Grape byproducts open new markets
Robinvale fruit grower Adam Gallace will tell you he does not like waste.
Whether it’s fruit dangling from vines at the end of the picking season or water dispelled from his family’s industrial dehydration driers, he hates to see anything left over.
Any byproduct unused on farm incurs additional business cost.
“Especially when we know how much we spend on the royalties and the contract to grow the grapes,” the third-generation farmer explained. “We’re trying to utilise everything we can from a product that not everyone has.”
- Olive Grove have created a unique value-added export business selling into the Asian packaged food and beverage market
- Fresh table grapes exported to Asia account for up to 90 per cent of the Olive Grove Fruits business
- The family’s Sweet Sapphire market has expanded by becoming the first in the world to dry the midseason, black, seedless grape.
- Sweet Sapphire is popular as a fresh product in China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Dubai
- The new shed has taken a lot of pressure off the other two facilities
Now, thanks to some innovative thinking, this pet hate has turned into a unique value-added export business selling into the Asian packaged food and beverage market.
The Gallace family operate Olive Grove Fruits, a farm business in Victoria’s north west, near Mildura.
Adam and Sharee Gallace
The family business includes Adam and his wife Sharee, his parents Ralph and Glenda, and his brother Mark and his wife Carolyn. Adam’s brother Steven and his wife Kylee run the family’s earthmoving business, while sister Kim Natale operates the olive business, Robinvale Estate.
Fresh table grapes exported to Asia account for up to 90 per cent of the Olive Grove Fruits business, with a small portion of wine grapes, avocados and strawberry tunnels, making up the balance.
When sweet is unique
The Gallace vineyard is one of a few in Australia growing the elongated black grape called Sweet Sapphire. It is a variety owned by one of the world’s largest fruit breeding operations called International Fruit Genetics.
Sweet Sapphire is popular as a fresh product in China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Dubai.
Elongated black grape called Sweet Sapphire
In recent years, Adam and Sharee have expanded the family’s Sweet Sapphire market by becoming the first in the world to dry the midseason, black, seedless grape.
Last year, the Gallace family created a brand for their dried fruit, such as the Sweet Sapphire grapes, oranges, figs, and other locally sourced fruit.
The brand, Little Gemz, launched last year, with the family leveraging export and business connections to sell the dried fruit into Asian supermarkets.
“We are very lucky to have relationships with the supermarkets. They are the same buyers for our fresh fruit,” Adam said.
“It helps too that our fresh fruit has a good reputation. I think anything that backs off that makes it easier.”
Little Gemz brand of dried table grapes
Expansion requires infrastructure
Developing the dried fruit arm has diversified the business and helped flatten cash-flow, provided longer-term employment for staff, and assisted with risk management.
Underpinning all these benefits has been the rapid growth of Little Gemz and the overall Gallace family business.
But expanding wasn’t just about creating new products and chasing additional markets. Back on the farm, the first job was to create more space.
Extra cool room storage was needed, plus room for the four driers at the heart of their new packaged fruit enterprise.
It was clear the family required another shed. That’s when they turned to Entegra, the business they’d previously worked with to build other farm infrastructure.
“The new shed has taken a lot of pressure off the other two facilities because the farm’s probably too big just for the two sheds we had,” Adam said.
The new Entegra shed during construction
“We needed to put another shed in to ease the pressure. With all the fruit we pick, and needing to get it in and trucked out, it’s pretty important to have the facility.”
In March 2021, the new Entegra shed at the Gallace family farm was a hive of activity.
Workers were preparing fresh grapes for export, while some driers were running, others were about to be filled with grapes for the next batch of dry fruit.
Sharee said their next step would be to encourage Australian retail shops to stock the locally grown and produced Little Gemz products.
Pandemic business “normal”
Thanks to the Little Gemz range, the Gallaces used their dried fruit exports to trial the new way of doing business in a world gripped with concerns about COVID-19.
They anticipated dealing with additional logistical setbacks and, possibly, extra paperwork and trade challenges, because of the pandemic.
“In a way, it was good because it didn’t matter if the [dried product] got stuck on the water or at customs because it’s not perishable,” Sharee said.
“There were still issues, sometimes the Chinese customs kept it for a month because of the COVID restrictions and the fun and games at the time,” Adam added. “But we had the luxury of doing that then; if that had happened with fresh fruit, we’d lose.”
