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Gold Coast fruit processor pivots into growing health drink sector

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Lemonade so healthy you can ‘literally drink it for breakfast” is among new south-east Queensland products taking off as the pandemic sparks a new era of consumers looking for Australian-made wellness-enhancing beverages.

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With sales of traditional soft drinks on the decline internationally, natural, organic and specialty products are bucking the trend as health takes centre stage during COVID-19.

And, with consumers increasingly seeking locally produced options, small manufacturers offering health and environmentally conscious alternatives are making an impact on the market.

Gold Coast-based Queensland Fruit Processors, which has been operating for the past 18 years and supplies a number of Australian hotels along with domestic and international airlines, is jumping on the all-natural juice juggernaut launching a new brand, Burleigh Drinks Co.

Co-owner Michael Paull said the pandemic had provided the right opportunity to move into canning all-natural juice and the company’s flagship lemonade product.

“It was one of those things when the pandemic hit: either do nothing or go for something we’ve had in the background for a few years,” Paull said.

“With Queensland Fruit Processors, we’re bound by having to use some imports because there’s some stuff we just can’t get here, and we also use plastic that we can’t avoid.

“The idea of Burleigh Drinks is all-Australian ingredients, environmental packaging with the cans, locally-made and all-natural juice.  All the ideal stuff we’ve been wanting to do.”

Burleigh Drinks brand girls Pipi & Charlotte are young Gold Coast surfers looking to break onto the circuit.

Paull said the pandemic had shifted consumer priorities.

“A few years ago, people weren’t looking at or weren’t real aware of what was in the ingredients or how things were made. But now there is, and our lemonade is just lemon juice, lime juice and honey, so there’s no colours or preservatives flavours.  It’s all natural, all healthy, you can literally have it for breakfast,” he said.

“For the first time ever, people are also really wanting to see local products.  With a lot of the disruptions overseas, the imported products aren’t so cheap and so the Australian products can compete against the imports,” he said.

“The timing is good in that sense.  The overall picture is good.”

All-natural juice products are leading the about-face beverage sales in Australia as well as the United States.

The most recent SPINS data, which provides insights for the natural, organic and specialty products industry, revealed that sales in America of conventional shelf-stable juices increased 9.5 per cent to US$6.2 billion in the year to April 2021. Sales of shelf-stable specialty and wellness juices grew 19.6 per cent to US$658 million.

GlobalData’Australia Beverages Consumption Trends and Forecasts Tracker report for the three months to 30 June 2021 found soft drink sales in Australia posted the strongest year-on-year decline of 7.2 per cent during the quarter.

The report  found juice was the only beverage category to grow, up 1.6 per cent over the same period.

Analysts put the switch away from soft drinks down to consumers seeking wellness-enhancing products and “moments of intentional indulgence” during the pandemic.

This included consumers’ desire to increase Vitamin C intake to boost their immune systems during the virus outbreak, along with indulging in food and beverages that they classed as premium treats, which were a replacement for going out as often to dine due to pandemic restrictions.

The trend included consumers wanting more sophisticated and heathy products, especially for breakfasts.

The trend is positive news for many Australian and international food companies that have established processing facilities in Queensland to take advantage of the range and quality of local produce and proximity to Asia-Pacific markets.

Queensland’s thriving food and agribusiness industry contributes more than $16.8 billion to the state economy, with the Gold Coast contributing more than 7 per cent of that figure.

Paull said as manufacturing costs have dropped, smaller producers have also been able to take more of their niche products to market.

He said the cost of canning equipment that once meant only companies like Coca-Cola and Toohey’s could afford it, was now more in reach.

It meant Burleigh Drinks had begun producing juice in cans, which was rare in the domestic market, as well as the lemonade.  Burleigh Drinks currently supplies all-natural orange juice, orange and mango juice and a Bloody Mary mix in cans.

“It’s a lot more accessible for people now to come up with professional products that can rival the big companies,” he said.

“To do the sort of set up that we’ve got 10 years ago would have taken three or four times the amount of space and at least four or five, if not more, amounts of money.

“Until a few years ago, you didn’t see small brands in cans.  Only the big companies could afford it.  Now a lot of smaller companies can start up and roll with the bigger ones.”

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