In­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in avo oil

An idea to make a value-added prod­uct from re­ject av­o­ca­dos is now keep­ing a Te Puna fac­tory busy with plenty of or­ders, and in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est is growing by the day.

The Orchardist - - Avocado Oil - By Denise Landow

Grove Av­o­cado Oil is the big­gest com­mer­cial pro­ducer of av­o­cado oil in New Zealand, and is thought to be the largest man­u­fac­turer in Aus­trala­sia.

Back in 2000 there was no mar­ket for av­o­cado oil – ba­si­cally be­cause no one in New Zealand was pro­duc­ing the prod­uct. Es­sen­tially, Grove cre­ated a mar­ket.

Av­o­cado oil is now a cat­e­gory in its own right and stands on su­per­mar­ket shelves along­side other oils such as olive, sun­flower, canola, rice bran and co­conut oils. Ex­tra vir­gin pure av­o­cado oil has a bright green lus­tre; and its al­lur­ing colour alone sug­gests vi­tal­ity, pure­ness and well-be­ing.

Seven­teen years ago a re­source­ful group of Bay of Plenty av­o­cado grow­ers thought there was surely un­tapped value in the tonnes and tonnes of re­ject av­o­ca­dos be­ing dumped af­ter each har­vest. Yes, the fruit had de­fects vis­ually, but it was also per­fect for hu­man con­sump­tion. The al­most sin­ful waste of prod­uct com­pelled the grow­ers to re­search the mak­ing of com­mer­cially vi­able oil.

At the be­gin­ning those grow­ers had a clear vi­sion but there were rocks along the path­way to suc­cess.

FIRST TO MAR­KET

Derek Mas­ters is the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for DMS Progrow­ers, which has sites in Te Puke and Te Puna. He acts as gen­eral man­ager for Grove’s per­ma­nent staff.

“At the time, no one was pro­duc­ing av­o­cado oil in New Zealand – we were the first.”

The cur­rent share­hold­ing of Grove Av­o­cado Oil still has some found­ing grower mem­bers, and Grove is sup­ported by DMS Progrow­ers’ man­age­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tion team; and its pro­duc­tion plant on the DMS Te Puna site.

“At that time there were tag 1 and tag 2 av­o­ca­dos sold for ex­port and lo­cal mar­ket but there were some very good

process grade, so they col­lec­tively thought let’s make an oil out of it,” he says.

Grove has no for­mal con­nec­tion with grow­ers; the re­la­tion­ship is with the 10 pack­houses who sup­ply the re­ject fruit, from a ge­o­graph­i­cal area north of Waihi to Te Puke south.

Derek ex­plains the rea­son av­o­ca­dos are sourced this way is be­cause those pack­houses need to grade fruit for ex­port and the do­mes­tic mar­kets and demon­strate clear qual­ity com­pli­ance sys­tems.

“Pack­houses check their grow­ers’ spray pro­grammes com­pli­ance, mon­i­tor and ap­prove or­chard­ing prac­tices. For us, it means we can be sure the fruit re­ceived for pro­cess­ing has been grown to strict regimes.” “When the av­o­ca­dos come in we know there are no spray residues and noth­ing nasty on the fruit, even though we strip the skin, stone and pulp out to make the oil.

“It’s a food safety per­spec­tive that helps us com­ply with SGS Food Com­pli­ance Ac­cred­i­ta­tion, and al­lows us to ex­port around the world be­cause many of our cus­tomers want to see that cer­tifi­cate.

“This is im­por­tant for us, as op­posed to go­ing down the road, see­ing av­o­ca­dos on the ground and say­ing ‘hey, can we have those’ be­cause we don’t know any­thing about how they’ve been grown.”

RE­JECT RICHES

Av­o­ca­dos are bi­en­nial bear­ing fruit, ev­ery sec­ond year there’s not enough process grade av­o­ca­dos to sup­ply sales de­mand – whereas in the fol­low­ing year, there is an ex­cess.

Ex­cess years al­low Grove to pro­duce enough oil to cover through the lean years, but as con­sumers around the world be­come more aware of its health ben­e­fits, the de­mand is rapidly in­creas­ing.