This insight into global export logistics and trade expectations was useful for the 2021 fresh fruit season.
“There were a lot of restrictions and protocols put in place,” Adam said. “But everything still went through. With the fresh fruit, all the paperwork had to be spot on; they are very strict. If things aren’t correct, you do have issues.
“We weigh every pallet, plus there’s extra labeling. It must be done. It’s more time for us and it costs us more, but if it means there are no issues at the other end that’s just what we have to do.”
Next on the Gallaces’ waste elimination crusade was the condensation from inside the fruit driers.
As Adam and Sharee developed the eye-catching packaging for Little Gemz, they also strategised about adding value to their run-off moisture.
The couple eventually decided to target the beverage market by creating Eden grape spritz.
It’s a carbonated drink made from the co-product of grape water from the driers and leftover crushed grapes.
Eden Grape Spritz
“Through the process of the drying, it builds condensation in the room. It’s about 55 degrees and the grapes sweat, and that’s basically what the water is,” Adam said.
“Once it goes through this process, it gets absorbed through a machine which cools it down to a droplet, and it turns it into water. We catch it and then it gets pumped into another tank where it’s ultraviolet filtered, and goes into a storage tank. From there, it goes into food-grade shuttles, and into the cool room.”
Adam and Sharee collected 100,000 litres of grape water in their first year.
The grape water element of the Eden spritz makes it one of a kind, according to Sharee.
“Everyone else uses spring water or natural water,” she said. “We didn’t want it just as water. We wanted to add something else to it.”
Waste not want not
Up to 10 per cent of the grapes at the Gallaces’ vineyard could be classified as waste each year, depending on seasonal conditions.
“If we don’t pick it, it’s wasted, money lost,” Adam said. “If we pick it, we can either crush it for juice, with the spritz, or dry it. Other growers can leave it, but now some ring and ask if we can dry it for them.”
Adam and Sharee have purchased other growers’ waste fruit when they haven’t been too busy with their own produce.
“Last year, we bought 20 tonnes from a grower; we paid $500 a tonne,” Adam said. “He was going to pay his workers to cut it on the ground anyway, but instead of doing that he made something out of it.”
Managing staff shortages
Fresh fruit is the Gallace family’s primary business focus. It’s the largest part of their operation and requires all hands on deck for the picking season.
But, like many agriculture businesses, the Gallace family found it tough to source workers due to the pandemic.
Sourcing workers has been challenging during the pandemic
At peak, the Gallace family business employees about 200 people.
“The priority is picking the fresh fruit first and if we have enough workers we can bring people in to start drying the fruit,” Sharee said.
“It could mean that we might not be able to dry as much during picking. We will still do it, but it might be later in the season, instead of now when we would be doing it.”
With the prospect of potentially more grapes withering on the vine, the driers have proven an excellent risk management tool for the business as an outlet for damaged or older grapes.
Product is able to be stored in the new Entegra shed ready for export
“[The fresh fruit] can sit there for as long as it can, but then it will get overripe and it will rot,” Adam said. “Fresh fruit, you buy it with your eyes; we can’t sell fresh fruit if it’s shriveled. That’s why we’re drying – it’s not good for fresh, but it’s perfect for drying because it’s higher in sugar.”
“We get phone calls every year to dry other people’s fruit, but we never designed it as a business to dry other people’s fruit. It was more for insurance for us on years when we can’t get over it all or we’ve had bad weather.
“The perfect example: we had hail last year, and there was a lot of fruit we couldn’t pick fresh, but we could pick it for dried.”
Olive grove fruits and their new packing shed
Innovation drives change
Countless fruit, vegetables, and broadacre crop varieties such as wheat and barley have all played a role in the evolution of the Gallace family farm.
Previous generations moved from selling produce locally to targeting consumers in countries right across the globe.
Adam and Sharee’s move into consumer brands and value-adding has been the next step in their family’s rich farming history.
There are no plans to stop innovation and development either.
“Spinning-off in every which direction,” Sharee flagged working with the grape enzymes for a new product. At the same time, Adam suggested looking into alcoholic beverages.
Afterall, they don’t like seeing anything go to waste – especially when it comes to market opportunities.
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