Changes at the chocolate factory

Nothing untouched

“Look, in the last 12 months, there won’t be nothing we don’t touch and improve with efficiencies in manufacturing,” Klark Quinn, the 30-year-old in charge of overhauling the iconic confectionary maker Darrell Lea and making it profitable again said.

Quinn, the son of VIP Petfoods owners Tony and Christina (whose fortune BRW this year estimated at $350 million), is no stranger to getting his hands dirty and to turning a factory’s operations around.

At the time of writing, Darrell Lea has just started to be stocked on the shelves of selected IGA supermarkets, and the Quinns are trying to get DL into Coles and Woolies, too. Are deals with other supermarket chains just waiting to be inked?

“Pretty much; first thing of all we set up meetings with all Australian retailers and we’re pretty open and public with the future of Darrell Lea,” said Quinn when Food Magazine visited the Kogarah plant, which opened in 1962, in Sydney’s south.

“The need for Darrell Lea from the Australian public – the prime minister talking about it on national TV [when it went into administration in July], the amount of media attention, proves how iconic and strong the Darrell Lea brand is. So we need to capitalise on that.”

When the 85-years-old, fourth-generation family-owned Lea – famous for products like its soft eating liquorice and Rocklea Road bars – announced its collapse in July, everyone from prime minster Julia Gillard to septuagenarians who had grown up with the brand were disappointed. Comments on another Australian icon gone and the sad end of an era – and more headlines involving a pun on “rocky road” than you could possibly count – were hard to miss. Sales of their products all shot up as consumers flocked to the closing retail outlets to stock up in what they thought was their last chance to do so.

Saving an Aussie brand

But in early December, DL found a buyer: the Quinn family, who stumped up an undisclosed sum (estimated at $25 million) to rescue the brand and its manufacturing operations. Not surprisingly, there was a lot that needed changing and will require further changes.

First of all, getting Lea into the supermarkets is a big step. Refusing to be a supermarket brand but not quite positioning itself as a premium confectioner (like Haigh’s, for example) meant Lea limited itself.

“Yeah, tradition killed them to some extent,” explained Quinn.

Further than that, there was a mountain of improvements that needed to be made to the way Darrell Lea cranked out its sweets.

“It was very fat and inefficient before, so we need to make it into a lean manufacturing process. With a mind to

looking after the brand and not compromising the quality or upsetting any of the loyal Darrell Lea customers.”

What to keep?

When we spoke to Quinn last week, it was early days in the company’s revamp. He says they’ve only retained 186 out of 700 products, with many performing poorly and some, for example boiled lollies, being produced at a considerable loss. Despite the aggressive shedding of loss-making product lines, he’s moving cautiously in other ways.

“You can’t build Rome in a day, and you can’t make too many changes,” he explained. “You have to be mindful as well, that a lot of people have been here for over 40 years, and an exceptional amount of people have been here for 30 years, so people are part of the furniture, and if you start changing the furniture too quick, you’re going to upset a lot of people.

“But at the same time we have purchased machinery and equipment. And as soon as last week we started setting new equipment to help product efficiencies… So in the next six months we’re planning to touch 50 per cent of all production lines and improve them by 20 per cent. So that’s already happening. We don’t want to make too many quick decisions, too early.”

Also part of the rationalisation process was doing away with anything that wasn’t completely Australian-made. Quinn gave the example of Bo-Peeps. Despite their sentimental value with some, the foreign-made sweets aren’t part of the new Lea.

“And the way they’re produced and having them produced overseas is not part of our vision. So firstly, to keep them Australian-owned and Australian-manufactured is our number one priority.”

Getting involved

Quinn, who begins his day at 7 am and who often retires to his bachelor loft (the ironically-named “Penthouse”) around midnight, is currently spending as much time as he can, involving himself in all the aspects of the factory’s operations. “It’s extremely important that I understand every facet of the business.”

The general manager considers his experience in 2009, when VIP bought Bush’s International (now Australian Pet Brands) for $45 million, a valuable lesson. The family placed Klark at Bush’s Dubbo factory and brother Kent (at the Ingleburn site) in charge of reviving the troubled manufacturer.

“Being on the floor certainly helped and straight away we gained a lot of respect from the employees on the floor, and that helped change the business,” he stated.

“With that culture change, getting people to trust and respect you goes a long way. And that’s really important in any takeover of a business; you need to very quickly gain the respect and trust from the employees. And that, just by our natural demeanour that the family has; we’ve all worked on the floor, we all know what it takes to pack product into a box and drive a forklift and run a machine – we’ve all done this before – so we have a very healthy respect for what it takes to do that.”

After throwing himself into Bush’s, the Quinn brothers managed to stem the bleeding (the company was losing $400,000 a week, says Klark after five months. Within a year, it was turning a tidy profit again.

The future

The Quinns now plan to relocate the factory’s operations. The factory, which currently sees 160 tonnes of liquorice (and is the largest liquorice producer in Australia) and 20 tonnes of chocolate produced each week, on a site with a 5,000 pallet storage capacity, won’t be doing what it does now in 18-24 months.

“Part of our sale and purchase agreement was to purchase the Darrell Lea site at Ingleburn, which it previously planned to relocate many, many years ago, but they had had the opportunity to.

“So we’ve got about a 7,000 pallet controlled environment warehouse on a 40,000 square metre block of land. We plan to build a world-class facility. And that will be a far more efficient and ergonomic plant.”

For the time being, Quinn will continue learning about the Kogarah site. He admits his current schedule is unhealthy but necessary for getting the job done properly. And for the time being, chocolate lovers should keep an eye out for Darrell Lea on supermarket shelves when they’re shopping for Christmas supplies.


Water water everywhere: should Australia adopt WHO bottled water standards?

Australia’s bottled water representative body wants local producers and sellers to adopt the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for chemicals in bottled water.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has received an application from the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) to adopt limits to the amount of chemicals, as set out In WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality.

The ABWI said the move would benefit the packaged water industry and bring Australia and new Zealand onto the same international playing field.

“This application will reassure consumers that chemical constituents in packaged water are regulated on a mandatory level to the same levels as those set internationally,” the submission said.

“The inclusion of such limits will also enhance the ability of the industry to compete in export markets overseas.
If the changes were to be adopted in Australia, there would be six times more mercury allowed in bottles water sold in Australia.

Arsenic and lead levels accepted would drop significantly though, and organic matter would be less acceptable.
Dr Chris Schyzens, Senior toxocoligst and risk manager at FSANZ told Food Magazine the changes would put the Australian industry at the same level as other developed countries.

“Very simply, currently we have 17 chemical analysed in the standard, WHO’s limits has 90, so there is a large increase in chemical detections required.

“Having 90 tested as opposed to 17, from talking to industry, and they are the applicants, they’ve said that their voluntary code, the model code, already follows WHO guidelines, and they’re testing about 49 chemicals.”

Ben Dutton, general manager of brand marketing at Noble Beverages, which captures and distributes H2O water brand, told Food Magazine that tightening the code will not make any difference to companies doing the right thing.

“Consider the landscape three or four years ago, the industry was almost non-existent compare to now.

“The point is that we do have some smaller bottled water companies that might not be taking quality control as seriously as they should be so if WHO standards makes these operators lift their game, that’s a good thing for food consumers.

“Maybe, and only maybe operators that are drawing tap water off, putting it though filters and bottling it, would have problem if they had to ensure they met these standards.

“If it means these companies have to life their game, overall it is good thing.”

“We’ve seen over the last four years or so that it has been a race to bottom as far as price is concerned and most manufacturers are cutting prices dramatically to maintain their place in the market and smaller companies have felt a lot of pain.

As to whether the adoption of WHO standards would improve the waters that are imported to Australia, Dutton was cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t know, I do know [Australia is] importing water from Indonesia and Malaysia and certainly we have mineral water imported from Europe and the US, but I would be inclined to see most bottled water imported would be regulated.

“The challenge in Australia is that even though the bottles water industry has gone through a huge period of consolidation over the last three years, we have this situation now where a lot of small operators have gone out of business or been bought by major companies.”

Schyzens agrees that the huge increase in the bottled water market in Australia has led to some smaller, dodgy companies creeping into the sector, but for the most part, Australian water companies are all doing the right thing and just want to ensure the industry is regulated.

“I think that’s the intention and this has been a call from the industry body the  industry are the ones who have come to us and said ‘here’s a set of values we think would be good for water and that gives consumers peace of mind’”.

“They are the ones who want this, because they already highly regulate themselves, so they want to ensure everyone else is doing the same.

Dutton told Food Magazine that for the companies doing the right thing, which most of them are, there is nothing to be concerned about if the WHO standards are introduced.

“In the Australian industry, there are a lot that are already testing to quite high specifications, whether that’s because they’re trying to get into supermarkets or retailers, they have so many reasons, including the safety of consumers, to do so.

“One New Zealand company is trying to enter the New York market, for example, and their specifications are incredibly high.

While Dutton and Schyzens both agree on the vast majority of the potential new guidelines, there is one issue where their opinions differ.

FSANZ wants to accept all the chemical standards except for the fluoride standard, which it wants to maintain at the current Australian level.

“There’s probably two main reasons for that, and it is important to note that the [WHO)] document allows for nations to make a call based on local consumption of fluoride so we’re not ignoring WHO advice.

“In 2009, after a lot of research and consultation, we determined the maximum should be 1.0 milligrams per litre, which is the same as one part per million.

“So we thought if you have fluoride in packaged water, fluoride is fluoride, wether it’s naturally occurring or added.
“Everyone should be confident standard is at 1.0.”

Dutton explained Noble’s stance on fluoride is about offering consumers choice.

“Our brand is a 100 per cent fluoride free brand and the reason we remove it is because we believe people should have a choice whether they drink fluoride or not.

“People don’t have a choice with government water, but we believe naturally occurring fluoride, not added fluoride, should be the only kind.

“Mass medication is an interesting exercise, but when you deploy mass medication through water, people don’t have a choice as to whether they take the medication or not and there are a million and one studies done into this and the way you look at them can support or disagree with fluoride.

“FSANZ has already allowed bottled water companies to add fluoride but I don’t believe any brand has gone ahead and done that.

“Which makes sense, because consumer are buying it because they don’t want added fluoride, however, naturally it can occur in some streams.”

Schyzens did assure, however, that FSANZ would not be implementing minimum fluoride standards, only a cap on the maximum allowed.

“Added fluoride is just for dental reasons, and is such an incredible public health utility, whilst at same time, we recognise some people are strictly opposed to it, and we’re not saying people have to add fluoride to water, just that they can’t go over one part per million.”

Do you support the tougher regulation of the bottled water industry in Australia?

The new Sicily: DPI heat maps used to produce quality blood oranges in Australia

The Italian influences on Australia’s eating habits have become so ingrained in our diets that we forget where they started.

There have of course been positive impacts felt elsewhere throughout the country since our European football-lovers began immigrating to Australia, but the biggest difference to our society has been with food.

Prior to Italian people setting their sights on these sunburnt shores as a new place to call home, the diets here were boring at best.

Meat and three veg was the way of life, not just an option for nostalgic or laziness reasons.

When you think about how extremely diverse our food offerings are nowadays, it is almost an unfathomable concept.

While Aussies have countless countries to thank for this widening of not only our palates but our culture, the Italian influence has been one of the most significant.

Pasta (including the modern staple of Australian households, spaghetti bolognaise), espresso, pizza, lasagne, garlic bread and different cheeses just were not eaten prior to Italian immigration.

Imagining a life nowadays without these options we now almost consider our own is extremely difficult, and makes one grateful for the diversity brought to Australia by these cultures.

Where did you come from, where do you grow?

Blood oranges are a staple of Italian food, which until recently, we have been unable to enjoy in the same way they do across the pond in Italy.

RedBelly Citrus was more serious about ensuring authentic blood orange offerings for Aussie consumers than Leonardo De Vinci was about painting.

Not only did they decline to work with a marmalade manufacturer because its processing wasn’t in keeping with Grandma’s traditional recipes, but they even got the government involved in selecting the best climate in Australia to grow the fruit before settling on land north of Griffith.

“Sicily is renowned for their blood oranges, they are the biggest growers around the world,” Vito Mancini, Director, Redbelly Citrus told Food Magazine.

“The weather gives them the growing benefits compared to other countries that grow them, like Brazil and Florida because they need a very big differential between day and night temperatures.

“The weather in Sicily can go from nights down to about 2 degrees whereas in the day it gets up to 14, 15 [degrees Celsius] and that difference, the trees don’t like it, and it causes stress and that is why it what comes out in the fruit.

Mancini assured Food Magazine that the “stress” the trees face in the extreme variables of the weather does not damage the tree or the fruit at all, and is necessary to create the colour of the fruit.

“It’s just like growing wine grapes, you get a better wine grape with temperature differences like that too.

“Orange trees aren’t as tolerant as grapevines, if it gets too cold, it will damage the tree.

“So we worked really hard at finding the perfect balance.

“If I go towards Victoria, way in the high country it will get too cold and damage the trees and if I got to northern New South Wales, to Bourke or up to Queensland, it gets too warm and the tree doesn’t develop enough stress.”

“They’ll look like a Valencia, and generally you won’t get typical blood orange.

“It’s taken eight years to get to this point, we worker with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) for a couple of years to work out best variations in temperature and they did heat unit mapping to work it out.

“They grabbed the temperature data from Sicily and overlayed it over southern Australia, over New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and there is a very distinct band which passes close to where we are that had similar temperatures to the growing areas in Sicily.

“So with that data, we could see the similarities.

“We always knew blood oranges grew in this area, but with that data were more confident we could match the Italian version.”

For health's sake

The reasons for ensuring the similarities in temperature between traditional growing regions in Italy and those in Australia was simple, Mancini told Food Magazine.

“Were farmers, not multimillionaires, and had to borrow cons money so needed guarantee that it would work,” he said.