Pack­houses must first max­imise ex­port re­turns for their grow­ers, then the lo­cal mar­ket, and what’s left over is process grade. Be­cause cus­tomers want fruit that is free of im­per­fec­tions, any de­fects are un­ac­cept­able at the re­tail level.

This ‘wastage’ is pure green gold for Grove and its de­vel­op­ing cus­tomer fol­low­ing.

“On a large growing sea­son like the one we’ve just had, the de­fect rate was quite high. But on a low growing sea­son, the same de­fect might just be ac­cept­able for the lo­cal mar­ket be­cause there is such a short­age,” says Derek.

CELEB CHEFS

High-pro­file New Zealand chef Michael Van de Elzen of­fi­cially teamed up with Grove last month in a na­tional me­dia cam­paign.

Michael Van de Elzen, known for the pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries Kiwi Liv­ing, Fam­ily Recipes and The Food Truck, has now be­come the ex­clu­sive New Zealand brand am­bas­sador for Grove Av­o­cado Oil.

He has used Grove’s oil as one of his ‘se­cret in­gre­di­ents’ for many years, says a me­dia re­lease.

“I’ve been a huge fan of av­o­cado oil for years,” he ad­mits. “I love its health prop­er­ties and the fact the flavour works so well with a wide va­ri­ety of dishes.

Grove Av­o­cado Oil is the best on the mar­ket be­cause of its colour, taste and qual­ity, plus they’re bloody good peo­ple too so it’s a plea­sure to be work­ing with the team.”

Derek says Michael be­gan us­ing Grove’s oil when he first opened his renowned Mt Eden restau­rant, Molten, in 2004.

“He has sev­eral recipes he’s al­ways sworn by and one of his se­cret in­gre­di­ents is Grove Av­o­cado Oil,” says Derek.

“He’s fea­tured Grove in some of his cook­books. We asked if he was in­ter­ested in be­com­ing our of­fi­cial brand am­bas­sador and we’re de­lighted to an­nounce the new part­ner­ship.”

Michael has cre­ated spe­cial recipes to show­case Grove’s range of oils, as well as host­ing tast­ing events and pro­mot­ing Grove’s oils in na­tional me­dia, says Derek.

MA­JOR BAR­RI­ERS

Back in the early pro­duc­tion days the big hur­dles in­volved tech­nol­ogy. Get­ting the plant, equip­ment and pro­cesses to achieve max­i­mum oil ex­trac­tion and yield took a while to get right. Other fac­tors such as stor­ing and con­di­tion­ing of the av­o­ca­dos were only per­fected af­ter some re­search.

“It’s not a mat­ter of just pick­ing av­o­ca­dos out of a bin and press­ing them into oil,” he ex­plains.

The fruit re­quires a con­di­tion­ing process for ripen­ing be­cause freshly picked av­o­ca­dos leave the pack­house green and hard.

Fol­low­ing ar­rival from dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, the fruit is held in DMS Te Puna cool­stores. A con­trolled cur­ing method al­lows the fruit to then ar­rive at Grove’s pro­cess­ing plant pre­ripened and ready to max­imise the oil yield.

Av­o­ca­dos are fine in cool­stores for more than a week but not for months, how­ever once the oil is made it can keep for at least three years.

Oil is re­moved from the fleshy pulp which is minced up and cold pressed. The waste of skin, stone, and left over pulp is dis­posed off site.

Waste pulp makes a slurry which is then pumped into tanks used as stock feed on dairy farms. The farm­ers like this waste be­cause of its high ‘good fat’ con­tent.

ROCK­ING AT RE­TAIL

Glob­ally, av­o­ca­dos are en­joy­ing a growing rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a su­per fruit in terms of nu­tri­ent con­tent and health ben­e­fits. This has a nat­u­ral flow-on ef­fect for av­o­cado oil. New Zealand’s clean, green im­age is one thing but be­ing known for in­tegrity is also crit­i­cal. That means if a Kiwi com­pany says its prod­uct is cold­pressed ex­tra vir­gin, then it will be ex­tra vir­gin, says Derek.

“Glob­ally, av­o­ca­dos are en­joy­ing a growing rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a su­per fruit in terms of nu­tri­ent con­tent and health ben­e­fits.”

