Chilled idea

Freeze dry­ing takes off

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS -

FOR­AGER Foods was es­tab­lished by John Ranicar at a small pro­cess­ing fac­tory not far from Delo­raine.

Af­ter start­ing out do­ing con­tract dry­ing Mr Ranicar in­tro­duced the first of the For­ager Foods range, which fea­tured lo­cally grown ap­ples, in late 2011.

“When we first started most peo­ple had never heard of freeze dry­ing, let alone tasted any­thing freeze dried,” he said. “Now it’s re­ally taken off, par­tic­u­larly on the in­dus­trial side with the big com­pa­nies, there’s been a big up­take there.”

To­day the fac­tory in­cludes the orig­i­nal small dryer and three big­ger ones as well as a pur­pose built shed with a stor­age area. Mr Ranicar has also in­stalled spe­cialty pack­ing equip­ment.

Pro­cess­ing ca­pac­ity at the fac­tory has in­creased from 30 tonnes of raw prod­uct a year up to 700 tonnes.

It em­ploys more than a dozen peo­ple.

A small on-site shop has also been set up at the fac­tory, which sees a good num­ber of vis­i­tors.

Ex­per­i­ment­ing and try­ing new ideas has been an im­por­tant part of the busi­ness’s de­vel­op­ment.

As well as the For­ager Foods dried fruit range, Mr Ranicar has also been work­ing with chefs to pro­duce a range of freeze dried pre-pre­pared meals and veg­eta­bles ideal for bush­walk­ing or camp­ing.

The meals are pre­pared in ad­vance and then the whole thing is freeze dried.

Mr Ranicar said this pro­duces much bet­ter flavours than other prod­ucts where all the in­di­vid­ual in­gre­di­ents are freeze dried sep­a­rately.

The aim is to ex­pand this range to in­clude break­fast, lunch and din­ner meals as well as snacks.

The busi­ness is now freeze dry­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles for the man­u­fac­tur­ing mar­ket as well. These prod­ucts, which can also be made into pow­ders, are used by com­pa­nies to make things in­clud­ing smooth­ies and muesli.

Mr Ranicar said changes to Aus­tralian la­belling laws meant more com­pa­nies were now seek­ing out Aus­tralian grown fruits and veg­eta­bles rather than us­ing im­ported prod­ucts.

One of the main ad­van­tages of freeze dry­ing is that the foods main­tain all their orig­i­nal nu­tri­ents, in­clud­ing the much sought af­ter an­tiox­i­dants.

“Be­cause there isn’t any heat used dur­ing the process what­ever you’re dry­ing main­tains the nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits of the orig­i­nal raw prod­uct,” Mr Ranicar said.

Al­most any­thing can be freeze dried — in­clud­ing meat — as long as it does not have too much sugar, oil, fat or al­co­hol.

One of the ma­jor ben­e­fits is Mr Ranicar can value-add sec­ond grade fruit and veg­eta­bles that are not quite suit­able for the fresh mar­ket.

“That’s re­ally how we started,” he said.

“There is all this re­ally good fresh pro­duce there and it’s

per­fectly fine. It might just have a bit of a rub mark on the skin or a bend in it, but we can use all that.”

On av­er­age freeze dry­ing takes about 30 hours and once they are dried the prod­ucts have a mois­ture level of be­tween 1-3 per cent.

This com­pares to tra­di­tional de­hy­drated prod­ucts, which are nor­mally about 12-18 per cent mois­ture.

Get­ting each prod­uct per­fect takes some trial and er­ror and Mr Ranicar said some­times the mis­takes they made could ac­tu­ally pro­duce some­thing quite tasty.

“We’re al­ways ex­per­i­ment­ing and try­ing new things, that’s an im­por­tant part of what we do,” he said.

“We quite of­ten get re­quests to try dif­fer­ent things as well.”

Once they are dried, most prod­ucts have a shelf life of a least two years.

For­ager Foods prod­ucts are now sold lo­cally in most in­de­pen­dent su­per­mar­kets and re­tail out­lets.

How­ever Mr Ranicar now has his sights firmly set on ex­pand­ing more into ex­port mar­kets.

He is al­ready send­ing some prod­ucts into Malaysia and China and a small amount into the Mid­dle East.

Mr Ranicar was also part of a re­cent trade visit to Ja­pan or­gan­ised through Hor­ti­cul­ture Aus­tralia and Fruit Grow­ers Tas­ma­nia.

“There seems to be quite a lot of in­ter­est over there,” he said.

“Re­ally this was a bit of a re­con­nais­sance mis­sion to find out what sort of prod­ucts they want, the dif­fer­ent pack sizes and how we would need to pack­age it and things like that, but from what I saw I think it could be a good mar­ket.”

Pro­cess­ing at the fac­tory is spread through­out the year, but where pos­si­ble Mr Ranicar said they pre­ferred to dry fruit and veg­eta­bles just af­ter har­vest­ing.

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