An Australian businesswoman who created a fresh-produce brand from the ground up, largely through value-adding, believes that there is major potential for the banana industry grow, and move into niche products using the same principles.
Co-founder of Brookfarm, Pam Brook addressed banana growers, recalling her start in the macadamia industry and related it to potential for other produce varieties to capitalise on creating extra choice for consumers. She suggests that not only the banana flesh could be created into new products, but other parts of the plant or fruit.
"Wouldn't it be fabulous if there was innovation in bananas in those niche areas," Ms Brook said. "There are some incredible innovators in the banana industry that are looking at things from all areas of the banana. One of the things that I struck when looking at the banana lifecycle was how many areas were being value-added to? There is a perfect guy in the middle, however there is everything else that needs to be used. One of the things Brookfarm is doing is talking to another company, with the green banana flower. We are also talking with another company, that freeze dries older bananas with the skin and flesh, and we're looking at putting them in ingredients. Bananas have got starch, sugars and so many things that can be innovated with. Value-adding is hard work, and you never surrender to it, but it's about collaboration, and you don't do it in isolation."
She added that in producing the macadamia products, nothing on the farm is wasted, because the business develops ways to use every part. These aspirations could be applied for other farms and industries across the fresh produce industry, according to Ms Brook.
The company started in 1989 when Pam and her husband Martin bought a 96-acre property near Byron Bay, and chose to plant 4,500 macadamia trees and Ms Brook says they saw huge potential because the industry previously treated it as commodity.
"They were putting them in boxes and shipping them overseas for other people to do clever things with," she said. "It was seen as a snack nut and no-one was doing anything with it. We decided to start a food business; innovation sometimes takes the best of tradition and combines it with great ideas. We wanted to take the best of muesli and make it a gourmet muesli. People in the macadamia industry thought it was a silly idea, but we kept going."
In November 2000, Brookfarm started selling at the local markets, and to local businesses. It was a tough task for the family who did most of the labour in the home, around other employment, and the schooling of their children Will and Eddie. It has now expanded, and the business is now selling to major supermarkets, retailers and food-service providers. Products are also exported to 12 countries.
"Today, we have gone from two products, to 27 products, in different sizes," Ms Brook said. "Our range has changed from just toasted and natural muesli in macadamia oils, and we now have products that suit every sort of diet that we think the consumer needs. We are really trying to be ahead of the trends. So, if you are gluten-free, paleo, sugar-free - or almost anything, we have something for you. It's a roller-coaster ride, but it is never over. There is always a new challenge to explore."
Ms Brook added that one of the philosophies behind her success is to always enjoy the journey, and the key to building a value-adding brand is to have a quality product. The motto of the business is 'it starts on the family farm'.
"We have built a brand and given it life, by the quality of our products, and the story behind the brand, which we live by every day," she said. "Quality is the basic entry level to the food industry. You have to ensure that you have a different product and a better product. For us, it's not just about the quality of the products we make but how the way we farm. People say they love our environmental sustainability story. Our core values today are: environment, community and real food."
Brookfarm is also home to Cape Byron Distillery, which is located among the macadamia orchard and rainforest that the Brook family have regenerated, which produces gin and flavoured liqueurs, supplying both nationally and internationally.