Beyond the need to ensure the venture would be successful for business reasons, Vito Mancini and his fellow Director (and brother), Leonard Mancini are passionate about the benefits of the fruit and sharing the taste and health properties with Australians.

“The best way to put it is to think of a mix between an orange and a berry, like a blueberry,” he said.

“You get all the vitamin C and folate that you get from citrus fruits, which also have lots of other benefits,

“But grapefruit, for example, is really good, but they don’t recommend having them when on certain medications because it has high amounts of hesperin, which interferes with blood pressure tablets because it is a natural blood press regulator.

“Blood oranges don’t have the same level [of hesperin] as  grapefruit, but has got the Vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, but an added benefit they contain belongs to the berry family chemicals, the main one being anthocynanins, which is a group of plant chemicals that have shown a lot of benefits.

“They’re called Neutrogenicals because of their benefits for the skin; they save against UVA and UVB damage, but another added benefit is the angiogenic inhibitors,” Mancini explained to Food Magazine.

Angiogenic inhibitors are molecules that prevent the growth of new blood vessels, which fights against ageing, obesity and most cancers which are dependant on new blood vessels.

Blood orange brothers Len and Vito Mancini

Just like Nonna used to make

Once the Mancini brothers had decided on the very best spot in Australia to grow their blood oranges, they set about making the fruits come to life in the same way their family had done for generations.

But it wasn’t a job that any average company could do, because they were determined not to sacrifice the quality, flavour or process of their marmalades, cordials and syrups.

“The recipes are quite basic, like any good Italian recipe,” Manini told Food Magazine.

“It’s about the quality of the ingredients, rather than quantity.

“We don’t make the product selves, we got contractors to do it because we don’t have bottling facilities and things like that.

“So we went through the receips with them, and some didn’t want to do our recipes, or didn’t have the gear.

“The marmalade for example, the way my Nonna used to make was with long thin strips of marmalade, but we found one company that wanted to run it through a machine to cube it up, so we said no to that.

“A lot of people we spoke to said they had to use preservatives, and I think that by using more natural and basic ingredients, sure we may not have a shelf life of a hundred years, but we have the quality products and the story behind it that’s going to help push it.

“We could use preservatives so that my great grandchildren can eat that jar, but it’s probably not good for them,” Mancini laughed.

With over 40 hectares to take care of and more than 30 000 tress in the ground, the Mancini brothers have a lot of work to do running their business.

Mancini told Food Magazine he pruned 16 000 tress on his own last year alone.

During picking season, the company will hire a few extra sets of hands to help out, but for the most part, they do it on their own, and are enjoying the ride.

Despite the company’s success and a reputation as the expert on all things blood orange, Mancini is humble about their story.

“We will be the biggest producers around Australia, but it’s not about that, we just want to make produce that consumers can understand and appreciate,” he said.

“What we’ve done here, I call it a prototype farm, a huge prototype.

“I believe the world would be able to accept about 1500 tonnes of blood oranges, and if you look at the largest four producers in the world, Morocco, Spain, Turkey and Italy, we’re able to compete here in Australia, being an alternate season.

“What I’m trying to do is open up opportunities for citrus growers in Australia.”

Olive you glad it's authentic?

Another quintessential Italian product Australians have embraced wholeheartedly is olive oil, and according to Paul Berryman, Chief Executive for Bertolli Australia, consumers are much savvier these days when choosing their ingredients.

“Consumers are becoming more and more aware of how the flavour of olive oil helps enhance their dishes,” he told Food Magazine.

“The good quality Mediterranean olive oils are rich, full of flavour but smooth and not too acidic or grassy.”

He explained that in the last 20 years especially, consumers have redefined what they are looking for, and can tell authentic products from the imitations.

“Australians are generally accepting of foreign flavours and this has certainly developed further in the past two decades,” he said.

“We have such a wide range of cultures making up the Australian culture.

“Italians are a big part of Aussie culture and this contributes to this acceptance of Mediterranean food.

“We must also recognise that the Australians of today are also quite different to 15-20 years ago.

“We are a much more multicultural society and many people have grown up with foreign flavours being considered the norm.

“This leads to a greater acceptance to trying new things and a reliance on the products’ country of origin to produce the best.”

The Bertolli range of olivefg oils are still manufactured in Italy to ensure their authentic taste and production, but when asked by Food Magazine whether the company would ever manufacture in Australia, Berryman did not rule it out.

“It is believed that the Mediterranean countries produce the best olive oil,” he said.

“The olive oil for our spray products come from our growers in the Mediterranean but are packed at a local company in Sydney’s west.

“Since the introduction of sprays on the market, we have seen demand growing.

“However, consumers will always want the option of bottled olive oil as this suits other purposes.

“Bertolli is part of a global olive oil company.

“While we have an Italian heritage, we are always looking for new possibilities.”

Accessing the market with innovation

Over 60 years ago, expert psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, a crucial breakthrough for understanding human behaviour and requirements, and it is still used today.

The most important of the needs outlined in his pyramid are the ‘Basic,’ or ‘Physiological’ needs: food, water, shelter and warmth.

Basically, the things essential to keep you alive.

But why is this relevant to packaging? Because what we’re talking about here is how everyone gets some of these most important requirements.

If a person can’t open the package to consume food or water to keep them alive, it is more than a little problem.

Without being dramatic about this, it is a matter of life and death, or at the very least nutrition.

Even the most able-bodies and healthy people know the frustration of not being able to open a package, whether it be food or electronic goods or a packet of pens.

But for an increasing number of Australians, the ability to open many packages is impossible.

“In packaging, there has been a shift towards portion control items andsmaller pack sizes.

“Statistics show that there are 6.4 million people with arthritis or a disability in Australia, seven million people are 50-plus, 1.7 million have problems with their eyesight,” Fergal Barry from Arthritis Australia told Food Magazine.

“If you combine the over-50’s with the number of people with arthritis or a disability, that means one in two are facing some kind of restriction with opening packages.”

“When you to open a jar if pickles, for example, you’re actually performing several tasks at once.

“You’ve got to pick it up and hold it, so the weight and shape of the jar impacts that.

Then there’s the friction, if it’s damp for example, it might be more difficult to hold.

“Then there is the labelling and font size and the effectiveness with how messages are communicated.

“And then the lid!

“The width and the depth of the lid will come into play, as will breaking the seal and resealing it.

“So because it is a combination of tasks, it becomes more difficult.”

Dealing with an ageing population

Our ageing population is growing quicker than medical and assistance services can keep up with, and a recent report found that more than 40 per cent of older Australians living in community housing are “malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.”

Much of this malnourishment can be attributed to the quality of food elderly Australians have access to, how easily they can prepare it, but most importantly, if they can open the packaging it comes in.

And it’s not only in their homes that elderly people are struggling to open food packaging, with those in hospitals often not much better off, as Jacky Nordsvan, Packaging Specialist at Nestlé, told Food Magazine.

“The report by the health services basically showed that poor ease-of-use food packaging is a significant contributor to malnourished elderly in public hospitals,” she said.

“Particularly in public hospitals, where the food is bought in packaged meals, this obviously makes it more difficult for patients to feed themselves.

Nestlé is leading with way in accessible food packaging, to address the needs of not only elderly Australians, but everyone who has ever struggled to get a package opened.

“As they get older, people are less likely to want to ask people to do stuff for you, so it is a real problem we need to address.”

This is where a bunch of Maslow’s other needs on his hierarchy come into play, including safety needs on the rung up from the most basic of needs, all the way up through the self-esteem needs including achievement and respect, to self actualisation needs at the top of the pyramid, which includes talent and fulfilment.

When you look at it like this, and think that packaging is often overlooked by the majority of society, it makes you realise that more has to be done in this market.

1 in 2 Australians struggles to access packaging

“It’s not just focused on that [elderly] part of the population, anything that is hard to open that we can make easier is good for all consumers,” Nordsvan said.

“The reason we’re seen as leaders in the area is because at a packaging conference a couple of years ago, we laid out our packaging and asked people if they could open it and they could use their hands or a knife of hammer and we even had a little mannequin of a husband when it got that hopeless and I think that had our packaging reps been there they would have been mortified about how hard it was.”

Nestlé is one of the partners in Arthritis Australia’s mission to improve packaging accessibility, which Barry points out is about more than just getting a package opened.

“The British use the term ‘openability,’ but I think it suggests by its very nature that it is just about opening packaging, whereas the term we use, ‘accessibility’, is much broader than that,” he said.

“There is more to ‘accessibility,’ there is the openability requirement, which is about being able to open a package.

“There’s the labelling, and people’s ability to read messages and other communications, and lastly the cognitive elements, which is the ability for the consumer to understand messages.”

The collaboration of Arthritis Australia, NSW Health and a number of other manufacturers is a huge step forward for not only developing accessible packaging, but making consumers aware of the importance of doing so.

Fighting for a spot

With all the mandatory information, such as nutritional guides and ingredient lists, added to the essential marketing aspects, on packages which are frequently being cut down to create portion-sized offerings, it’s very crowded place these days.

Add to that the pressures of the high Australian dollar and its impact on exports as well as the strain placed on companies through the supermarket price wars, and you have a very competitive, difficult situation for manufacturers and suppliers.

But if companies are willing to innovate their packaging, like Nestlé has, they will find that they have an extra selling point in the market.

While there will be some costs to changing current packaging to make it accessible, Nordsvan explained that the most crucial way to cut those costs is to consider these needs in the design stages, not when it has been launched and problems identified.

“If you put the consumer in the front of your mind when designing packaging, it is a driver for innovation and when we compare designs, we come up with improvements,” Barry explained to Food Magazine.

“For manufacturers and brand owners in this country with private label increasing in the way that it is, how do you compete with China on cost in Australia?

“We have the Accessibility Benchmark Scale which ranks packaging from a plus eight to minus eight, so if a supermarket is trying to decide between two companies supplying private label packaging, and these isn’t much difference on food quality or price, but the packaging is higher on the accessibility scale, it could win the contract.”

“Now you can say ‘ours is a plus-six and there is a plus-two so ours is far easier to open and will make more sales because unlike us, they have already eliminated parts of the market.’

“It could be your brand that gets deleted from shelves.

“Failure to act when the competition is innovating will lose you the business.

“It will help win business for some, but it will lose it for others.

“And if anyone is sitting there saying ‘that won’t happen,’ well it already is.”


Whispering sweet nothings: the evolution of the confectionary industry

Willy Wonka was really onto something with his candy factory.

Not only did he realise that making confectionary will bring a smile to the faces of those who eat it – hell, it will get a bedridden man dancing around like he’s Patrick Swayze at the mere idea of it – but he was also an innovator.

Yes, you read that right, this article is singing the praises of Willy Wonka (“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it, anything you want to, do it…wanta change the world? There's nothing toooo it”) because confectionary is a beautiful thing.

It is one of the most innovative, creative and interesting industries, filled with people just like Willy Wonka, who unfortunately don’t have his chocolate factory, but on the upside do have his imagination and passion for invention.

“Australia has a very good confectionary industry, we have great products and some really good marketing and there are some fantastic smaller brands bubbling away which is a great thing,” Anne Barrington, Product Manager at Keith Harris Flavours & Colours, Bronson & Jacobs told Food Magazine.

“There are some really great gourmet items coming up through the really boutique brands.”

Three dimensional confectionary

The confectionary industry is always expanding, becoming more creative and experimenting with different flavours.

“The main trends we’re seeing are in the chocolate and gummy lolly markets at the moment, which are both pretty dynamic,” she told Food Magazine.

“We’re seeing a lot of sensory things coming through that give you multi dimensional textures and flavours, like the tingling cooling effect and fruit pieces coming through.

“Things that are giving the consumer almost a three dimensional experience with a products are certainly being seen in the chocolate market, which is really tapping into that gourmet part of the market and very much capitalising on very good media on antioxidants with the dark chocolate. 

Cadbury’s Marvellous Creations, which combines a number of different textures, flavours and experiences in one mouthful, launched this month, bringing home Barrington’s point about the increase in sensory experiences in the confectionary market.

“Marvellous Creations was developed in response to Australians telling us they want a chocolate experience to share as part of the family occasion, which is fun, magically exciting and unexpected,” Ben Wicks, General Manager Chocolate, Kraft Foods, told Food Magazine.

“We identified a real opportunity to create a product that is ideal for family sharing and brings everyone together at the end of the day.

“We know that families love the occasional surprise and delight in the unexpected. Marvellous Creations is the ideal way to bring a moment of unexpected joy in the everyday.”

The Marvellous Creations range offers consumers three variations, which may seem like strange combinations at first, but have been met with intrigue in the consumer market.

There’s the peanut, toffee and cookie combination, the jelly and Crunchie bits blend and the jelly, popping candy and beanies offering, all covered in famous Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate.

“We tested a number of different flavour combinations with consumers, and had overwhelming positive response to these,” Wicks explained.

“All three variants are performing extremely well, however Jelly Popping Candy Beanies is proving to be particularly popular after just four weeks on shelves,” Wicks told Food Magazine.

The strangest of combinations

Barrington explained that often, combinations of flavours that might sound odd or a little off-putting, in fact turn out to be very popular.

“Certainly the celebrity chef’s and the food shows are bringing a lot of interest into flavours and how they can work together, which means a lot of consumers are more willing to try new things,” she said.

“What we’re also seeing is a lot of different flavour trends coming through, we’re seeing savoury flavours coming into chocolate, thinks like bacon and lime and salt, salted caramel.

“We’re talking about pretty gourmet boutique brands here, but often what we see is that these things bubble away in the boutique market for a while and then it hits the mainstream once it has been accepted and received by consumers.

“It’s how the consumer accepts those new flavours, and often the gourmet boutique brands are the testing ground for new flavours.

“We’re seeing spices coming into chocolate and even into the gum lolly market, as well as some cinnamon and herbs even!

