From the boardroom to the farm

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Last year the Food & Beverage Industry Awards introduced a number of new categories. One of these was the Paddock to Plate award, won by El Cielo.

The Food & Beverage Industry Awards’ Paddock to Plate category celebrates companies that source their product direct from the producer and maintain freshness while meeting a consumer demand, such as longer shelf life and/or ease of preparation and cooking.

The winner of the award last year, sponsored by Chr. Hansen, was El Cielo for its White Corn Tortillas, Totopos and Tostaditas.

As Cesar Duran (pictured), managing director of El Cielo told Food & Beverage Industry News, putting the Paddock to Plate philosophy into practice was no easy task.

“It’s a continuing work in progress. You’re bringing together two worlds which are very different. The language is very different; the expectations are very different,” he said. “It took a lot of communication, a lot of understanding and a lot of time to get everybody [farmers, manufacturers and retailers] on the same page.”

Despite the difficulties, the Paddock to Plate dream started to come to fruition in 2016 when the company started to grow and use its own white corn in northern NSW.

In conjunction with the farm, extensive research and planning was undertaken in order to establish the best location for growing high-quality white corn in Australia. This also required extensive planning with regards to logistics and ensuring the white corn would reach the production facility fresh.

Upgrades and development of processing machinery were required in order to facilitate the production of the products, while providing the fresh products to restaurants (including El Sabor) meant the dream was realised. In order to maintain freshness, the grain is harvested in NSW, then immediately transported to a production facility in Port Melbourne for processing. The products are then delivered directly to restaurants and independent retailers for sale.

The end result impressed the judges of the aforementioned awards. “El Cielo has taken the concept of paddock to plate one step further – deciding to grow the corn themselves to ensure the best quality for the product. Their impressive supply chain sees them grow the corn, process it in their Port Melbourne facility and then deliver direct to restaurants as a fresh product,” they commented.

Does El Cielo have any advice for businesses hoping to follow in its footsteps?

“The hardest bit is to develop trust and understanding. The advice I would give them would be to come down from the boardroom and be closer to where ingredients come from,” said Duran. “It’s about relationships and getting off our high horses in the cities to actually go to the farms and see where food comes from.”

Founded in 2012, El Cielo (which translates as ‘The Heaven’) employs over 20 people. The company was established with the aim of promoting ‘The True Taste of Mexico’, offering the flavours of traditional Mexican cuisine.

According to Duran, the company plans to grow into 2018. “Soon we’re launching a range of full-flavoured tortillas. Also we’ll continue to develop our Mexican range next year. We have new salsas and new products coming,” he said.

While at this stage only the company’s corn products (White Corn Tortillas, White Corn Totopos – corn chips, and Tostaditas) are ‘Paddock to Plate’, all other products use elements of the philosophy.

According to Duran, the company intends to maintain close relationships with those on the land. “We need to be more grateful to farmers. We should probably be more grateful to farmers than doctors.” he said.

Click here for more information on the Food & Beverage Industry Awards.