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Fruit and vegetable growers eye lucrative snack foods

by June 24, 2016 General

Fruit and vegetables make up less than one quarter of the $9 billion worth of snack foods sold globally.

But it could be much higher as consumers show a willingness to pay a premium for convenient, healthy products.

More than 1,500 delegates have been attending Horticulture Convention 2016 on the Gold Coast in Queensland to hear the latest in innovation, export markets and research and development.

They have been told the snack market, or food eaten outside of main meal times, has enormous potential with fruit and vegetables representing only about $2 billion of the $3.5 billion of healthy snacks consumed annually.

“Snacks are very mainstream consumption behaviour,” managing director of Fresh Logic Martin Kneebone said.

“Everyone’s doing it and they’ve shown a willingness to eat a more fresh, healthier product.”

Finding snack that works for consumers

Mr Kneebone said the key to cashing in on that market was finding the “snack that works” for consumers.

Tomatoes, cut salad and trimmed carrots were examples but matching the portability of fruit and other ready-to-eat snack foods was one of the biggest challenges, particularly to increase vegetables as a snacking option.

“I think it’ll be [by] other distribution channels,” Mr Kneebone said.

“We’ll see more in the workplace, more vending and more in the likes of hospitals and institutions and potentially, motel and hotel mini-bars.

“Places like that have the infrastructure to put that snack where people want it.

“The technology has come a long way. You can get a vending machine to hold a frozen meal, push a button, it’ll heat it up, it beeps, turn it out and eat it.”

Exports markets excite

The Horticulture Convention has attracted growers of some of Australia’s most popular vegetables.

David Moon (onions), Geoff Story (baby leaves) and Andrew Dewar (lettuce) took advantage of the opportunity to talk directly to 40 buyers from six countries at the reverse trade mission.

Mr Moon said the domestic market also presented new opportunities.

For example, his company Moon Rock recently partnered with a major retail chain in a bid to increase the volume of Australian-grown garlic on supermarket shelves.

With a new season of garlic and onions underway on his farm, Mr Moon said he was happy to sell domestically.

“We grow ‘short day’ onions so they’re not really suited to export because of the shelf life issues you need for sea freight,” Mr Moon said.

And while onions jettisoned into the national spotlight thanks to the bizarre eating antics of a certain former prime minister, Mr Moon said he did not expect similar attention in the current federal election campaign.

“Someone told me the other day Onions Australia tried to get Malcolm [Turnbull] to chew on an onion, but I think his minders have well and truly kept him away from onions,” he said.

Geoffrey Story, from Story Fresh Produce on the Darling Downs has been making recent in-roads in the export arena, shipping salad greens into Singapore and Taiwan, but he said he would love to expand those Asian markets.

“Not all of Asia, but some of the countries we’re looking at,” he said.

“There’s more of an opportunity in retail packaging of baby leaves than there is in food service products so it’s very much country by country.”

Export opportunities are also attractive to Andrew Dewar, of Pilton Valley Produce in southern Queensland, who specialise in wash-before-use rather than ready-to-eat leafy vegetables, from whole-head iceberg lettuce to baby leaf lines.

Mr Dewar, whose company dispatches produce to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Dubai, admitted understanding the psyche and dietary preferences of overseas customers remained a challenge.