“Herbs and spices are pretty new, but people are familiar with new things coming into chocolate, we’ve seen some floral flavours, like rose. as well.

And while the confectionary industry often seems to stand on its own and march to the beat of its own drum, Barrington explained to Food Magazine that it is not actually as isolated you may think.

“There confectionary industry also often looks to the beverage markets to see some of the flavour trends going on there, because there is quite a lot of alignment,” she said.

“You might see a lot of berry flavours making their way into the beverage market and being very popular and them confectionary makers might try them in their products.

“One of the biggest trends is the expansion of berries of all types, cherry, blackberry, blueberry.

Food scientists and confectionary experts are always hard at work trying to perfect the flavours available to consumers, ensuring they are as realistic as possible.

“There will always be the favourite flavours, which are the basic flavours in confectionary; raspberry, vanilla, lime, but a lot of those flavours have gotten a  lot more sophisticated in their profiles and particular in the flavour experience, they are much truer to type nowadays,” Barrington said.

“Twenty years ago, mango flavour was what they determined mango to be, which was actually nothing like what a mango tasted like.

“Now that mangoes are so readily available and so popular here, the flavour is more true to the fruit, because it has to be.”

How flavours are changing

Beyond the creativity of the industry, and the seemingly endless combinations thought up by confectionary producers, Barrington told Food Magazine the biggest change has not been about adding things, but rather removing.

She’s talking about artificial colours and flavours, which have almost ceased to exist in not only the confectionary industry, but throughout much of the food sector.

“The biggest change across all sectors has been the natural flavours in products aimed at children,” she said.

“Twenty years ago I would say the bulk of flavours were artificial, or synthetic.

“So absolutely, the natural flavours have expanded.

“Back then, the availability to raw flavours was poor but over the last eight to 10 years, the situation has reversed and the major developments in the industry are focused on natural flavours.”

Barrington said greater understanding of the impacts of additives on health has led to widespread developments and improvements to how the flavours are colours are made.

“Now we have a lot more access to natural flavouring materials, whereas before it was very difficult.

“There is a code for how it is determined and there are very strict laws around natural flavouring and labelling your product as such.

“FSANZ [Food Standards Australia New Zealand]has changed the terminology so it is now referred to as a ‘synthetic’ flavour, rather than artificial.

The Australian confectionary industry follows the International Organisation of the Flavour Industry (IOFI) Code of Practice to ensure the health, quality and ingredients of products.

The health factor

While the enjoyment of confectionary cannot be understated, the industry is, understandably, scrutinised as the rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases rise.

In a move sure to upset chocoholics everywhere – but perhaps please their doctors – Mars announced plans in February to stop shipping chocolate bars that exceed 250 calories per portion.

It will mean the king sized chocolate bars made by the confectionary giant, including Snickers, M&M’s, Mars, Milky Way and Dove will effectively be unavailable by the end of 2013.

Even a regular sized Snickers contains 280 calories, but the company advises that it includes three serving sizes.

A king-sized Snickers contains 510 calories.

The family sized blocks of chocolate produced by the company will still be available, as they are intended to be shared.

Some critics came out swinging, accusing Mars of reducing chocolate size to save money on expensive cocoa, but the company said in a statement that it is another move by the company to create healthier products for its consumers.

The company has previously announced aims to reduce sodium levels in all Mars products by 25 per cent from 2007 levels, stop marketing chocolate products directly to children under 12 and it also started displaying calorie counts on the front of packages, eliminating trans fat and reducing saturated fat.

"Mars has a broad-based commitment to health and nutrition, and this includes a number of global initiatives," the company said in a statement.

Initiatives like Mars’ are increasing fast, but not as fast as people’s waistlines.

Of the most pressing concern is the rapidly increasing occurrences of childhood obesity, and as such, there have been calls from medical associations and parenting groups to have all advertising of junk food to children stopped.

A report in May found that children are seeing 60 per cent less junk food advertising during their television programs, following suggestions from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that the practise should be stopped, and calls from health groups to ban ads aimed at those under 12.

In 2009 the AFGC suggested that high sugar, fat and salt (HFSS) foods should not be advertised during television programs aimed at children.

Following the suggestion, however, HFSS advertisements aimed at children did not decrease, but rather in some instances actually increased.

The AFGC maintains this rise was the result of scheduling error, but health groups including the Cancer Council, Parents Jury, Australian Medical Association and the Australian Greens called on the government to step in and ban the practise.

The AFGC said the suggestion to ban cartoons in advertising HFSS foods to children was “unnecessary” last year.

The AFGC then released figures in May to support its suggestions, which found the advertising of HFSS foods during children’s programs has fallen to 0.7 per cent between March and May 2011, down 60 per cent from the previous year.

The independent research by the Australian advertising information service Media Monitors was revealed in the RCMI Activity Report 2011, monitored free-to-air television – including digital channels – across Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney 24/7 for 92 days.

The figures prove that the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI), which was started in 2009, is working, according to AFGC Acting Chief Executive Dr Geoffrey Annison.

Under the RCMI, 17 leading food manufacturers have committed to no advertise to children under 12, unless the ads are promoting healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.

 “The latest advertising figures confirm that adverts are not running during TV programs aimed at children,” Annison said.

Annison said the AFGC is pleased the food industry has made decisions to protect children with industry codes.

“Industry looks forward to continuing discussions with Government and public health advocates to ensure the RCMI is aligned with community expectations, remains practical for industry to implement and is successful in supporting better diets and health outcomes for all Australians.”

Barrington said that while the health and nutrition, particularly of children, is always of concern, confectionary should always be seen and marketed as a ‘sometimes’ food, and should be enjoyed at those times.

“Confectionary is a hard one because if people want chocolate, they want chocolate!

Certainly in that category, consumers won’t compromise on that.”

Well then, back to the factory for the Oompa Loompas!


The problem with gluten is…

One in every hundred Australians are affected by Coeliac disease, but 75 per cent are undiagnosed, meaning that about 160,000 Australians have coeliac disease but don’t yet know it.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and outs, which causes small bowel damage in people with coeliac disease when consumed.

They experience what is referred to as villous atrophy, where the tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel become inflamed and flattened and the surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced, causing various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms, according to Coelic Australia.

There are a number of serious health consequences can result if the condition is not diagnosed and treated properly.

How is coeliac disease different to gluten intolerance?

People are born with the genetic predisposition to develop coeliac disease but environmental factors play an important role in triggering coeliac disease in infancy, childhood or later in life.

“We know one per cent of the population has coeliac disease, but the issue is that only 25 per cent of them are diagnosed at the moment,” Penny Dellsperger, Accredited practicing Dietician told Food Magazine.

“I think there are better ways to diagnose, and it’s being picked up on because of the increased awareness, so it’s difficult to know if the rates are actually rising, or if we’re just better at picking up on it now.

“In terms of how quickly it is rising, we believe one in 100 Australians has coeliac disease at the moment, but it could be more than that,

“In terms of gluten intolerance, there is not enough evidence out there to know how many people have that.

“I did hear a figure quoted recently that about 10 per cent of the population is on some sort of gluten restriction, but I don’t know if that is right or necessary.

“It might just be a bit of a fad, and it is a bit of a double-edged sword, because for those who do suffer from coeliac disease it’s good because there is more gluten free food available and having that awareness is good, but on the other end of the sword they may be down-playing the real implications of having coeliac disease.”

Part of the reason for the number of undiagnosed cases of celiac disease is the varied symptoms that come with the condition.

Some people suffer severe symptoms, while others are symptom free and there is also a lot of confusion about coeliac disease and gluten intolerances, as Dellsperger told Food Magazine.

“Obviously ceoliac disease is quite different to being gluten intolerant, there are specific medical tests to diagnose and manage celiac disease and we know exactly how to manage it, whereas gluten intolerance is not well decide and it hasn’t even been officially decided if there is a separate gluten intolerance to ceoliac disease,” she explained.

“If it does turn out that there is a separate condition, that will have implications on how it is dealt with, because at the moment there is no valid test and there is not any damage long term as there is for is no long term damage like there is with coeliac disease.

“Because of that, the actual management could be quite different, with coeliac disease we know people must follow a strict gluten-free diet for their entire lives, whereas with gluten intolerance, as long as the person is feeling fine, then they are fine.

“There certainly is research going into gluten intolerance or sensitivities and hopefully there will be developments on that.

The warning signs

Coeliac Australia says if a person is suffering more than one of the high risk factors, they should not be ignored.

The high risk conditions include Iron Deficiency, Anaemia and other Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies, Autoimmune Disease, Weight Loss, Infertility and Gastrointestinal Symptoms.


Those with a family history of the disease should also get tested, as it is a genetic condition.

Other less common symptoms, which are often thought to be unrelated, but could point towards a gluten intolerance include altered mental alertness and irritability, bone and joint pains, fatigue, weakness and lethargy, easy bruising of the skin, recurrent mouth ulcers and/or swelling of mouth or tongue and skin rashes such as dermatitis herpetiformis.

In children, failure to thrive or grow normally can be indications of celiac disease.

There is no cure for the condition, and those who suffer from ceoliac disease are sensitive to gluten throughout their lives.

But as the rates of coeliacs rises, so too is the number of gluten-free options available.

As long as the gluten free diet is strictly adhered to, problems arising from coeliac disease should not return.

Advancements in food testing

If a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, they may not suffer any symptoms, but they will do damage to the small bowel.

This is why the testing capabilities for gluten are continually undergoing improvements, as the impacts of coeliacs consuming gluten become more apparent.

Andrew Odd from Australasian Medical and Scientific Ltd told Food Magazine the improved testing capabilities for gluten “has been a long while coming but finally getting there.”

He said the two new gluten testing kits launched by Romer Labs make it simpler and more accurate for manufacturers to ensure there are no traces of gluten in its products.

The AgraStrip Gluten G12 is a lateral flow device for onsite factory testing and the AgraQuant Gluten G12 is an ELISA for quantitative testing in the laboratory.

The brand-new test kits use Romer Labs proprietary gluten detection technology, which employs a next generation antibody, called G12.

“Essentially, it is a colour-change device which can be used on surfaces for environmental monitoring purposes or areas or materials with cross-contamination issues with batches of products, it and can also be used in testing raw materials and finished products,” Odd explained.

“There are some very basic tests involved, but at the end you’ve got a strip which has come colour lines appear which give a visual indication of whether a sample was positive of negative for a particular allergen, in this case gluten.”

He said the new technology affords food manufacturers peace of mind and quality assurance.

“For starters it gives them good confidence in the products they’re manufacturing and they don’t have to run the risk of undeclared allergens being present in products and having to possibly recall a batch,” he told Food Magazine.

“It gives greater control over quality-control programs and allows action to be taken immediately, in real time, because they don’t have to wait for it to be sent to laboratories.”

“The sensitivity levels are very high.

“It detects down as low as five parts per million and currently, there is a lot of international consensus that 20 parts per million and above is considered a problem, so it can beat that level.

“But the levels can also be customised so it isn’t too sensitive.

“Previously the tests to do this sort of analysis were really only available to laboratories, but these strips are making it a lot easier for manufacturers to do the testing on-site, and they don’t need any equipment to run them.”

Children with undiagnosed coeliac disease can suffer lack of proper development, short stature and behavioural problems.

Coeliac Australia works to raise money and find better treatment for children with the condition, by studying the immune responses to gluten in children and working towards new treatments, including a coeliac vaccine.

They also aim to establish effective treatments to prevent or control the acute “food poisoning” that can be experienced in coeliac disease following accidental gluten consumption and develop a diagnostic test for coeliac disease that is effective in people already gluten free without requiring a prolonged gluten challenge and potentially avoid the need for an intestinal biopsy altogether.

Good culture: how the rise in yoghurt consumption is helping Aussie farmers

Yoghurt is one of the fastest-growing food categories in Australia, and the increased consumption is not only improving health, it's helping Aussie farmers.

Whether its health consciousness on the part of consumers, or the range of flavours and types that manufacturers are producing, the rise in popularity cannot be ignored.

A mere few years ago, the Greek yoghurt category was almost non-existent in the Australian market, but the current demand is something that is not being ignored by manufacturers.

As dairy farmers struggle to survive the milk price wars and more dairy products become private-label domain, yoghurt and in particular, Greek yoghurt, is offering Aussie dairy farmers some hope.

“Greek yoghurt uses about triple the amount of milk compared to other yoghurts and the hope and expectation is that this will change the local milk consumption drastically,” Peter Meek, Managing Director for Bead Foods, which is launching Chobani Greek yoghurt in the Australian market, told Food Magazine.

Since launching Chobani in the US five years ago, the consumption of Greek yoghurt has risen dramatically, and Meek anticipates a similar story in Australia.

“There really wasn’t a Greek yoghurt category back in 2007, there were a couple of small niche players and then Chobani came along and almost created the mainstream category,” he explained.

“It’s gone from one per cent of the total yoghurt market to about a third of the market in five years.

“In Australia the greater yoghurt segment is not tracked by retailers, but based on our estimations, we think [Greek yoghurt] is about 15 per cent of the market, and it has seen strong growth in the last few years, mostly the plain variety because people like to add it to cooking and other things.”

Back to basics

The difference is the way the yoghurt is made, which takes on an old-fashioned, traditional approach to making Greek yoghurt, which Meek believes is the main reason it has been so widely adopted in the US and will also be in Australia.

“I think firstly because almost all of it is natural and organic and properly strained. We call ours ‘Greek yoghurt,” not ‘Greek-style” because we strain our yoghurt and it takes three litres of milk to make one litre of our Greek yoghurt,” he told Food Magazine.

“The standard Greek yoghurt available in Australia is 10 per cent fat because it is just full cream milk with cream added and then it is fermented.

“But we start with lots of skim milk, we strain it and remove the fat, which makes it incredibly thick and creamy naturally because there are tons and tons of proteins in there.

