A bountiful harvest
The international trend towards more nutritious, protein-rich eating is reaping healthy rewards for Australia’s largest nut and health food company, Select Harvests.
Select Harvests enjoyed both record crops and record profits in 2015. The ongoing boom in business is being driven by the international trend towards healthier, higher-protein diets, which widely recommend nuts as an excellent source of protein and unsaturated fats.
“Across the globe, people are getting healthier,” says Managing Director Paul Thompson. “More and more people are looking to replace sugar with protein in their diet, and almonds are a low-cost protein.
“A lot of our almonds are used in breakfast-meal and confectionery products. Traditionally these meals [have been] high in sugar, and people are looking to replace this sugar with protein. With almonds as a core ingredient, people are moving from high-sugar cereals to muesli, and from high-sugar confectionery bars to bars that have nut protein.”
The ASX-listed company has full operational responsibility for 11 almond farms across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and owns leading brands Lucky, Sunsol and Soland. Usually employing around 150 people, this number peaks at 350 during harvest time. It exports 80 per cent of its processed and raw almonds, predominantly to India, the Middle East and Europe.
Limits to supply
Apart from the move towards higher-protein diets, Thompson says another significant advantage for the company is that, while the world is demanding more almonds, there are limits to supply.
“Almonds can’t be grown everywhere,” he explains. “Australia, California and Spain are the leading producers. It also takes eight years before a tree becomes mature, and the orchards are capital-intensive and require a high level of horticultural skills.”
Harvesting by night
To increase the yields and quality of its crops, Select Harvests has recently been trialling new methods and investing in innovative technologies.
“It’s about harvesting as much as we can, as quickly as possible, without compromising quality,” Thompson says.
The first innovation trialled was night harvesting, with a 24-hour labour cycle, and it proved very successful.
“We were able to complete our harvest in 14 days less than in previous years, and the crop was up 30 per cent,” Thompson says. “So we clearly see it as a success – and we see lots more opportunities to become more efficient.”
Another strategy the company has put in place aims to mitigate against one of the greatest enemies of almond quality at harvest time – rain.
“Rain causes product deterioration – in particular, product staining, which leads to a lower price – and potentially mould issues,” Thompson says. “But you can’t stop rain, so we needed a strategy.”
This strategy has come in the form of a
$1 million investment in an industrial dryer, which has also proven to be a sound decision.
“Now if the product is affected by rain, or from moisture in the soil during harvest, we can put it into the dryer and protect the quality of it,” Thompson says.
Sowing the seeds of Further success
Already this year, Select Harvests has made another three significant investments, the first two being a $10.5 million state-of-the-art processing plant to prepare its almonds for industrial food service and retail customers, and a $10 million co-generation bio-mass plant.
“The plant will burn all of our product waste and generate steam and energy, which will run our facilities and pumping stations at our farms in Victoria,” Thompson says.
“We will be generating our power, which [will give] us potential cost savings of up to $2 million a year and will abate about 23,000 tonnes of carbon, which is the equivalent of taking 8000 cars off the road.”
The third investment is a long-term funding arrangement of approximately $150 million to develop a further 1000 hectares of land for almond production over the next few years. This will help the booming company to keep up with the world’s increasing appetite for healthy protein.
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