February 19, 2016

A brand built on wholesome values

The Maitland family had already been farming for five generations when they decided to turn the durum wheat grown on their farm into healthy, wholegrain pasta. Pangkarra Foods are now selling their products across Australia and south-east Asia.

The Maitland family had already been farming for five generations when they decided to turn the durum wheat grown on their farm into healthy, wholegrain pasta. Their sustainable farming methods and paddock-to-plate approach have proved popular, with Pangkarra Foods now selling across Australia and south-east Asia.

For five generations the Maitland family has been growing cereals, legumes and hay on their Clare Valley property in South Australia. Jim and his wife Katherine had been continuing this family tradition when, four years ago, they decided to diversify by using the durum wheat grown on their farm to manufacture wholegrain pasta. They have since added wholegrain flour, lavosh and grissini to the range, and their Pangkarra Foods brand has now become so successful that it won the 2014 Telstra Small Business Award for South Australia’s Yorke and Mid North region.

“My parents still work with us on the farm,” says Jim, “and we all share a passion for controlling quality at every step of the process – our products are traceable from paddock to plate. We grow the wheat using sustainable practices and organic fertilisers and, as water is our limiting factor, we’re committed to managing rainfall as efficiently as possible.

“For example, rather than burning off the stubble as we would have done 25 or 30 years ago, we leave it to feed the soil. We sow between the rows of the previous year’s crop and, by the time the new crop starts coming through, all of the residue has been absorbed back into the soil. When the microbes in the soil have a chance to do their work, the whole process takes care of itself.”

Their wheat is ground using traditional stone-milling methods at Laucke Flour Mills, a local company that has also been in the same family for more than a century.

“Conventional milling separates the grain, whereas stone milling ensures all components of the wholegrain remain intact,” says Jim. “That means more of the nutritional value of the wheatgerm, bran and endosperm is retained. All of our products are completely natural and wholegrain, so they’re high in fibre and protein and have a low glycaemic index.”

Another local company, L’Abruzzese, makes the flour into pasta using a combination of traditional Italian methods and modern machinery. “They air-dry the pasta at a low temperature, so the flavour has time to develop,” says Jim.

A point of difference

The single-origin, paddock-to-plate approach to food production increases supply-chain costs, but also provides a critical point of difference.

“We’ll never be able to compete on price, but our products resonate with people who are looking for healthier options,” says Jim. “There’s also growing demand for traceable provenance, so people are interested in our story.”

Legumes can play an important role in sustainable agriculture. When rotated with other crops, they help to maintain soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil. They have also provided the Maitlands with an opportunity for further diversification. They’re about to launch two legume-based products: chickpeas and faba beans that have been pre-soaked and roasted so they’re ready to eat.

“We’re also launching a range of gluten-free pasta made with lentil, chickpea and maize flour,” says Jim. “We recognise the need to develop complementary products, and now that supermarket owners across Australia have confidence in our brand they’re more likely to stock our other product lines.”

In 2015, Pangkarra Foods began exporting to south-east Asia. They also launched a new range of premium pulses (chickpeas and faba beans) as roasted 200g snack packs and 450g cooked chickpeas.

“The pulses have had an excellent response in the market, providing an option for those who have nut allergies, gluten sensitivities or are looking for a convenient snack on the go,” he said.

“Asia’s growing middle class has a higher disposable income and is very discerning when it comes to food and, in particular, its provenance,” says Jim. “They also have a high level of trust in Australian products, so it makes sense for us to keep on exploring opportunities for export throughout the region.”

This article was first published in Business View magazine (Summer 2015). For more articles and interactivity, download the iPad edition of Business View for free via our app, NAB Think.

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