“I think the health and wellness trend is growing and consumers are looking for products that are authentic.

“Our yoghurt is milk and cultures, what we don’t use is the stuff consumers are saying they don’t want: gelatines and thickeners and artificial additives.

Chobani has invested $20 million into building what Meek describes as “basically a whole new factory alongside our existing [Gippsland] one,” to make the Greek yoghurt locally.

“We’re putting in a whole processing plant to make the base yoghurt, as well as new filling lines, warehousing and storage capacity to store and ship,” he explained to Food Magazine.

“In the process, we’re also recruiting people for the development and there will be about 25 more peopled when it’s up and running, so we will have an impact on the wider community with employment too.

Milking the dairy industry

“The hope and expectation is that this will change the local milk consumption drastically.

“We currently source all Gippsland dairy from Victoria, so we’re already buying that and once we start making Chobani locally, we will obviously increase the amount we’re buying dramatically.”

“Anything that uses local milk has got to be a great thing.

“One reason we will make the milk here is that we will have access to a wonderful quality of milk.”

When Food Magazine asked Meek for his take on the supermarket price wars and its impact on the dairy industry, he was hesitant to comment.

“It’s a very complicated issue and I don’t have all the information on it,” he said.

“All I know is that for my business to be successful, I need a viable farming community behind me anything that will support that, I am definitely in favour of.”

Dairy farming second worst job in the world

This month, a US survey rated dairy farming as the second worst job you can have.

The findings of the American survey might not come as a surprise to most Australian dairy farmers, who are facing a slump in profits as the major supermarkets continue to sell milk for $1 per litre, despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into what the industry calls “unsustainable”prices.

Australian Dairy Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine earlier this year that farmers are leaving the industry in droves because they cannot manage to make a profit, or in many cases, break even.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

The only profession deemed to be worse than dairy farming is being a lumberjack, according to the results collated by American HR group, CareerCast’s.

The five key categories were used to determine the best and worst jobs were physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

The importance of five

With Greek yoghurt going from strength to strength, one may wonder whether there is any room left in the market for more mainstream varieties. And the answer is ‘yes there is.’

So much so, that from a big idea became an even bigger development for an entrepreneur and his yoghurt brand, which had a buyer before he even had a working factory.

David Prior has a unique take on the adage ‘make the most out of your day’.

Having started his day at five o’clock in the morning for over a decade, Prior treasures this moment each morning where he feels he can pause and create his day.

It was this philosophy that fuelled Prior to capture what he calls this ‘five:am-ness,’ and bottle it.

And so, the five:am organic yoghurt brand was born, but Prior also wanted to ensure his operation was environmentally sustainable.

At this stage of pipe dreams and grand ideas, the unimaginable happened: a major Australian supermarket decided to buy his product.

Only problem was, they wanted it by March 2011 – just eight months later – and at this stage Prior didn’t even have any equipment, let along a sustainable manufacturing operation.

“When the contract was signed to produce and distribute our yoghurt within an eight month timeframe, all we had was a 35,000 square foot site located just south of Melbourne, Victoria,” explained Prior.

“Our site had no manufacturing system in place, inadequate air flow and water supply, and none of the technology needed to produce organic yoghurt.”

Despite the short time frame, Prior did not want to sacrifice the environmentally sustainable factory he had dreamed of for his yoghurt brand.

In May 2010, five:am engaged Process Partners, a specialist dairy engineering and process improvement group, to help manage and execute the project, who conducted a detailed audit of five:am’s requirements, taking into account its need to produce more variations of the product than was initially required to meet its March 2011 distribution deadline.

From this, they developed a manufacturing strategy for the plant and evolved the strategy based on budget and business objectives.

Process Partners joined forces with Schneider Electric to provide a full suite of automation and control technology in the small timeframe.

“Nobody can believe how quickly we got it up and going,” Craig Roseman, Schneider Electric’s food and beverage specialist, told Food Magazine.

He agreed that the focus on health has opened up doors for more players in the yoghurt category, including Prior.

“I guess why there has been such an increase in the market in Australia versus the UK is that our consumption per capita is less than them so there was always scope to increase it.

“There is definitely a trend towards more wholesome foods and yoghurt is one example of that.

The milk used in five:am’s yoghurt is an important part of it’s organic processing, which Roseman said is sourced from a farm in Victoria.

“It is a certified organic farm, and it went through rigorous process to get it that certification,” he said.

Roseman told Food Magazine that while the supermarket duopoly is impacting the market, the yoghurt sector is proving to be a hopeful case.

“I guess we have, apart from the independents, a strong duopoly between Coles and Woolworths so they are always going to have pretty strong market power and I think basically having market power means they can dictate a lot about what they want.

“There is that element of end users, some are more susceptible to that [supermarket power], while some can push back a little.

“I certainly agree that it’s not conducive to a healthy local sector in the long run, it is going to put strain on the businesses that are already struggling.

“We’re not that different to ‘a dollar a litre’ farmers, a lot of our business is cut out or improved on too.

“Fortunately the yoghurt sector is one of the few dairy derivatives that is not home branded to the extent that milk and cheese.

“The profit is driven out for manufacturers when a category becomes dominated by private label, but yoghurt has somehow managed to stay strong.”









How one little ingredient is reducing spina bifida rates in Australia

Imagine a life where you were paralysed below the waist, you couldn’t go to the bathroom on your own and your brain did not allow you to function normally for your age.

This is the reality of someone born with significant spina bifida.

Derived from the word for ‘split spine’ in Latin, Spina Bifida is one of a class of serious birth defects, called neural tube defects (NTDs), which involve damage to the bony spine and the nervous tissue of the spinal cord. 

The neural tube defect, which involves damage to the bony spine and nervous tissue or the spinal cord and some vertebrae not closing properly, affects one in approximately every 1000 births.

Nerve signals to most parts of the body located below the level of the ‘split spine’ are damaged and a wide range of muscles, organs and bodily functions are affected.

Because the spinal cord does not develop properly, and vertebrae remain open, children born with this serious birth defect often face worsening health throughout their life spent in a wheelchair.

The parents of children with the worst cases of spina bifita often need to attend to their child like they are a baby, even as they grow into adulthood, which poses inherent problems as they become bigger and more difficult to manage.

The impacts of spina bifida

“The one thing that is constant with spina bifida is that there is a huge variety of impacts associated with it,” Bill Shead, Manager, Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Queensland told Food Magazine.

“You get people who can walk and function relatively fine, and on other hand there are people so badly affected they can’t function at all.

“There are a small number of people who pass away from the affects of it.

“It’s usually around the time of birth and then there seems to be another danger period in the teens.

“The reason seems to be from associated brain malformation.”

Removing the chances

So what if we could prevent children being born with this debilitating condition? Luckily, we can.

A woman who consumes a 400 µg folic acid per day in the lead up to her pregnancy can essentially eliminate the risk of her baby being born with spina bifita.

Fantastic, take a supplement once a day for a month before you start trying to fall pregnant. Simple, right?

Not quite, because the problem is that a huge percentage – which nobody seems to be able to provide an exact figure on – of pregnancies in this country are not planned.

Therefore, those expectant mothers who weren’t planning on a pregnancy are not only looking down the barrel of a monumental change to their life they aren’t sure if they want, but they’re also more likely to end up with a child with spina bifida.

How many times have you heard someone say “we just stopped trying, and then next thing we knew, we were pregnant”?

Spina bifida is a life sentence for most children born with the condition, and also for the families whose lives are thrown into a spin by their child’s condition, so if there was a way to ensure children wouldn’t have it, would you support it?

It seems like the obvious reply would be a resounding “yes!” but when the suggestion of mandatory folic acid fortification in breads sold in Australia was suggested in 2007, many people were against the idea.

Rising awareness

Food Magazine has spoken to several organisations that educate and treat children with conditions including spina bifida, and all agree that the rate of the neural tube defects are tending down, due to the rising awareness of the importance of folate for women.

Robyn Brice Director of the Orange Early Childhood Intervention told Food Magazine the suggestion of folate in bread was met with some criticism, because “when anything is made mandatory, people don’t like it, they want to feel like they have a choice.”

It has been mandatory for Australian millers to add folic acid, which is a form of the B vitamin folate, to wheat flour for making bread since September 2009.

It means nearly all bread in Australia will contain added folic acid, besides those with flour represented as “organic,” though many of those bakers will add it voluntarily.

A spokesperson from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the body that regulates the mandatory fortification, said the initial opposition also came from within the industry.

“There was initial opposition from the flour milling industry as they believed it would add considerable costs to their operations for new facilities, and increased ongoing operating and verification costs,” she told Food Magazine.

During the two-year consultation period, FSANZ comprehensively assessed the potential health benefits and risks from increasing intakes of folic acid across the population and based on all available scientific evidence, adding folic acid to wheat flour for making bread in Australia is safe for the whole population.

It says it is “continuing to monitor emerging scientific research on folic acid and public health and safety,” and that “no new evidence has emerged to change our original conclusion that mandatory fortification with folic acid is safe.”

How do you get folate?

The mandatory fortification was a desperate attempt by Australia and New Zealand to ensure women were getting enough folic acid, because despite recommendations, most women were not consuming enough, particularly those who had no conscious plans to fall pregnant.

“For many years, Australia and New Zealand had introduced a number of initiatives to increase the folic acid intake of women planning to or who may become pregnant to reduce the risk of their children developing neural tube defects,” the FSANZ spokesperson told Food Magazine” 

“For example, a health claim on labels of foods containing a minimum amount of folate including folate-fortified food, education programs, voluntary folic acid fortification of foods (breakfast cereals and bread) and encouraging women to take folic acid supplements. 

“Despite these initiatives, most women of child-bearing age were still not consuming enough folic acid. 

“Mandatory fortification of wheat flour provides additional protection against neural tube defects.

“Mandatory fortification is one initiative to reduce neural tube defects and other initiatives will continue to be important. 

“These include existing voluntary fortification measures in other foods and encouraging women planning to or who may become pregnant to take supplements.”

Thankfully, regulation was introduced in 2009 after a two year consultation period, despite the opposition, and spina bifita rates in Australia are consequently on the decrease.

“There has been an enormous decrease in the number of children we treat for spina befita,” Brice, who has worked at the Orange centre for 18 years, told Food Magazine.

“I can hardly remember the last time we had a child with spina bifita,” she said.

“We have about 80 families who access our centre and I have not seen a child with spina bifita in at least five years.

“Awareness has been raised about folate and how important it is and I believe it was a fantastic move by the regulators to make it mandatory.”


When it comes to juice, keep it simple, stupid

Fruit juice used to be simple. You got some fruit, squeezed it until liquid ran out and then drank it. But then, things got complicated.

Somewhere along the way, juice producers realised they could make those expensive fruits go further: put less of it in the bottle, but sell it for the same price. Genius!

Often additives like water, sugar and orange flavouring are mixed with the real stuff that looks like juice, and is stocked in supermarkets with all the other juices, but can only technically be called a "fruit drink."

Then there's "reconstituted" juice, which is a way of adding water to dry solids from which the water has been evaporated.

Taking the moisture out of the fruit, by using heat, is a way to make transportation easier and ensure availability all year round, but can result in many of the nutrients being extracted.

But as people become more aware of the impact of obesity and the part that food and drink consumption plays in that, there is more demand than ever for proper, traditional fruit juice.

Its juice like it used to be, only better.

When nudity is perfectly acceptable

Ten years ago, Nudie Juice was launched by a man affectionately known as 'Tall Tim," and since its initial days, which came off the back of Tim Pethick's obsession with making fresh juices for his family, it has grown into a well-known and trusted brand with state-of-the-art juicing facilities, thousands of stockists and countless "Nudie addicts."

"Our proudest moments are often the unprompted bits of feedback that we receive from our consumers," Richard Glenn, Nudie's National Sales Manager told Food Magazine.

"We are continually amazed by the amount of people who take the time to contact us and tell us how much they love Nudies, their experience of their first nudie, or what they think of our new products.

"We call these people 'Nudie addicts'.

"Last week we even received a picture from a lady who had embroidered a quilt with pictures of all of our nudie characters on it, impressive stuff!"

The ever-increasing number of 'Nudie addicts,' is clear evidence that consumers are looking for quality products, free from preservatives but full of goodness.

Before Nudie entered the market, there weren't any mainstream juicers doing what Pethick was in his kitchen each morning, when he rose early to make up fruit juice and smoothie concoctions for his wife and daughters (and of course, himself), and so an opportunity was born.

After some deliberation, Pethick decided the best name for his company was one that summed up what his fruit was all about: nothing but the fruit, hence 'Nudie.'

From little things, big things grow

In 2003, when the company launched, there were only three people, including Pethick, one stockist, one blender and one small office in Sydney's Balmain.

They went through 256 pieces of fruit in the first week, and sold 40 bottles, mostly to family and friends.

They even went doorknocking, gave out samples and delivered Nudies personally so people could taste the goodness for themselves.

Now, more than 70 people are employed by the company, and it has over 5000 stockists throughout the country, including supermarket, cafŽ and convenience store chains, as well as independent retailers and food service operators.

Nudie goes through about 3 000 000 pieces of fruit per week these days and has a state-of-the-art juicing facility in South East Sydney.

And they're not stopping there.

"Within the last 18 months we've delivered some really strong innovation to the market," Glenn said.

"We spend a lot of time speaking to consumers and identifying trends to ensure that our product offering remains relevant.

"Our Nothing But range which was launched to address the growing consumer concerns around the use of concentrates and added ingredients in many of the other juice products on the market at the time.

"We launched with Nothing But 21 Oranges and Nothing But 20 Apples, taking nudie into the larger 'take home' segment of the market for the first time.

"In addition to the Nothing But message, we are also able to make the claim that we can get the product from farm to bottle in 72 hours, and that it is 100% Australian.

