Page 27 - Food & Drink Magazine Jan-Feb 21
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and 60 per cent of its products are not almond-based.
“A significant portion is exported into South-East Asia and we supply a lot of the large ice cream, confectionery, snacking and bakery companies with ingredients. Then we have our own consumer brands.”
The company exports to Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Thailand. Thompson says breakfast is one of the first meals adopted when people westernise their diet. “It’s not necessarily consumed in the same way as we do – it’s often eaten hot instead of cold – but it is a growing market for us.”
“In the eight years I’ve worked with Select, almond/oat/cashew milks and butters were almost unheard of. There’s a strong part of the community who want to consume less dairy,
and almond milk and meal are good replacements. Almonds have great versatility. They’re portable, high in protein and very affordable in terms of the amount of protein they offer. The plant-based wellness market is highly competitive and its growth very attractive, but it is essential to have the right cost base.”
For Thompson, Select has a number of competitive advantages, including its “enormously strong” skill base in adding value to almonds. It has the ability to grow consumer brands that are not exclusively almond based, meaning it can provide greater range to a retailer. And its strategic expansion mindset, which ranges from looking at other nut orchards and overseas opportunities.
Thompson says that globally, Select is regarded as an innovative almond company. One of the ways it is leading the industry is in its sustainability program.
“Unlike other stone fruits, with almonds you eat the pip not the fruit, so about three quarters of the product we grow is bi-product. A lot goes to the cattle feed industry, but the size of that market is dependent on
the grain price, the cattle market and whether drought conditions are at play. So, we looked for other ways to use it.”
Four years ago, the company began Project H2E, a biomass electricity co-generation plant. The system generates
3.4 megawatts of energy, resulting in its Carina West processing facility being almost completely energy efficient. The potash is returned to the orchards to close the loop.
To date, more than 30,000 tonnes has been returned to the farms as fertiliser. The project has reduced Select’s carbon footprint by more than 25 per cent. Select installed
its first off-the-grid farm hub at its Allinga Farm five years ago, and Thompson says the company looks to solar where possible.
“There’s potentially a misnomer that agriculture sector and environmentalists don’t get on, but no industry has a bigger vested interest in the environment than an agricultural company. For example, almond orchards are heavily reliant on bees for pollination. We bring in 30,000 beehives for two to three weeks.
“They’re a precious part of the ecosystem, so we do what we can to support the hives. We have planted alternate forage sources, including perennial native species and canola and have water sources placed around the orchards. We also try to minimise machinery use during the pollination period.”
Thompson has been one of the many voices in the water management debate, saying there has to be a balance
“ Good things came from COVID-19 as well as the hard things. For the business, we haven’t seen an overall drop in demand, in fact it has increased slightly.”
  between how water is used – for human, environment, agriculture, other industries – while navigating the added complexity of state-based motivations.
Select’s water costs jumped more than 60 per cent in the
12 months to 30 September 2020. Thompson says: “Our strategy around water is simple – we want to make sure what we do use we don’t waste, because once it’s used, you don’t get it back. Water is a very expensive part of our growing costs and the water debate is an emotional one.
“The Australian Consumer & Competition Commission is investigating the water market and we are very supportive of that. The almond industry says there should be a moratorium until we fully understand the
impact on industry. Victoria has adopted the same position. The water debate is an emotional one and what we’re saying is there has to be balance.”
After a tough year, Thompson reiterates Select Harvests has been fortunate. “Good things came from COVID-19 as well as the hard things. For the business, we haven’t seen an overall drop in demand, in fact it has increased slightly. We have had market access issues but when a port is closed, it
is closed.
“We’ve seen people become
more away of their own mortality and adopt healthier eating habits. It has reinforced for us we are in the right space. The leveller for us was from the very foundation of our business, trees didn’t know there was a globalpandemic.” ✷ | January/February 2021 | Food&Drink business | 27

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