschi was asked to take over by fellow directors of the board. From there she continued to better the company, introducing any potential business plans where she saw fit. She ensures that the company is able to supply avocados year-round, and her current project involves the reduction of agricultural waste, made possible by the use of High Pressure Processing (HPP) and Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) methods by Avocado Exports and their shareholders.
“There’s so much product that doesn’t get utilised – doesn’t even make it to market,” says Franceschi. “I spent some of my journey looking at age care. I was trying to find a way to look at how to get a better deal, because currently they don’t.
“So, some of the project that we’re doing with the processing – which we call Fresh Produce Alliance – is about not only addressing a potential future oversupply situation for avocados, but what can we do for other horticultural commodities or agricultural commodities that helps utilise food waste so that we can give them, basically, a better return on their investment.
“We wanted to be able to make people in rural areas profitable, and so we created a mission outlining what we wanted to do, and that was to champion a sustainable agricultural ecosystem for future generations with innovative technology to produce naturally healthy delicious real foods that people love.”
One of Avocado Exports’ main innovations for utilising agricultural waste is the use of HPP to add value to a product that is otherwise considered useless. Rejected fruits and vegetables are sent to the company’s facility, where the HPP machine is put to work to repurpose what has been left behind. “We know that with HPP we can tenderise meat, so we would be able to potentially use lesser-graded cuts that are tougher and be able to use them and create something that’s healthy and nutritious and then able to be eaten by our elderly community.
“It’s not just the elderly community we’re focussed on, we’ve got some definite other lines that we’re working on as well that is likely to be launched in the middle of the year, and I think these will be pretty exciting – both domestically and for export.”
Even with the growth of the industry, everything is done with sustainability in mind in order to preserve rural investments and expand possibilities for future business ventures.
“What we’re trying to do is create added value to farms. We want to make sure that they are supported, can grow and also retain those people in the rural areas to keep our communities stronger. The other thing that we want to do is try and create some opportunities for younger people, and I think that they quite often don’t know about the technology and the options along those lines; they don’t realise how exciting that food production and food science can be. So we’d like to create some opportunities along that field.”
“The thing is, with the industry, it is a growth industry. The past few years have been quite stable. The weather’s been good, we haven’t suffered dramatically over those sort of things. A lot of trees have gone in the ground and the volumes are considerably increasing going forward.”
In about five years, Franceschi expects productivity to increase exponentially, with 6 or 7 million trays of avocados to be packed each year, from their packing operation themselves. This growth challenges the ability to maintain supply in order to meet demand, and access to HPP and IQF will make it easier for Avocado Exports to provide their products both locally and internationally.
“To be able to get fruit by security protocol in other countries is a long process. Therefore, the reason why we are now developing other product lines in the process is because we can access international markets with processed products that we can’t with fresh. The reason why we’re doing it now [is] because we know [that] in, probably around five years’ time we’re really going to need it. If we are going to not get into an oversupply and domestic market collapse, then we need to think really hard about how we’re going to grow our export market, and because of the market access issues, that’s why we’re looking at process.”
In light of this knowledge, Franceschi has been asked to assist product development in Japan, Singapore and China. “We’ll have to start at small markets and then grow it as production increases; but it’s interesting, because market access is the biggest issue. I think this relates to not just avocados, but a lot of other products – and we’re fortunate that we have a 12-month supply where others don’t, and avocado is a very trending fruit.”
But it hasn’t always been that way. Before it was considered a superfood, the avocado sat at the top of what Franceschi refers to as “the dark food pyramid” because of the amount of fat it contained. Since that reputation has been squashed, however, the demand for avocados has seen a great deal of growth. “That’s an international global trend, and if we want to take advantage of it, then we can’t rely on the government to suddenly get us market access. It doesn’t happen that easy. This is why we’re going down to minors of both IQF and HPP.”
Even in its processing practices, Avocado Exports takes care to abide by quality assurance standards. The company does everything in their power to make sure that the product is handled properly from when it leaves the facility to when it arrives at its designated location. A lot of time has been spent on promotion of product and education on proper handling techniques in order to ensure quality from farm to kitchen.
“There’s a lot of education, and that’s a continuing cycle, because we need to teach them not only supply chain management, but also how to ripen them, how they can grow their business through doing different offers, and how they can do a more conditioned product to their customers.”
Along with sustainability, commitment is important in assuring and maintaining quality products. “It’s very important that industry and supply chain partners will work together for the greater good to make sure that we have some stability, and are proactive in dealing with these volumes as they come – and, the past 10 years, the industry has been very good at that.”
Franceshi is happy with the partnerships that Avocado Exports has developed over the years, especially those that have contributed towards their future success. In 2012, the company won an Emerging Exporter Award at the Australian Export Awards; they credit Trade Investment Queensland for this endeavour, as the agency encouraged them to enter.
“We just thought we were little fish in a big ocean. It might have been the growth that we had over that period of time when we had a high dollar. The export dollar was very high, so to get considerable growth when our dollar was so high, apparently, was quite a good feat.
But that wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have things like Trade Investment Queensland that helped us do that education and try anything within the export marketplace. So, that wasn’t just an achievement of the Avocado Export Company enough; that was a combined effort, and they played a very big role in that. So, it’s not just about us, actually. It’s every one of us that have put efforts. I’m just the face of it. There are a lot of people that did a lot of work that made that possible. That was a highlight. I didn’t realise how big of a deal it was until after we won it. But, apparently, it is quite a big deal. Allot of people contact us now because of that.”
While Franceschi foresees growth in the production and sales of avocados, emphasis on the local market is also crucial in ensuring the future of the industry. “I think what’s really important is that Australians really should make an effort to support Australian farmers, because our future food security depends upon it. Australian farmers do an excellent job, and the reason why Australian produce is so highly valued overseas is because of our food safety.
The reason why they all want our food is because it’s safe and our water is safe. So, we have added value in our products simply for that reason alone. Rather than sell our land, we should continue to farm it and sell off our product. Because we are so compliant with our food safety issues means that we have something that many countries don’t have, and that is important to hang onto.”
Avocado Exports has a lot of offer in the avenue of produce, both locally and internationally; their commitment to their customers is something they take pride in, along with their year-round product availability. “We’re also very stable in pricing, so we don’t change the price every week,” says Franceschi. “A lot of our customers are also food-service customers and know of other countries and by educating them on how to ripen it, keeping pricing stable and keeping supply steady, it just means that they stay local – because, I would say, that’s a key thing.”