Grove’s oil is avail­able in New Zealand through ma­jor food chains and se­lected bou­tique stores; and in Aus­tralia through cor­po­rates such as Wool­worths, Coles and Aldi. It is ex­ported to Rus­sia, Swe­den, Asia, North Amer­ica and Saudi Ara­bia.

It’s the fast up­take of on­line sales that is cur­rently in­trigu­ing the Grove team.

“What we’re see­ing now around the world is the in­creas­ing vol­umes of on­line sales – it’s very strong in Asia now. There’s a def­i­nite drift from ‘re­tail-to-cus­tomer’ sales to ‘on­line-to­cus­tomer’ sales.”

HUM­BLE TO HUGE

Derek says since Grove’s be­gin­nings, sales growth has im­proved ev­ery year, how­ever in the last three years sales have re­ally taken off.

Cre­at­ing cus­tomers started from hum­ble be­gin­nings with the orig­i­nal share­hold­ers sell­ing their new oil at farm­ers’ mar­kets and lo­cal stores.

Over the for­ma­tive years, Grove worked smart and be­came proac­tively in­volved with hos­pi­tal­ity stake­hold­ers. Chefs and restau­rants are more aware of its vis­ual and prac­ti­cal uses as a vi­brant and in­tense green-hued oil which is per­fect for dip­ping breads. Hav­ing a high smoke point makes it ex­cel­lent for cook­ing, and peo­ple en­joy the oil’s strong and no­table flavour.

The ex­tremely fine pulp of av­o­cado is what gives the oil is stun­ning vi­brancy.

Many food­ies and health con­scious peo­ple have recog­nised that av­o­cado oil has a spe­cial place in cook­ing which other oils can­not repli­cate.

Grove av­o­cado oils are rich in min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants such as Vi­ta­mins A, B-6, C,D, E, zinc, fo­late, po­tas­sium and Omega 3 and 6 es­sen­tial fatty acids. It is choles­terol free and con­tains plant sterols that re­duce choles­terol ab­sorp­tion. It’s lower in sat­u­rated fats than most other oils.

A 5ml serve of av­o­cado oil pro­vides the equiv­a­lent of 10% of the rec­om­mended di­etary in­take of Vi­ta­min E. Av­o­cado oil is high in mono-un­sat­u­rated fats – 72% whereas olive oil has 66.8%.

Grove’s oil is one of the health­i­est culi­nary oils avail­able on the mar­ket to­day, says Derek.

EX­CLU­SIVE AND EX­PEN­SIVE

By any stan­dards, Grove’s prod­uct is not cheap. Even though it’s an ex­pen­sive brand, chefs and con­sumers are show­ing a com­mand­ing up­take of the oil. Price is not an is­sue for those who de­mand a pure and nat­u­ral qual­ity prod­uct.

Other com­peti­tors have a range of refined oil but Grove won’t go there, says Derek.

“When we talk to our dis­trib­u­tors around the world they’re re­ally strug­gling with this con­cept of refined. Con­sumers mis­tak­enly per­ceive this to mean refined prod­ucts are of a bet­ter qual­ity.

“When we have this dis­cus­sion with mar­keters they don’t know what ‘refined’ re­ally means. Refined av­o­cado oil doesn’t have a strong green colour, and most of the nu­tri­ents have been stripped out. We don’t re­fine be­cause we sell only av­o­cado ex­tra-vir­gin pure oil – which is only ever the first press­ing of the fruit.”

Many cus­tomers ask for re­as­sur­ance that the Grove prod­uct is ac­tu­ally cold-pressed and not refined through the com­pany’s Face­book page and through the email por­tal on its web­site.

“Our oil is ex­pen­sive; it’s not the cheap­est in the store, but if you want qual­ity you pay for it. Our com­peti­tors have a bet­ter re­tail price for the same vol­ume of oil but that’s their busi­ness,” says Derek.

CON­TIN­U­ALLY COM­PET­I­TIVE

The Aus­tralian con­tracts were hard won and must be con­tin­u­ally nur­tured.

“It’s taken years to achieve and it’s al­ways com­pet­i­tive,” says Derek.