"For every 2L bottle, our farmers in regional NSW pick 21 oranges (give or take a few) and squeeze them, they then deliver this juice to our factory in Sydney where we lightly pasteurise the juice and bottle it.

"We add nothing else to the juice and the whole process from beginning to end takes no more than 72 hours.

"We believe that the quality of the fruit we use and our strict discipline around this process allows us to have such a great tasting juice, which is currently the most popular chilled juice in the Australian grocery market.

"Based on the success of these lines we have since expanded the range into a 1L and 500ml offering and have also added 3 new variants to the range."

A more informed consumer

Glenn told Food Magazine the company is always looking to innovate their products and ensure they are delivering what consumers want.

"We then became the first beverage company in Australia (and possibly the world) to add chia seeds to a beverage," he continued.

"As well as being the highest plant based source of Fibre and Omega 3, chia seeds also help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

"We saw this as a great opportunity to create a nudie with chia seeds as a way of providing breakfast for people on the go, and have partnered with The Chia Co in Kimberley, WA to create the product."

Glenn believes the always-increasing demand for Nudie products is proof that consumers are becoming more educated about additives and their negative impacts, and turning towards healthier options.

"There has certainly been a lot of media coverage surrounding some of the added ingredients which exist in the market, and consumers seem to be better educated when it comes to choosing beverage products.

"A lot of food brands do seem to be increasing their focus on communicating what their products do not contain, which tends to suggest that this message is resonating with consumers across many areas of their grocery shop."

Keeping the good stuff

Another juice producer that is listening to the consumer demand for more fruity goodness and less additives is the Wild About Fruit Company, which produces two ranges of Low GI juices that are free from any nasties and full of flavour and health benefits.

The Wild Child "super-juices" and Wild About Juice ranges are based on apple juice sourced from orchards in the Yarra Valley and created with a "pure fruit" philosophy.

"There are no preservatives, no added sugar or water and no trendy boosts," the company told Food Magazine.

A few years ago a third generation orchardist in Victoria's Yarra valley, Ben Mould, wondered:  "Could an apple juice be made that actually tasted like a crisp orchard fresh apple, and also contain as much of the nutrients from the apple as possible?"

Knowing that crushing the apple caused oxidization, damaging the apple's delicate nutrients, which are found mainly in the skin, Mould had to develop something pretty clever.

Mould said that while most people have experienced the taste of commercially made apple juice – sickly sweet confectionary flavour that leaves a nasty after-taste, few had experienced good quality, sustainably juiced, delicious tasting real apple juice.

Even many home juicers damage the cells of the fruit and remove a lot of the apple's antioxidants.

Then, Mould's patented juicing process, which uses the whole apple, maintains the antioxidants of the fruit and has a low glycemic index (GI) was born.

Well, an apple a day does keep the doctor away!

The company says its Wild about Juice contains twice the nutritional value of the fruit than any other fruit juice on the Australian market and an independent nutritional analysis on apple juices and apple-blended products in Australia confirmed that the unique processing method employed by Wild about Juice which processes the whole fruit retains the naturally occurring phytonutrients and flavonoids contained in apples.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

The company's  Wild about Juice  range of healthy juices straight from the Yarra Valley are 100 per cent Australian, with absolutely no additives and is the first and only juice in Australia to be given a low GI rating.

The GI rating refers to the different ways certain carbohydrates behave in the human body and their effect on blood glucose levels.

Low GI foods and drinks  produce only small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels,  which  helps people lose and manage weight,increase the body's sensitivity to insulin, reduce the risk of heart disease and improve blood cholesterol levels.

They also leave you feeling fuller for longer, give added endurance for exercise and help re-fuel following exercise.

This 100% Australian, family-owned and operated business has been growing apples & cherries in the Yarra Valley since 1930.

Owner-operator Mould said the patented juicing process is healthier and more environmentally friendly than other juicing techniques.

"This special process extracts and retains the goodness from the fruit by also juicing the skin which contains more fibre and antioxidants than the flesh," Mould Explained.

"Wild about Juice promotes natural nutrition, as it has no preservatives or additives, and this juicing process also leaves minimal waste, making it highly sustainable."

The four powerful antioxidants that remain in the fruit through the revolutionary juicing process are catchins, a potent form of antioxidant which are good for coronary and cardiovascular health, flavanols that help in the protection of cancer and supports cardiovascular health, chalcones, known for their anti-inflammatory attributes and Phenolic Acids (Chlorogenic),  one of the most potent natural antioxidant groups known.

The Wild Child flavours consist of Green Cleanse; Antioxidant Energy; Mango Passion Veggie Detox, which are all made with using nature's own superfoods, and nothing else.

The Green Cleanse, for regeneration and rejuvenation contains apple, mango, banana, spinach, wheatgrass and spirulina to naturally detox and cleanse the body, while the Antioxidant Energy contains apple, pomegranate, blackcurrant, acai, and goji berries, in what the company describes as "the ultimate blend of the world's finest super-fruits and a natural source of antioxidants to boost energy and fight free radicals."

As these companies continue to grow, and the demand for proper, healthy juices increases, the market will see more innovation and creative combinations, and as Glenn told Food Magazine, the most important aspect for Nudie moving forward is commitment to what they do and why they do it.

"As a relatively young business just in our 10th year now, it's hard to say what the next 10 years hold in store.

"We will just make sure that we stick to the values which have got us to where we are today and continue to do what's been working for us so far."

As people become more aware of the impact of obesity and the part that food and drink consumption plays in that, there is more demand than ever for proper, traditional fruit juice.

Is food safety getting worse?

With the risk of food contamination increasing, producers, manufacturers, retailers, regulators and the consuming public all continually raise the bar for food safety. The variety of potential contaminants that must be detected across the food supply chain complicates screening procedures.

This is because no single device or technology can screen for all types. Even when an incident occurs, it’s difficult to identify the cause and its source rapidly because of the limited capability of available technology for sample preparation, identification and detection, and tracking and tracing.

There are many types of biological, chemical and physical sources of contamination. New sources of contamination constantly arise from recycling efforts, product reformulation, product counterfeiting, and other malicious and non-malicious sources.

However, the industry is putting improved technology and practices into place and new technology is evolving rapidly to help further protect the consuming public. These include continuous quality verification; state-of-the-art, analytics-based risk assessment; and more timely and granular track and trace systems.

Improving food and beverage product quality and safety goes hand in hand with efforts to lower manufacturing and supply chain cost while reducing business risk.

Global sourcing and rapid distribution have increased the risk of a large-scale incident. The Red Sudan incident is a perfect example.

Sudan 1, a banned carcinogenic red food dye, was used to make red chili powder. This single ingredient created a major global incident before authorities discovered it had entered the global food supply chain, prompting dozens of product recalls.

Over 600 food products were recalled. These included curry sauce, Worcester sauce, pesto sauce, ready to eat meals, soups, sausage, pizza and Dijon mustard mayonnaise from major food companies such as Unilever, Heinz, McDonalds, Tesco and Sainsbury.

Product reformulation

New sources of contamination continue to be discovered. These are due to product reformulation, material recycling, and discovery that some ingredients are not as safe as once thought. Many companies are reformulating their food products with ingredients that help lower costs or improve the health benefits.

However, ingredient changes can also change the water activity of the product and make it more susceptible to spoilage and bacterial growth. Just this year, Nestle announced that it is collaborating with paper manufacturers to evaluate different approaches for developing new grades of recycled paper in light of concerns about oil leaking into foods from packaging material made from recycled newspaper.

Statistics on the number of incidents of food borne illnesses or the number of incidents caused by the five major pathogens do not provide evidence of a decline in incidents. Overall, the number of incidents and their severity seem to be relatively constant year to year.

In the US, this translates into 76 million gastrointestinal illnesses, 325,000 hospitalisations, 5000 deaths, and billions of dollars in costs. This is the result of poor producing and manufacturing operations as well as poor food safety practices on the part of the consumer.

However, a single, highly publicised incident has the potential to devastate brand value or even destroy a company. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the industry is to identify and deploy new technologies that can prevent contaminated product from reaching the consumer more effectively as well as technology that can help minimise the impact of incidents that do occur.

Accurate tracking

Companies must put technology and enforced workflow procedures in place across the manufacturing supply chain and out to the customer. This includes constant risk assessment. Continuous quality verification technology should be deployed wherever possible.

More granular and accurate tracking and tracing will also be required. Tracking and tracing using pa-per records or extensive manual entry into electronic records is no longer sufficient.

Packaging and bottling operations typically lack sufficient continuous quality verification. While most packaging line machinery is highly automated, most labelling and inspection operations remain manual or semi-manual, open-loop systems.

As a result, allergen mislabelling and non-readable date and bar codes still occur all too often. Product inspection is often limited and relies on older, less effective technology to detect non-metal impurities. Continuous quality verification systems in packaging operations are be-coming a business and regulatory requirement.

Optical character recognition (OCR) systems ensure that information such as date and lot codes are accurate and readable and provide 100 percent in-line inspection. Laser measurement-sensor technology is at the heart of other packaging line, "continuous quality verification" solutions.

These verify proper package positioning and detect jams online, and can detect other rejects, such as faulty carton seals and inadequate cap closures. New, continuous on-line X-ray systems can detect many foreign objects such as most metal, glass, plastic, bone and rock.

Packaging operations

Other technology providers now offer complete process equipment plat-forms for high-speed packaging operations. These integrate robotics, motion control, and vision technology for handling food products such as meat and poultry.

The industry must constantly raise the bar for food safety.Such platforms eliminate human handling of product to eliminate a source of product contamination. Inspection by automated vision technology also eliminates error-prone human inspection.

Food manufacturers are deploying new software solutions to address product quality and safety. These include quality management systems, production management systems, model predictive control, and electronic track and trace systems.

Production management software solutions have evolved to include many functions such as workflow design and enforcement; KPI dashboards for analysing quality, productivity, and asset utilisation; and several levels of data analytics that help identify problem areas and assess potential product quality and safety risks.

Some now include more sophisticated model- based analysis and control. In fact, most suppliers now offer some form of model predictive control (MPC) in their production management software suites.

Quality, risk, and compliance management systems (QMS) have evolved over time to address the growing needs of the regulated manufacturing industries. These systems help ensure product quality and safety as well as compliance with government regulations and industry standards, while minimising the risk to a manufacturing enterprise associated with off-quality product or noncompliance with government regulations.

Mission-specific functionality is included for manufacturing, engineering, quality, customer service, purchasing, and corporate management. Typically QMS software include modules to manage quality, documents, change, internal and external audits, training, BOMs, supplier quality, compliance and submissions, customer complaints, incidents, risk, nonconformance and deviation, corrective and preventive action (CAPA), and environmental health and safety (EH&S) compliance.

Business and regulatory requirements drive a global effort to improve product genealogy tracking and tracing from the "farm to the fork." It impacts companies that produce, manufacture, process, pack, hold, transport, distribute, and receive food products for human or animal consumption.

While most regulations require "one up and one down" record keeping, good business due diligence requires tracking and tracing from the source of an ingredient or product to the purchase by the retail customer. This includes information on companies as well as the products.

As real-time tracking and tracing systems evolve, they should be designed with all possible business benefits in mind. A tracking and tracing system should be integrated into all business activities including balancing incoming and outgoing supply chains, product recall, theft, anti-counterfeiting, asset management and tracking, and other business functions.

Production management systems

The new generation of quality management systems enables quality management tracking and tracing of suppliers and other partners in the supply chain. Production management systems provide significant tracking and tracing within manufacturing prior to packaging operations.

This includes such functions as recipe management, batch lot tracking, and in-process genealogy.
Driven by the increased need for product serialisation, packaging operations management systems are improving in functionality. However, most systems lack the full level of required functionality.

ARC believes packaging floor product identification and traceability systems must provide specific functionality to help reduce or eliminate inaccurate data, minimise the financial risk and scope of a potential product recall, and simplify current and future regulatory compliance.

While government regulations and the industry itself are doing more to ensure food safety, with the constantly changing sources of potential contamination the risk of a major incident continues to increase. In response, the industry must constantly raise the bar for food safety by continuing to implement best practices and deploying the latest technology.

[John Blanchard is Principal Analyst, ARC Advisory Group.]

Q&A with Gordon Slater, Byron Bay Cookie Company chairman

Gordon Slater, chairman of local manufacturer Byron Bay Cookie Company, speaks to Manufacturers’ Monthly about the company’s transition from hand-made to machine production, and the important role exporting plays in its future growth plans.

What’s the best thing about being chairman of Byron Bay Cookie Company?

The best thing about being the chairman of Byron Bay Cookie Company is getting involved in all aspects of the business, from product development to operations and sales & marketing.

Plus I get to try a lot of different cookies!

How much time do you spend at your manufacturing facilities?

I split my time between our bakehouse in Byron Bay and our new head office in Sydney Chifley Towers which now employs a strategic team of 5 (and growing).

Our cookies are still baked in the original bakehouse in Byron Bay where we bake hundreds of thousands of cookies weekly!

We employ between 50 and 100 staff; this fluctuates throughout the year and we’ll bring on more casuals to cover our peak production periods.

We also have an office in London, UK and a presence in the US.

What’s the one piece of technology/equipment that Byron Bay Cookie Company could not manufacture without?

Over the last couple of years we’ve made sure to put the right equipment in place to remain innovative and ahead of our competitors.

Our cookies were originally hand made which gave us a certain point of differentiation, however limited us in terms of long term growth.

We’ve since made key equipment purchases enabling us to scale up production whilst remaining true to our traditional baking methods.

Byron Bay Cookie Company began in a farm-style kitchen and is now recording 17% year on year growth. Was this the plan from the get-go?

Our plan has always been to manufacture a superior quality product but more importantly, we understood very early on that we had found a niche for a great-tasting treat that can be enjoyed with a coffee and uses natural, locally-sourced ingredients.

As such we were the “original café cookie” and pioneered the concept of cookie jars in cafes and delis across Australia.

