A major Australian salad and vegetable business says it is taking advantage of a world-wide trend towards pre-packaged ready to eat produce.
Coolibah Herbs is a family business, with four farms across Victoria. It has a packing and washing facility on-site, with one third of production certified organic and Production Manager Vincent Eysseric says the company produces a number of different salad mixes for both the domestic and export markets.
"I think it is kind of a trend worldwide, where the customer wants more and more added value ready to use product," he said. "The customer does not want to trim and wash salad anymore. They want something ready to use; just open the pack and eat it - everything is there. It has already been mixed, instead of having to buy a head of each variety. It is all in the same bag. This is what the customer wants now. Let's be honest, you go to a supermarket where can you find a whole head of lettuce? You can't even if you want to."
Coolibah Herbs was recently at Asia Fruit Logistica, meeting several of its customers across Asia and the Middle East, and Mr Eysseric says his products are becoming increasingly popular in some of those countries because of the quality of the Australian product.
"It seems like in Hong Kong and other places in Asia, customers have a mistrust of any local Fresh food product because of all of the pollution and potential food contamination" he said. "I believe Australia has a good reputation for healthy product; no pollution, fresh air, good soil and mild weather in Victoria. It is definitely a big advantage."
However, this position in the market does not come without challenges. While the weakening Australian dollar is making exports more attractive, its geographic location, and the shelf life of the fresh cut salad products add to the financial cost of production.
"All our export product has to be transported by air," Mr Eysseric said. "This is making the final cost of the product at reception at the airport in South East Asia quite expensive, especially when you have a light product. We are getting penalised because of the volume we are using. This air freight cost is a real issue for exporting our product. We are in the south of Australia so reaching the closest country in Asia, Indonesia, it is already 6- 7 hours by air. So, it is very far away. We do have customers in the middle East, but that is as far as we will go."
Two thirds of the business are based around the leafy salads such as lettuce, for both retail and wholesale customers, with the remaining third is herbs and vegetables such as spinach, black and green kale. Coolibah Herbs do not outsource any of their growing, meaning that all of their produce is grown on their farms. An advantage of having farms in different parts of the state, according to Mr Eysseric means that they can grow for the full 12 months of the year.
"Our farm in the north of Victoria is mainly used during winter where the conditions are mild without extreme temperatures," he said. "When summer comes, the temperature in the north gets too hot, so we transfer all our crop to our farms in the south. We are close to the sea, so it is quite cool."
With growing demand for the company's products, expansion plans have already commenced.
"We still have lots of land unused that can be transferred to vegetable crops in a small amount of time," Mr Eysseric said. "In terms of our factory, we are currently spending $5million to expand the production facility and improve our High Care area. We are also buying some new packaging machines to cope with our expansion in the market."