Since its inception, Fresh Produce Alliance (FPA) has been dedicated to providing safe, quality produce to various target markets throughout Australia and the global sphere. A sister company of Advanced Packing and Marketing Services (APMS), FPA ensures that their products reflect the needs of the consumer through an extensive and attentive research and development process. The idea began through the desire to repurpose the existing avocado products offered at APMS in order to adapt to market surplus and demands.
“We came to the realisation that there’s a lot of trees going into the ground, and we were a little bit concerned about the future markets with added volumes of avocados coming into the marketplace – which is one of the reasons why we also export,” explains Managing Director Jennie Franceschi. “So, we invested in the HPP – which is High Pressure Processing – and the IQF to look at creating value-added products from the percentage of horticulture that doesn’t get utilised because it’s usually too big, too small, marked, unmarketable or doesn’t meet retail specifications.
If you speak to Horticulture Innovation Australia, they’ll tell you that there is about 30 percent across the board that doesn’t even leave farm gate. So, the aim or the mission of FPA was to really support generational farming families in Australia by creating value-added products out of products they get nothing for and turn it into something of value; that’s really what we’re all about.”
Through its innovative processes and products, FPA aims to “make healthy delicious.” The use of the HPP system eliminates the use of any additives or preservatives, which could affect the quality or the taste of each product. “It’s just whole foods created into something,” says Franceschi. “With the avocados, our hero line was Avovita – that means ‘avocados for life’ – and all of the things within the Avovita range are avocado-based. We started off with an avocado chocolate mousse that is everything-free. It’s dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free; it’s also vegan-friendly, and low-GI. So, if a diabetic has it, they won’t have a spike, for a number of reasons: one of them is we only use a low-GI coconut sugar, and the other thing is avocados help stabilise blood sugar.”
Another aspect of FPA’s policy is to use ingredients from local farmers as often as possible. While products like cocoa or coconut sugar are unavailable within the country, fair-trade, sustainable and socially responsible off-shore companies are sought out to provide any missing details that are necessary in providing product integrity, while ensuring the safety of the food and the earth. “We’re particular about that,” says Franceschi. “Some things that we may want, we just can’t get with those assurances; one of those is coconut milk. So, we support Dr. Dan’s Solomon Islands project. He does a clean coconut, and our food technologists will turn that into coconut milk.
That’s a core message through who we are, and we’re even working up FPA for our biodegradable product waste. So, skins or seeds from the process are actually going up into a composting project, all our plastics get recycled, and all our cardboards get recycled. So, it’s about sustainability and supporting Australian farmers. We came from that angle, and the products we developed were products that currently aren’t available in Australia.”
In fact, when FPA began, all proposed products were new to the market. Since then, similar innovations have been launched, but the Avovida chocolate mousse still remains true to the FPA name. Franceschi is also very pleased with the progress of Born Pure, their up-and-coming baby food line. “We’re now in the stage with a commercial with that,” she says. “We did the baby food range because we wanted to be able to use all fruits and vegetables – not just avocados.
We do use grains, and we have a registered practicing dietician who’s done a lot in paediatrics that works at targeting nutrition for certain ages – for what babies need – and we’ve obviously got our food technologists and food engineer that helps us make it happen. So, we’ve been in research and development mode for a year, and we’ve got two brands that are now in market and already getting to be launched. We’re just testing market now, but we’re getting really good reviews from the products that we have.”
Franceschi also attributes FPA’s ability to assure and demonstrate high quality, sustainable products to their use of HPP and instant quick freeze (IQF) technology. A grass roots method in Western Australia, HPP pasteurises food in chilled or ambient temperatures – between four and 10 degrees – using pressure that can reach about 87,000 psi. The process deactivates any bacteria, yeast, mould, viruses and parasites that may exist on the product, while working to expand its shelf life. “Pasteurisation is about making food safe,” she says. “Not only does it give you food safety, but it also gives you shelf life.
It doesn’t necessarily give you the same level of shelf life as what retort does, and it’s usually fridged, but the food has more integrity because it hasn’t been given so much heat. Flavour and texture are all better, because it hasn’t had that massive heat treatment. So, it maintains the original freshness, but it has an extended shelf life and it doesn’t have lots of preservatives or chemicals in it to keep it safe. I think it’s the way of the future, quite frankly.
We just did some for a crab fisherman; we HPP’d some crab to see if we could extract the meat – which we did – which is something they currently couldn’t do well with that particular crab, because it’s a deep-sea crab. We’ve also done some work for the seafood industry in general, and something that they used to only get four days’ shelf life on, they’re currently at five weeks. The flavour’s amazing, and we’re doing all the microbial testing. So, that’s a difference in the shelf life extension. It tastes great and it is still food-safe a month down the track, when you only used to get a few days.”