Whilst the café market remains at the core of our business, we’ve managed to maintain growth by expanding into the retail market and by acquiring other brands such as Luken & May biscuits and Falwasser crispbread.

How important are export markets to the longevity of your business?

Export markets have been key to our expansion from day dot.

The very first export market we conquered was the UK over 10 years ago.

This was a calculated risk at the time and we learned a lot from it as a business.

We first started shipping our cookies from Australia; however as customer demand grew we made the strategic move to embark into a joint venture with a local bakery so Byron Bay Cookies are now made in the UK for the European market.

The next market on our list was Japan and it’s interesting to see how each market reacts to different products.

Whist the Dotty is our number 1 seller in Australia and in the UK, it’s our Fig & Pecan that tops the list in Japan, and the Triple Choc Fudge in the US.

We’re always on the lookout for new export markets, and as such are planning on increasing our presence at key tradeshows overseas.

Byron Bay Cookie Company is a classic example of what Australian manufacturers do best: quality over quantity. Can you comment on this?

From the very beginning our mission was to bake great cookies using the finest quality ingredients. By enforcing quality through each step of the production process, we managed to create a highly loyal customer following and we grew from there.

The challenge over the years has been to remain innovative whilst maintaining the same quality and taste that took us where we are today.

Do you think the Australian government does enough to help the manufacturing industry?

The Australian government has put in place some great programs which we have taken advantage of over the years.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us entrepreneurs to keep challenging ourselves and continually push for more innovation and creative ways to take the business further.

Which other Australian manufacturers do you admire, and why?

Australian fashion manufacturers have done a tremendous job with growing their brands overseas; Billabong is the perfect example.

A great product will only take you so far; ultimately it’s about creating and nurturing a strong brand that will take us that extra mile and deliver returns.

You are also a practicing orthopaedic surgeon: does your surgery have the best lolly jar ever?

Without a doubt! It’s important for us to put our product forward at any given opportunity.

You know the saying, ‘never trust a skinny chef’? You own a cookie company: how come you’re so slim?!

I have my personal trainer to thank for this!

The biggest challenge is the constant travelling that I do (and the constant product testing!).

It’s all about balance and great time management.

I’ve always been very driven in business and this is something that I apply to my personal life and discipline as well.


Are you ready?

 Ready meals are not what they used to be.

Gone are the days of soggy green mush masquerading as peas, meat processed to within an inch of its life and gravy and sauces made almost entirely of salt and MSG.

Nowadays, consumers are demanding fresher ingredients, healthier, portion-controlled meals and simplicity in preparation.

And the manufacturers are listening, because, truthfully they would be insane not to.

In one of the fastest- growing food industries, it is crucial for companies to be on top of the game, or risk losing out to competitors.

Kit Rahman, McCain Foods marketing manager told Food Magazine the range offered by the company, including Healthy Choice, is continually changing and improving quality, in line with consumer demands.

“Food expertise, food knowledge and food experimentation are at unprecedented levels in Australia through an explosion of food-related media,” he said.

“Restaurants have increased their quality, everyday people are a bit more concerned with what they put into their mouths and a renewed interest in cooking has led to a greater range of cuisines being explored.”

Tony Rollandson from Gippsland Food Company, which produces the Lean Cuisine range, told Food Magazine that as people get busier, sales of ready meals are seeing a spike in popularity.

“Consumers who are time short are buying into market as well,” he said.

“Our traditional target market is extending, there are more consumers than ever heading to the supermarket to pick up something quick and easy.

“If you look at it from Lean Cuisine’s perspective, the amount of time and effort we put behind improving the cuisine type, type of meals we offer and dramatically improving the of quality of meals has been huge because the market is demanding that.

“As they’re looking for more exciting meals and healthier meals we had to move with the times.”

Rahman agreed, explaining Healthy Choice’s goal is to make healthy and tasty meals in the ready meal category more exciting for consumers, who are not only busy but also living alone more than ever before.

[Being busy] is definitely a factor – we also have changing population demographics with greater numbers of single-person households, and cooking for 1 person isn’t much fun,” he told Food Magazine.

“The typical consumer of Healthy Choice would be a single female, 30-40 yrs old, interested in maintaining her health and weight-conscious but not to the point of extreme dieting or calorie-counting.

“She works, leads a full life outside of work and packs a lot into her schedule.”

Rollandson is less inclined to speculate about the type of consumer Healthy Choice attracts, explaining that the demographic is constantly shifting as obesity and associated disease remain front page news.

“It’s quite varied,” he explained to Food Magazine.

“A considerable number are baby boomers who’ve hot dispensable income and are looking for a healthy alternative, others are middle aged men and women who are simply time poor with work and other things.

“There are all types of people looking for a healthier alternative these days, particularly those in single households.”

Some shoppers Food Magazine spoke to said the price of a single meal often puts them off buying Ready Meals, but Rollandson explained that using fresher ingredients and healthier alternatives cannot be done as cheaply as using low-quality products.

“If looking at the price points, they from $4.50 to $9, so if you compare that to other food or drinks they’re relatively inexpensive for what you’re getting,” he said.

“Our steamed range for Lean Cuisine is growing dramatically at the moment, as are our premium options, which offer a split tray with protein separated from the carbohydrates.”

Over at Healthy Choice, Rahman notes a different growth pattern in cuisine types, with people choosing heartier, comfort-type foods.

“The most popular meals in the McCain range are the traditional “classic” meals including Chicken Parmagiana, Lasagne, and Roast Chicken,” he told Food Magazine.




Are food companies ignoring safety warnings?

Picture this scenario: Company A experiences an outbreak of something in its food which causes masses of its products to be recalled, resulting in huge losses for the company’s profits, production and reputation.

Something like a salmonella outbreak or something equally severe can take years, if not decades, for a company to come back from.

Once the public has lost trust in a company, it is very difficult to make people forget the past, stop associating your brand with a negative situation, and come back better than ever.

So, in the food industry, where the health and safety of the products are probably more important than any other, why is there such a “hush hush” mentality to safety?

Why is nobody being proactive?

Shaughan Syme doesn’t understand why food manufacturers are not being proactive in protecting their products and reputations.

His company produces and distributes the BAXX machine, which eliminates mould spores and other airborne single cell organisms that pose risks to food safety and health.

“I have been very surprised that the food industry has not been as quick as I expected in adopting this technology, seeing as it needs to focus so much on safety,” he told Food Magazine.

“We are not suggesting this is a replacement for normal hygiene and cleaning, it is a supplement.

“With all these companies having health issues and recalls and going out of business because of it, considering this is such a low cost solution I thought they would be installed everywhere straight away.

“Companies don’t have a particular problem we can solve and we aren’t looking for payback.”

Syme explains that the technology the machine uses is safe and effective and does not pose the risks to health that many other machines which aim to solve similar issues do.

“The BAXX is new technology which produces hydroxyls, which are produced in nature, as nature’s own disinfectant,” he explained.

“The concept is to target the ozone but without the dangers.

“The ozone is a molecule with an extra hydrogen atom and is a danger to human life.

“There are some other options but they’re only effective in quantities that kill human and plant life and everything else you could think of.

“If you use these types, you have to have locks on all the doors, flood the room with ozone and two hours later, before it’s used again, you have to flood the room with oxygen, which defeats the entire purpose.

“It hasn’t been widely adopted in Australia because of the dangers, it was very big in some parts of the US.

“Hydroxyls are found in nature, they were discovered by Louis Pater (?) 200 years ago, when he tried to figure out why people who lives in sunny, arm climates were healthier than those in colder ones.

“It’s a water molecule (H2O) which is missing a hydrogen so it becomes OH- and that’s an unbalanced position, it wants to turn back to a molecule so the atoms are attracted to single cell organisms and attach to the wall and turn back into harmless water, but the cell has ruptured and dies.

“Mould spores, bacteria and fungus spores are all single cell organisms.

“It’s very effective because it is mechanical rather than chemical, so the organisms can’t become immune to it.”

Safety attitude "back to front"

A spokesperson from WorkCover NSW told Food Magazine while it is not definite that the industry has a “hush hush” mentality to safety, the rates of incidents does not seem to be declining.

“It’s not something I have sensed, but I guess generally speaking often there is a reluctance from an organisation to want to engage with any regulators, whether its WorkCover or another food industry body.

“But we strongly encourage companies to be proactive.

“We would much prefer they be proactive and talk to us so we can come out there and give our input.

“I know it is difficult and we are always working strongly to change the perspective of what we do and we are very keen to engage with industry.

“I think it’s a bit back to front.

“If an organisation could cause someone to be seriously injured or worse, killed, it is only in their best interest to talk to us and avoid any injuries and the costs and damage to reputation that would cause.

“It’s all about gaining competitive advantage these days between companies so people need to embrace safety and be proactive about it.”

Companies hesitant to suggest problems

Syme agrees with the sentiment that the industry has its safety priorities back to front.

“We have sold quite a number of these machines and probably 90 per cent have been to companies that have problems and are looking for a solution,” he told Food Magazine.”

“Nine out of 10 times the BAXX solves the issue, but when we ask the company if we can use them as a reference, they’ve been reluctant to have their name attached to it simply because they don’t want other companies or the public to know they had problems in the first place.

“I think to have it mandated would be an advantage seeing as this is not a fad, it is a proven thing and it is perfectly safe for humans.

“I honestly thought companies would be calling us daily and climbing over one another to get to us because it is so simple and cost effective.

‘The 800s unit is $AU3850 plus GST plus $26 delivery, so it is not a financial burden at all, we’re not talking a $15 000-20 000 system.

“You buy it for that price and then there is no further costs, no maintenance or services, just and the electricity costs- which is 1200 watts, about the same as two lightbulbs!

“It doesn’t need to be oiled or cleaned, it might just need a dust every once in a while if it is in a dusty area. and the electricity costs- which is 1200 watts, about the same as two lightbulbs!

“And it’s completely stainless steel…and stainless steel doesn’t rust.

Syme believes the attitude should be reversed, so companies are focusing on being proactive rather than reactive to safety.

“I think that’s where a lot of companies are missing the point, they don’t have to admit they have a problem, you could easily turn it around as a bonus to let your customers know you fitting these things voluntarily because are being proactive about it and that you are concerned with safety.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing in doctor’s surgeries too, we will have a plaque displayed in waiting room informing people the air is being treated by BAXX technology for your safety, to stop the spread of infections.

“People don’t have to take our word for it; they can research hydroxyls themselves, and find out all the information on the internet.”


More children with eating disorders: confused by anti-obesity messages

Everyday we are bombarded with more statistics about the increasing rate of obesity in Australia, ways to curb obesity and information about what the government is going to do about the epidemic.
But there is a section of society, at the complete other end of the scale, that we are forgetting.

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, body dysmorphia remain the quiet killer in Australia, while the health impacts of obesity are shouted from the rooftops.

Similarly with the obesity epidemic, the messages about healthy weight and eating habits vary between adults and children.

The message being delivered is that most adults could stand to lose some weight, but this seems to be misconstrued by children.

Doctors have started treating a new kind of eating disorder which has been brought on by the anti-obesity campaigns flooding Australian media and advertising.

Some children have lost up to a third of their body weight in mere months as they misunderstand health messages related to obesity.

Chief executive of the Butterfly Foundation, Australia’s leading eating disorder and body image organisation, Christine Morgan, told Food Magazine the issues are only getting worse.

“I think there is a real element of truth in them [reports].

“We haven’t gathered information at this stage to say it is definitely evidence based but we certainly respect the opinions of our colleagues, paediatricians, child psychologists, who work with children and are seeing an increase in the number of critical eating disorders in children even the age of seven, resulting in hospitalisation.”

Royal Children’s Hospital chair of adolescent health Professor Susan Sawyer said children’s irrational opinion of their body, stemming from the anti-obesity campaign, is on the increase.

"When you’re older and overweight it’s a very simple message that weight loss is good for you," Sawyer said

"The difficulty with young people is that even if they are moderately overweight, they are still growing height-wise and are at risk of over-interpreting public health messages of ‘low fat is good’ to suggest that ‘no fat is better’.

"For all intents and purposes, these adolescents have anorexia nervosa in terms of how unwell they are, the distorted body image and the amount of weight loss, but they are at a normal weight.

"This is very new."

Morgan said the major problem with children receiving anti-obesity information, whether directly or indirectly, is that they are not mature enough to properly comprehend it yet.

“On of the problems is that children are black and white in understanding, so when they are being bombarded by this information that fat is bad, if you’re fat you are not good, this is concerning,” she told Food Magazine.

“They don’t understand the nuances of the messages being delivered and it is causing them stress.

“When we’re seeing little seven-year-old whose body mass index has fallen to an alarming low and their brain has started to shrink because of it, that is something we can’t ignore.”

Is it more damaging when a child’s brain is impacted by these issues, at a time when their brains are undergoing huge developments?

“Everything is more immediate with a young person,” Morgan explained to Food Magazine.

“For an adult to lose x-amount of their body weight, it can go on a while before it becomes a medical issue.

“But it is concerning that from the age of seven into the teens there is a lot of neurodevelopment going on and the brain is being affected.

“There is evidence to say that when health is restored the brain can return to normal, but we don’t know that for sure.”

According to the Butterfly Foundation, mortality rate for anorexia is around 20 per cent and the suicide rate of people with anorexia is 32 times higher than the national average.

Across Australia, 15-19 year old’s top concern is body image, an alarming 90 per cent of 12-17 year olds are on some form of diet, and these figures are only increasing.

“I think we are becoming obsessed with the obesity epidemic and taking it to mean we must diet and it is taking away from the issues of nutrition and health.,” Morgan said.

“We need to change the attitude around these restrictive diets and instead get in touch with physiological hunger and not emotional hunger so kids don’t turn to food as they get older.

“Let’s stop rewarding or punishing with food and see is as nothing but fuel for our bodies.

