A Western Australian processing facility is about to launch the country’s first high-pressure processed baby food range, in the hope it will tap into the growing market for nutritional food and help with fruit and vegetable wastage.
Fresh Produce Alliance, based in Manjimup, decided to launch its baby food range as a way of utilising fruit and vegetable produce that did not meet fresh market specifications.
Managing director Jenny Franceschi said it was a way of giving farmers the opportunity to sell produce that would otherwise have been wasted or sold for very little.
“We wanted to do something for Australian farmers,” she said.
“[I’ve heard, on average] 30 per cent of products that are grown in Australia don’t leave the farm gate.
“That’s usually because they’re either too big, too small, too much colour, not enough colour or for whatever reason.”
One grower who has been supplying produce to the Franceschis during the baby food range’s development stage is Manjimup apple grower Harvey Gibblett.
He said 10-15 per cent of his product was not saleable to the fresh market, and the baby food provided a good opportunity to salvage product for more money than he would have received in the juicing market.
“Currently we produce between about 800 and 1 million kilos of processing fruit out of our crop each year,” he said.
“What we are hoping is that Wayne and Jenny’s operation will be able to pay a little bit more.
“Even if it’s only five or 10 cents, it will be better than what we are getting at the moment [for juicing].”
New use for million-dollar machine
The baby food range is also an opportunity for the south-west processor to use its million-dollar high-pressure processor for a new product.
High pressure processing (HPP) uses a method of cold pasteurisation and intense pressure to kill bacteria and preserve food, without disfiguring or bruising the fruit.
Ms Franceschi said once launched, the baby food range would be the only one in Australia to use high-pressure processing for sterilisation.
She said it would also be one of five in the world, with the others available in the United States and Ireland.
Ms Franceschi said there had been strong demand for other HPP baby foods, especially in the US, because of their nutritional value.
Targeting health-focused consumers
Fresh Produce Alliance’s on-site food technologist and dietitian Debbie Xu said by using HPP, they were able to save nutrients that would otherwise be killed during the preservation process.
“Most commercial food is heat-treated, and as we know, by the ultra-heat we are killing some of the good nutrients like vitamin B and vitamin C,” she said.
“But by HPP you avoid heat treatment, but at the same time you kill the bad bacteria, so you can extend the shelf life without affecting the nutritional value of the food.”
Ms Xu said there were some instances where ingredients such as sweet potato needed to be cooked beforehand, but this was balanced out by a number of raw fruit ingredients used in the product.
Ms Franceschi said the shelf life of the baby food would be significantly less than other baby food products, but she still believed it would sell.
“We’ve got a lot of interest in Australia and also a lot of interest in Asia [such as] Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan,” she said.
“They’re starting to know what we’re doing, so we probably get asked weekly how we’re going.”
The company has collaborated with Vegetables WA to receive a grower grant to assist with funding the product’s research and development.