“We meet with Coles and Wool­worths ev­ery six months to demon­strate our pro­mo­tional pro­grammes go­ing for­ward and what we’re do­ing as a com­pany to sup­port the brand.

“We have our own brand am­bas­sadors in Aus­tralia to pro­mote our prod­ucts, and work with celebrity chefs, such as Brid­get Davies.”

Some of Grove’s ex­port cus­tomers pur­chase bulk oil for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal-type end prod­ucts, such as soap and beauty prod­ucts.

Re­search has shown that av­o­cado oil is the clos­est oil to the nat­u­ral oil of hu­man skin, and soap man­u­fac­tur­ers have picked up on that.

IN­FU­SIONS OF IN­TER­EST

Grove has in­fused the oil with dif­fer­ent flavours in re­sponse to cus­tomers’ feed­back. In­fused olive oils for have been avail­able for years, and fol­low­ers asked why they couldn’t have the same – they didn’t want to buy olive oil but they still wanted the added flavours for their dishes, dip­ping and other culi­nary cre­ations.

The in­fu­sions have been stream­lined into four types: lime and gar­lic in­fu­sions are stocked at re­tail level, whereas the chilli and lemon pep­per in­fu­sions are quite strong and so are only sold through a lim­ited num­ber of bou­tique outlets or on­line.

“Our on­line sales por­tal is quite new and that’s been driven by peo­ple email­ing in or con­tact through our Face­book page say­ing, ‘I’ve seen your chilli in­fu­sion, but I can’t get it any­where lo­cally, can you send me a box?’ We’ve stream­lined this be­cause de­mand has grown, and we needed a way for peo­ple to buy on­line,” ex­plains Derek.

LOY­ALTY OIL

As a com­pany, the man­age­ment and share­hold­ers face some im­por­tant ques­tions now and in the near fu­ture.

One sta­ble and on­go­ing foun­da­tion of the busi­ness has al­ways been the team of ded­i­cated em­ploy­ees. Dur­ing the pro­cess­ing sea­son DMS staff are called upon to help and they love re­turn­ing to Grove for pro­duc­tion stints.

“We have a good team of peo­ple who have been here for many years across all func­tions; sales, ad­min, pro­duc­tion, qual­ity and com­pli­ance, and bot­tling. It’s a fam­ily-ori­en­tated cul­ture be­cause they know that even though I’m not at the plant ev­ery day, the team can be re­lied upon to run the busi­ness.”

Although av­o­cado grow­ers in the Bay of Plenty have no com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ship with Grove, they do like know­ing that right at their back door in Te Puna there’s a com­pany pro­cess­ing re­ject av­o­ca­dos into world-class qual­ity oil, says Derek.

“When we go to the Katikati Av­o­cado Show or food shows, many peo­ple come up to us and say ‘I’m an av­o­cado grower, you prob­a­bly got some of my fruit go­ing through your plant into oil.’”

Derek ex­plains that Grove does a unique thing to say thank you to grow­ers. It pro­duces a spe­cially-crafted batch of ‘loy­alty oil’ which is pro­vided to the sup­ply­ing pack­houses, and this is passed on to grow­ers as a gift of thanks and ac­knowl­edg­ment.”

Strate­gi­cally the fu­ture holds more in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges for Grove’s share­hold­ers. Key de­ci­sions will need to be made as the ap­petite for av­o­cado oil builds in mo­men­tum and mone­tary value.

“A 5ml serve of av­o­cado oil pro­vides the equiv­a­lent of 10% of the rec­om­mended di­etary in­take of Vi­ta­min E.”

The Grove team, from left: Robin Tessendorf ( pro­duc­tion), Alex Fer­nan­dez (qual­ity), Dianne Cruz (bot­tling), Lake Jan­thamat (bot­tling), Pamela Barnes (ad­min/lo­gis­tics), Kay Kirk­bridge (sales) and Derek Mas­ters ( gen­eral man­ager).

Lake Jan­thamat, left, and Diane Cruz, make a good team at the pack­ag­ing ta­ble. Robin Tessendorf care­fully han­dles the empty bot­tles just be­fore they’re filled with the vi­brant green oil. Grove’s gen­eral man­ager, Derek Mas­ters, can rely on his ded­i­cated te

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