As the number of obese people in Australia rises, anorexia and bulimia are also increasing at the same time, but it is not the front-page news that obesity is.

“We are certainly seeing more incidents, and there is also an increase in them being reported, so that is an indication it is being de-stigmatised as well,” Morgan told Food Magazine.

“At Butterfly we are finding more and more people adopting bulimic practises, and that is a huge concern.”

The Butterfly Foundation offers telephone and email support for those with eating disorders and their family and friends.

This confidential and supportive counselling service is available on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or at for more information about eating disorders visit

Image: Gulf News


Supermarket dominance “extreme capitalism”: Dick Smith

Dick Smith has slammed the supermarket dominance in Australia, labeling it “extreme capitalism,” and likening it to terrorism.

The Australian entrepreneur was speaking to workers at O-I Glass in Penrith yesterday, where jars for his new range of fruit spreads are being manufactured.

“You are an endangered species,” he told workers at the factory.

“And the reason you’re endangered is you’re a manufacturer here in Australia, which is fantastic.

“We could have actually bought a bottle cheaper from China, but I said ‘no way, we’re as Australian as you can get.’

The ‘As Australian as you can get’ claim is one the Dick Smith Food company has defended, as many criticise it for not being completely local.

“We have a claim that says “Australian as you can get,” because there’s nothing that’s 100 per cent Australian, nor should it be,” he explained.

“In a globalised world, if we want to be able to export, which we do – especially our minerals – we need to import. But it works very much against Australia’s favour.

“People criticize me, they say ‘oh Dick, you’re going on about buying Australian but you used to import from Japan,’ and my answer to that is ‘I sold the best.’

“The Japanese made the best electronics, and that’s why I sold the best electronics and that’s why I sold them.

“The Swiss make the best watches and Australia grows the best food, without any doubt.

“What we should be doing is selling food to the whole world, but we’re not.

“We are now a net importer of fruit and vegetables: absolutely outrageous.

“Of course, we have problems competing with countries.

“I saw in Woolworths there were some peaches and they were from a small country in Africa, and I looked up at the internet and found that 50 per cent of people in that country earn less than five dollars a day, so how could you possibly compete with that?”

"Ruthless retailing"

Smith has slammed the cut throat tactics used by the major supermarkets to win the supermarket wars when questioned by Food Magazine over the latest decision by Coles to halve the price of produce, following the milk price wars last year.

“All [Coles] do is they out the prices of everything else up,” he said.

“You don’t have to be very bright to work out that they’re selling things cheaper but they pay their chief executive five times what they ever paid before and they’re making record profits.

“It’s because everything else is put up slightly.

“So unfortunately, when you see this kind of great con – you think ‘I’ll go to Coles and buy my fruit and veg 50 per cent cheaper – all I can tell you is that I am a businessman and I’m sure you have enough common sense to work out that if someone reduced the price by 50 per cent but then makes more money, what’s going on?

“Everything else is just put up so slightly you wouldn’t notice it.

“It’s ruthless retailing.

“It’s extreme capitalism.

“Capitalism is a great system and we’ve done very well out of it in the western world.

“But anything gets to extreme.

“We’ve seen extremism in religion where people run planes into buildings.

“I see the same happening with capitalism, where you get Rupert Murdoch earning $30 million a year and there are 30 million on food stamps in the Unites States.”

Australians are getting conned

Smith agreed with Simon Coburn from peak growers representative body, AusVeg, that the choosing price over products grown and manufactured locally will lead to a complete dependence on imports.

The new range of fruit spreads he was launching yesterday, which will be packaged in glass made at the Penrith factory, is to compete with the imported fruit jams and spreads dominating Australian shelves.

In particular, Smith has taken aim at the St Dalfour brand which is imported from France, with French writing on the packaging.

“It’s like if you go to a restaurant and the writing’s in French, it’s got to be better!”

“It’s amazing how we get conned.”

He explained that the product is called a fruit spread because it does differ from most commercial jams and marmalades on the market.

“It’s called a ‘fruit spread’ because it’s made without any cane sugar,” Smith said.

“We’ve got a wonderful company called Spring Gulley, Aussie family company in Adelaide who are making the range and the beautiful honey, where I’ve actually picked the three types of honey, Aussie honey.

“And of course, the jar is manufactured here, right here, and I am absolutely so proud that we’re able to get a manufacturer here in Australia that’s employing Australians.

There is a cost to being ‘as Australian as you can get’ though, but Smith baulks at the suggestion Aussie families aren’t willing to spend a little more on providing good food for their kids and jobs for Australians.

“We’ve got a catch, and that is that it’s going to be about 20 cents dearer than the St Dalfour,” he said.

“Now what I’m told by the supermarket buyers is that people only buy the cheapest food.

“I think that’s ridiculous.

“Australians don’t buy the cheapest cars, we buy the middle of the range cars, because Australian families want something that’s quality, that’s safe! We don’t even buy the cheapest pet food!

“Over a billion dollars of pet food is the ‘Dine’ brand, which is 60 per cent dearer.

“So we actually buy the best for out pets, but when it comes to our children, by the look of it, we just buy the cheapest!”

“What I’m saying to Australians is not only is this a better product because it’s taken from beautiful Australian fruit, but you can feel good because you’re supporting Australia.

“You’re supporting farmers, you’re supporting workers.

Smith slammed the decision by Coles not to stock the products, as it continues its campaign to stock the cheapest possible items, despite where they come from.

“We’ve got to get Australians to be willing top pay an extra 20 cents to support the home team.

“Woolworths is taking the five new products, but Coles won’t, mainly on price!

“Coles are letting Australians down, in this particular case.

“I couldn’t believe it.

“[It’s a] beautiful Australian product, but the minute they found out it was 20 cents dearer, their belief was ‘no.’

“If you go into Coles, and Coles have previously been good supporters of Australia, you’ll find that in their fruit spread range, from what I could see, everything is imported!

“Whereas Coles used to say when you were selling something to them ‘you’ve got to make some money, just as we’ve got to make some money,’ now they actually say ‘we don’t actually care if you go broke, we’re just going to sell the cheapest.’

“If you’re only going to sell the cheapest, we’ll have no local products and they say, ‘well so be it, it’s up to the marketplace,’ and I agree, it is up to us, who need to not only say they support Australians, but actually do it.”

Woolworths, Coles will become like ALDI

Smith agrees with predictions of huge private-label growth in Australian supermarkets, as the traditional business model is removed and replaced with a much tougher one.

“The freedom we’ve usually had in Australia is that you could go to a supermarket and decide if you wanted to buy Australian, imported, high-quality, low-quality, it was up to you.

“ALDI has taken that decision away.

“The problem is that because so many of us go to ALDI because the prices are cheaper, Coles and Woolworths will copy.

“The reason ALDI’s so successful is you can’t compare a price.

“What Coles and Woolworths will do to compete with that, which they must do because they have Aussie mums and dads as shareholders and the board will get the sack if they don’t keep making profits each year, so they will go to more and more products where you can’t compare a price.

“I call that ‘extreme capitalism,’ and it’s a disadvantage to consumers.

“It will lead to slightly lower prices, but I can imagine in years to come you will go into Coles and Woolworths and it will be like ALDI, virtually nothing will be a famous brand.

“Hopefully they will still sell Dick Smith’s but who knows.

“They will make a fortune because you, the consumer, can’t compare the price.

“Maybe then we’ll start to get a build up of the small corner shops.

“The own brand will get bigger and bigger and it will be worse for typical Australians.”

What’s your thoughts on the private label products in supermarkets? Do you actively support Australian food companies?

Twinkies manufacturer files for bankruptcy: sign of the US getting healthier?

 In what could be an indication Westerners are taking the health messages about obesity seriously, the US baking company which makes Twinkies and Ding Dongs has filed for bankruptcy.

Hostess Brands underwent a massive restructuring process three years ago and has been struggling with debts to unions, employees and creditors.

The company, which is based in Irving, Texas, owes $US944 million to the Bakery & Confectionary Union & Industry Pension Fund alone.

Its assets are about $US1 billion and it has up to 100 000 creditors.

Founded in 1930, Hostess operates about 36 bakeries and employs up to19,000 people, most of them union members.

Hostess’ chief unsecured creditors are labor unions and pension funds that represent the companies employees, according to the Chapter 11 petition filed to the Unites States Bankruptcy Court in New York.

A Chapter 11 is a chapter of the US Bankruptcy Code which businesses or its creditors can file for when they are unable to service debt or pay creditors.

The business or its creditors can file with a federal bankruptcy court for protection under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 and under.

Usually a Chapter 11 petition means the debtor remains in control of its business operations as a debtor in possession, and is subject to the oversight and jurisdiction of the court, while in Chapter 7, the business ceases operations, a trustee sells all of its assets, and then distributes the proceeds to its creditors.

The company’s president and chief executive, Brian J. Driscoll, said in a statement Hostess were optimistic about the future.

“We remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement that will allow us to amend our labor contracts so that we can emerge from Chapter 11 as a highly competitive company that provides secure jobs for our employees,” the

“With generations of loyal consumers, numerous iconic products and a talented and experienced workforce, Hostess Brands has tremendous inherent strengths to build upon.”

Its restructuring in 2209 was the result of the fluctuating price of flour and other necessary ingredients, but its bankruptcy could be the result of a shift in eating behaviour in the world’s fattest nation.

Over thirty percent of adults and 17 per cent of children in the US are medically obese and many more overweight, which has led to a new public perception of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

There is a long-standing belief in the country that Twinkies can last forever, due to the amount of processing involved in its manufacture and storage, so drawing parallels between the attitude to junk food and Hostess’ financial troubles is not difficult.

Earlier this week, Food Magazine reported on the obesity crisis being the ‘new smoking’ in Western countries, as the negative health impacts including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers caused by excessive weight become common knowledge.

This year, it will become compulsory for fast food restaurants to display kilojoule informtation on menus and after much debate over the pros and cons of the traffic light nutritional labelling, the federal government announced in December it will be implementing a simple, mandatory, front-of pack labelling system in the next two years.

Industry has recommended junk food advertisements aimed at children be disallowed in Australia, but medical professionals are calling for a law to be passed banning the practice.

As consumers become more informed about the benefits of healthy lifestyles, and how to identify and avoid harmful additives, it would not be surprising if more junk food companies follow in the footsteps of Hostess in coming years.

Australians don’t like beer anymore?

The popularity of imported beers and cider is making it increasingly difficult for Australian brewers to stay afloat.

The high Australian dollar has greatly impacted the alcoholic beverage market, as it has spurred increased travel abroad and increased online shopping in the sector.

The Australian Financial Review reports that domestic premium sales headed south by more than 20 per cent in November, while sales of international premium beers was up almost 15 per cent.

In the year prior to November, international beers including Peroni and Corona were up 12.7 per cent and domestic premiums like Crown Lager and James Boag slumped 11.2 per cent.

The figures represent packaged liquor sales, primarily from bottle shops.

Australians are also turning to more alternatives to beer, with sales down 16 per cent and while cider sales surged, up a massive 53 per cent.

The news comes as Australia’s biggest local brewer gears up to mark the company’s 150th anniversary in May.

Coopers became the largest remaining Australian beer company when London-based SABMiller took over Foster’s in September after months of disputes between the two about the value of the company.

Just before the takeover, Foster’s chairman David Crawford called on shareholders to reject SABMiller’s bid of $4.90 per share because it “significantly undervalued” the company.

Coopers is also feeling the pinch on local beer sales, with its domestic premium beer sales down 0.6 per cent in November.

However the year as a whole was successful for the brewer, with sales up 1.3 per cent in 2011 and Coopers currently represents 4 per cent of all beer sales in Australia.

In August it announced plans to install machinery to double its brewing capacity and in 2005, survived a hostile takeover bid from Lion Nathan, saying it will always be an Australian-owned company.


Obesity the new smoking?

Australia’s obesity crisis has been labelled “the new smoking” by health experts and industry bodies are warning people to know the health risks associated with being overweight.

Current obesity rates in Australia show one in four is overweight and one in three obese, placing us only just behind Greece, New Zealand and the United States.

It has already been documented that the risks associated with obesity, including heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and stroke, may lead to the current generation of Australian children being the first to not outlive their parents.

Previous generations grew up observing their parents and other adults smoking in the home, car and public places, and most also took up the habit in one of the most obvious examples of “monkey see, monkey do.”

Of course, the dire health impacts smoking had weren’t well known, or accepted, until the 1950’s, and it soon became illegal to directly advertise smoking or to portray it positively through the use of sport stars or celebrities.

Nowadays, we all know the impact smoking has on our health, and that of children.

In 2010, a law was passed in Australia that banned smoking in cars with children under the age of 17 inside.

Is this where junk food is headed? Ten years from now you won’t be able to eat a burger in the presence of children and anti-junk food ads will saturate the media?

The pattern is already there: we’re aware of how damaging fatty, salty, sugar loaded and processed food is for us, but it is still so readily, and cheaply, available that people can’t and won’t say no.

The suggestion of a “fat tax” on fatty foods similar to that implemented in Denmark was suggested, mirroring the increased tax placed on smoking to make it less appealing to take up the habit and providing more reason to quit.

You cannot advertise smoking, you cannot advertise junk food to children, there are graphic pictures and health warnings on cigarette packets, and soon a simple health guide will be developed by the Australian government to appear on the fronts of all packaged foods sold in Australia.

Subsidised counselling for the obese

Now the Australian Psychological Society wants counselling subsidised for overweight people seeking treatment.

It believes Medicare should fund the cost of registered psychologists to provide assistance to those with chronic diseases caused by obesity.

Each session would cost taxpayers more than $80.

Is it the taxpayers responsibility to fund such a campaign?

While it is individuals we’re talking about here, the fact is that it is a problem all of society will deal with at some stage.