The IQF involves individually snap-freezing products with liquid nitrogen at -95 degrees to preserve quality and flavour. The process is more familiar in the produce market, and it also allows FPA to utilise easily salvageable produce that might not otherwise be used due to specific standards. “For some products, it’s great,” says Franceschi. “Often, if things came in that were deemed as a second – because it has a mark on it, or a broccoli bunch might have a bit breaking off, so it’s not deemed good enough to go in – we could just floret it and freeze it, and you’ve got a good product.
Those sorts of things, they’re all nutritionally sound, but currently a lot of it gets wasted. So, really, by using technologies what we’re trying to do is find a way to give growers a better return on investment by utilising all these products that are perfectly fine – nothing nutritionally wrong with them – but their sweet potatoes are just big. No one wants them because they’re too big, and people aren’t going to buy that much sweet potato.”
Given the success with FPA’s current products, Franceschi is now interested in breaking further ground in the age care sector. The exploration into low-GI food products has already helped greatly with this venture, and she believes the new category will also pique interest off-shore. “Some of our marketers up in Singapore are getting really concerned about diabetics,” she says. “They reckon one in three will die from diabetes. There’s currently 4,000 diabetics in Singapore that are insulin-dependent, so it’s a really problem. Not so much in Japan, but through a lot of the rest of Asia, it’s a real problem.
My concern came about looking at allocations in age care and thinking, ‘something needs to be done here.’ So, our next one is looking at a low-GI, nutrient-rich food that would be suitable in the age care sector – that’s what we’re working on now. We’ll continue on our ranges that we’re currently doing, but age care has always been a bit of a mission from FPA; it’s been in our social responsibility charters. We wanted to do something for the elderly, and we wanted to be able to make sure that we had really targeted nutrition – a lot of nutrients in a small serving. So, that’s why we look across industries. There’s a lot of research that goes into it before you do it.”
A key aspect of the research process is collaboration between industries in order to understand the most profitable strategies possible while still striving to achieve diversity within the local and global market. Franceschi and FPA have worked hard to provide their insight to seafood, truffles and various fruit and vegetable vendors to determine which next steps would fit both the company and its consumers. “It’s not just about retail ready; it’s also about food service and where we can potentially do products in food service.
Fruit crops, obviously, are tree crops. But vegetables, they can grow for you. So, we are potentially looking at things in our region, because we about creating opportunity within regional areas. People say, ‘Why don’t you take it to the city?’ Well, I don’t want to take it to the city. I live in the country – the food bowl is where I live – and this is where I want to live, and I want to make it a better place for my kids and my grandkids. I want to see more opportunities in the regional areas, so what I’m doing is about regional development – not about city development. There’s places that are interested because it’s great to have a bit of diversity in what they do, so not all the eggs will be in one basket.”
After just one year into their research and development process, Franceschi is confident in her colleagues and their mission to provide quality products to FPA consumers. The alliance has already achieved a first for the agricultural sector as the overall state winner for the Department of Regional Development Awards in agricultural innovation, and looks forward to more milestones to come in its already exciting journey. “We’ve got some amazing brains here,” she says. “We’ve got some really skilled people in our region. The more we do, the more opportunity we see out there, and that’s really exciting. To be able to bring a positive outlook to people, it changes the whole feel. When people have a more positive, excited mindset about what they’re doing, they can achieve more.
To me, my objective is to get people on that positive roll and collaborating, because quite often with industries, they just don’t work together. On a personal level, if I can get people collaborating a little bit together, I think that they could achieve more. To find our point of difference – to be able to work together to create something that gives us that point of difference to be globally competitive, to me that would be pretty good. So, I’m excited about where we’re headed.”
Due to FPA’s dedication to sustainability, local support and freshness preservation, Franceschi knows that consumers and investors will enjoy what they have to offer; their commitment to providing quality is their strongest aspect. “They’re really good products,” she says. “If you see them out there, try them, because you won’t be disappointed. We’re all excited about them, because they’re so good. But, not only are they so good, they’re really helping regional development areas, because our whole structure is on sustainability. I was in a meeting in Japan a little while ago and they said, ‘Well, what about price?’
I said, ‘Nothing I do is cheap. We’re out here to support Australian farmers. The products we’ve developed – everything we do is to be sustainable. If we go off-shore, we have to have a social responsibility charter. The reality of it is, the only time that you get cheap, someone, something or somewhere is getting exploited. That’s what happens. It’s the environment, it’s the people, or it’s something. As a company, we refuse to do that. So, there is value. You will be paying for my product. It’s not about driving the price down, but what you will get will be a value proposition, and you’ll know that we are so determined that with our company policy it will be ethical sourcing and sustainability, and we just are not going to go down that exploitation road that many do to create cheap.’”