Do we fund a program to educate people now, or do we pay for medical costs when their arteries give up and they need round-the-clock support?

The ageing epidemic is already going to completely overrun our medical system in the next decade, so is it a better idea to be proactive?

Corrina Langelaan from The Parents’ Jury, an organisation set up to reduce childhood obesity and get better health education in Australia, told Food Magazine that pointing the finger only on parents is not the right way to fix the problem.

“Obesity is one of the biggest issues facing our society today,” she said.

“It’s easy to shift the blame solely to parents, but they are being constantly undermined by the actions of the food industry and lack of Government action to tackle the issue.

“Families need a positive and healthy environment to raise positive and healthy children.”

She believes introducing counseling could be a positive move towards an entire behavioral change, but but it would need to be supported by other measures.

“In regards to changing behaviour, counselling is an interesting idea.

“We believe there is a need to create a positive and healthy environment to help parents.”

“However, these environmental factors need to be combined with improved regulation.

“This includes banning junk food advertising during the times of day children are likely to be watching and traffic light labelling on packaged foods.

“Parents’ need Government and the food industry to work together to create an environment that helps families maintain a healthier lifestyle.”

Industry, government and society need to work together

Julie Anne Mitchell, NSW Health Director at the Heart Foundation agrees that the issue is a complex one and a solution will only be found through a combined effort.

“I think it’s complex, there’s no single reason for why we’re seeing the increase in obesity, it is largely lifestyle induced, we have too many machines to do for us what we used to do ourselves,” she told Food Magazine.

“Our environment is changing, we’re sitting in our workplace more and in our leisure time, it’s changed rapidly in the last 20 years and it’s changed how we behave everyday.”

While the negative health impacts unhealthy foods can have are as dire as those associated with smoking, Mitchell told Food Magazine it is much more complicated.

“While you can draw parallels between smoking and obesity, it is different,” she said.

“We didn’t realise how damaging smoking was, and it has no benefit to lifestyle.

“We have to eat food, so it’s not a black and white situation like it was with smoking.

“It took 25 to 30 years of implementing a whole range of anti smoking campaigns and restrictions to curb that.

“With food its much more complex, certainly our lifestyle has changed, there’s a greater reliance on convenience.

“We want to improve the food supply in the community, making sure everyone has access to proper, healthy food.

Mitchell says most people “know what they should be eating,” but often lifestyles get in the way.

She told Food Magazine it’s not a case of having to train for hours at the gym and not eat tasty food, but finding the ways people can improve their health every day.

Substituting full cream dairy products with low fat, margarine for butter and taking the stairs instead of the lifts are simple solutions people can make to improve their health.

“It’s about those moments everyday where you can make a choice between healthy and not-so-healthy,” she says.

Traffic light labelling

The Parents Jury has been one of the biggest advocates for the traffic light labelling system, and Langelaan told Food Magazine most people support the idea.

“In August 2011, a poll undertaken by The Parents’ Jury showed overwhelming support for the introduction of traffic light labelling on food with almost 90 per cent of respondents supporting its mandatory introduction,” she said.

“Over 91 per cent of respondents wanted to see traffic light labelling on all packaged food products and a massive 90 per cent want to see it extended to cover all items on the menu boards in fast food outlets.

She dismissed claims from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that the Daily Intake Guides (DIGs) are a better solution.

“Many parents simply don’t understand the current daily intake guide and have no idea the suggested servings on many packaged foods don’t reflect reality,” she said.

“Traffic light labelling is a good step to helping consumers purchase healthy foods. It is a simple and recognisable system necessary to help families make healthier choices.”

While Mitchell agrees some kind of simple, easy to understand health guide is needed for packaged foods in Australia, she stresses that it must provide accurate and relevant information every time.

“The Heart Foundation supports some type of interpretive system that is going to help mother or father in a supermarket chose a healthier option in a range.

“People need help, they do need a way to identify a healthier food product amongst other similar ones.

“Were not specifying the type of labelling, but something that allows them to compare like with like in a certain food group.

“It’s not about having the one system for everything, but for each food category or it could become a bit too simplistic.”

Slow and steady won’t win this race

Mitchell praised the changes being made by some food manufacturers and governments, but says more needs to be done.

“It’s a responsibility that government, the food industry and the general public share equally,we all have a part to play.

“Certainly the role for the food industry is to look at the ways they produce food and look at ways to reduce saturated fat and salt in the processing of food.

“The role governments play is giving incentives for the public, as well as industry, to make healthier choices and the educate about healthy food options.

“It is a big problem, it will not go away quickly, we need to work together on this, we have seen great ways the food industry and government is making changes, on menus as of February 2012 restaurants will display kilojoule content of food items so that’s helping the consumer in choice they make.”

Another move by governments to reduce the nation’s ever-expanding waistline is the Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food campaign will begin rolling out across Queensland next week, aiming to re-educate people about how to prepare proper, nutritious foods.

Queensland Health minister Geoff Wilson said the program is a timely arrival.

"There is an urgent need to educate Queenslanders about preparing nutritious meals and help them to lead long, healthy lives," he said.

In August last year the Victorian government spend $40 million on a campaign inspired by the TV chef’s program.

It will provide sessions on healthy eating, exercise and food preparation for the many who find themselves overwhelmed and confused by conflicting health messages.

And for those who are finding themselves feeling pretty unhealthy following the holiday period, Mitchell warns crash diets are not the key.

“They are hugely popular this time of year,” she said.

“People ate too much, drank too much over the holidays and they want a quick fix.

“Fad diets are often quick fixes but not a long term solution.

“They often lose weight in the short term, but end up damaging their bodies in the long run and putting the weight back on.

“It’s more about finding the long term solution and sticking to it.”

Do Australians need more transparency on modern farming practices?

Australian farm groups could take on a US initiative to build public trust in farming to address consumer concerns about modern agriculture and food production.

The Centre for Food Integrity (CFI), a not-for-profit group in Missouri in the Midwest of the United States, has found great success in its work to increase consumer understanding of farming, according to Farm Online.

The initiative, which also addresses developments for the environment, productivity and food safety, is now being closely examined by Australian experts.

Next month CFI chief executive officer Charlie Arnot will be back in Australia to further address initial conversations with farmers in two separate visits in 2011.

Comments welcomed in 2011

Arnot made 13 presentations to around 600 people, saying farmers and food companies need to focus on strategies to promote public trust and establish their own strict self-regulated standards.

The messages were welcomed by industry and farmer groups, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) livestock officer at Moree, Greg Mills.

"The CFI model has certainly had a lot of success,” he said.

“It’s now a case of trying to determine if and how it might work in Australia.”

Established by soybean producers in 2007 and funded by farmers, farm and food organisations and private companies, the CFI is committed to undertaking research to create messages to increase consumer trust.

According to Natioanal Farmers Federation (NFF) executive officer, Matt Linegar, "agriculture’s social licences to operate" are under increasing pressure, particularly as the divide between urban and rural Australians increases.

This divide leads to a huge lack of understanding about farming and agriculture for city dwellers, who have almost permanent availability of any fruit or vegetable, despite weather conditions, which has lead many to question the storage and transport of the produce.

Produce pricing

In September, independent Senators Bob Katter and Nick Xenephon introduced a bill calling for the price paid to farmers at the gate to be displayed alongside the retail price in supermarkets, in a bid to provide transparency and ensure farmers are not being ripped off by the major supermarkets.

But even those within the industry said the plan would not work.

The leading trade association for the fresh produce and floral industries, PMA Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ), rejected the calls from Katter and Xenophon, with chief executive Michael Worthington saying it would be almost impossible to implement.

“It takes no account of the fact that the major supermarkets buy some of their produce from wholesalers, so who would then be responsible for determining what the wholesaler has paid the grower?” he said.

“More often than not, produce is consolidated, graded, packed or processed by an intermediary who is sourcing from multiple growers – again, it would be nigh-on-impossible for there to be a clear chain of transactions to determine what was paid to the grower.

Incidents including the milk price wars that inspired an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and a Senate Inquiry have highlighted the control the major supermarkets have over suppliers, with many predicting dairy farmers will leave the industry in droves because they can’t make a profit, and the nation’s biggest dairy supplier expecting to record a loss as a result of the $1 per litre milk.

Now the industry wants more information on Australia’s agricultural industry provided to everyone.

"We’re examining the CFI’s activities as part of our greater aim of keeping agriculture’s true value recognised by governments and the public," Linegar said.

"I’m sure the issue of building consumer trust will emerge as an important theme in the NFF’s blueprint for agriculture in the coming year."

Animal exports

Organisations including Horticulture Australia Limited, the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, the Animal Welfare Science Centre and the Australian Egg Corporation discussed the CFI with Arnot’s in November, and sought his opinion on consumer behaviour in Australia.

One of the worst incidents to impact consumer opinion of the industry in the last decade was the Indonesian live export revelations shown on the ABC’s Four Corners program, which led to public outrage and Prime Minister Julia Gillard suspending live exports to the region in mid-2011.

It was also revealed authorities warned Indonesian abattoirs of the impending presence of cameras in its facilities, which industry body Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has defended, saying it was part of due process to pass on such information.

Live export has resumed to Indonesia and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) confirmed in November that since the ban was lifted, 128 312 cattle have been exported to Indonesia.

Honesty the best policy

"Farmers often feel like the victims – which they may or may not be – but the fact is consumers aren’t willing to put your farm’s profit concerns ahead of their current principles," Arnot said on the issue during a presentation in Sydney.

"We have to help consumers understand their principles are actually the same as today’s farmers.

"Animal welfare, environmental stewardship, food safety and a passion for doing the food production job well are all basic principals of farming."

The worst thing farmers could do, Arnot believes, is to stay quiet on modern farming activities, and therefore increase the gap in understanding for urbanised Australians.

Mills agrees with the calls from Arnot, saying farmers need to give consumers all the information they can, to prove practises are ethical and safe.

"The aim is to openly establish the credibility or a voluntary code of practice that allows you to operate a farming enterprise or industry without expensive government legislation and the constant tracking and monitoring which law makers might demand," he said.

"If the consumer trust you, sees what they like and believes you’re doing a good job, the industry builds great credibility with the public, but if you flout that trust the public will demand governments step in to crack down and regulate everybody."

Are you a country critter or a city dweller? Do you understand farming practises and would you like to know more?


Are supermarkets deliberately trying to mislead shoppers by copying packaging?

Australian supermarket giants have been accused of deliberately trying to confuse shoppers with “copycat” packaging.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) says supermarkets are intentionally imitating well-known product packaging to make shoppers think they are buying the reputable and trustworthy brands.

In September, Mumbrella released a video showing the striking similarities between well-known food and drink products and Coles’ private-label counterparts.

The major supermarkets are under intense fire lately for dominating shelves with their own private-label products and squeezing Australian manufacturers out of the market.

One of Australia’s biggest manufacturers, HJ Heinz has slammed the dominance twice this year, saying the major supermarkets have created an “inhospitable” environment for Australian manufacturers and suppliers.

“This copycat strategy could be seen to be confusing consumers into believing they are buying top-selling branded products,” AFGC chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“Although the products may look similar, the taste and quality can be quite different between branded and private label products.”

The AFGC is calling for a Supermarket Ombudsman, to stay on top of product packaging becoming too similar to competitors.

Currently, the law allows companies to use similar colours and images as competitors, and the only cause for concern is “passing off” of trademarks.

“Within the Code, there could be a requirement for supermarkets not to directly copy packaging so there’s no confusion for customers,” Carnell said.

“Australians and our political leaders overwhelmingly want a local, value-adding food and grocery manufacturing sector – it’s Australia’s largest manufacturing industry that we can’t live without,” Carnell said.

“Consumers want to be confident about buying affordable, nutritious food and grocery brands that they know and trust.”

Private label products will account for 40 per cent of the market in the near future, and according to a report commissioned by the AFGC, 130 000 workers will be out of employment in the food and grocery sector is nothing is improved.

“The growth in private label is making it more and more difficult for Australian manufacturers to get their food and grocery products on supermarkets shelves.

“In the end, this means consumers will have less choice,” Carnell.

Food Magazine contacted both Coles and Woolworths this morning asking for comments on whether they are deliberately misleading consumers as well as squeezing other manufacturers out of the industry.

“We do not have a strategy to mimic the packaging of branded products,” a Woolworths spokesperson responded in a written statement.

“Our strategy is to differentiate Own Brand from the branded products.

“The main evidence for this is that many of our customers look specifically for Own Brand because it represents quality and value so we want them to be able to identify our products.

The supermarket giant did say it uses techniques to fit product packaging in with similar accepted products in each category.

“There are certain ‘cues’ that consumers respond to around the look and feel of products in particular categoriesm” the spokesperson said.

“These cues are used by suppliers and retailers around the world.

“Woolworths Own Brand products represent international best practice in packaging and we’re always looking at ways to lead in this area.

“In fact, there are plenty of examples where we have led the field in innovation such as putting handles on bulk dry dog food which has since been picked up by the branded products.

Coles had a similar response, responding with a statement to Food Magazine that it does not copy other manufacturers’ products, but rather, has its own design scheme.

“Coles has created its own distinct look and feel for its private label products, we do not follow or mimic anyone’s design," the spokesperson said.

"Our customers are in no doubt that they’re choosing a Coles brand product in our stores.

"Before we launch a new Coles product, we do extensive research to understand what customers want in the packaging and design.

"Sometimes this research shows that customers expect a product to have certain visual cues, such as coffee beans on the label of instant coffee, and we incorporate them into our product – as do branded manufacturers."

Coles also disputed claims from manufacturers and analysts that the increase in private-label products are negatively impacting Australian food manufacturers.

“Coles brand products are sometimes produced by the major branded manufacturer in a category, but typically they are produced by smaller manufacturers.

"In many cases, these smaller manufacturers have been able to dramatically grow their business, take on new employees and develop new product lines on the back of securing a Coles brand manufacturing contract.”