How sugar is damaging your brain

We know sugar is not very good for our waistline, but new research out of the US has found the negative impacts of sugar may extend even further: to your brainpower.

And don't think that because you don't add sugar to your coffee you're immune, because you're probably consuming more than you think.

An American study on lab rats, which appeared in the Journal of Physiology, found that a diet with consistent amount of high-fructose corn syrup effectively ruined their memories.

Researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution with the syrup as drinking water for six weeks.

Corn syrup is produced using enzymes and acids sometimes used to break down corn starch into fructose, glucose and simple sugars.

The chemical composition of corn syrup closely resembles table sugar, sucrose.

It is made up of half glucose and half fructose.

High fructose corn syrup commercially used comes in two rations, 45 percent glucose to 55 percent fructose used in soft drinks, 58 percent glucose to 42 percent fructose used in sweetening ice cream, desserts and baked goods.

They have the same number of kilojoules.

High-fructose corn syrup is a common ingredient in processed foods, particularly soft drinks, condiments, baby foods and other snacks, and has gained interest over recent years as doctors and dieticians warn against consuming too much of the additive.

Earlier this year, a US study found that a tax on high-sugar drinks could save 26 000 American lives per year.

It is estimated that the average American consumes 45 gallons of sweetened drinks each year, while the US Department of Agriculture estimates they that more than 18 kilograms of just high-fructose corn syrup each year.

While both groups of rats were fed the high-fructose corn syrup, only one also consumed flaxseed oil, an omega-3 fatty acid, which has been shown to improve brain balance and function, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Prior to consuming the corn syrup, and for one group the flaxseed oil and DHA, the rats were given a five-day training session in a complicated maze.

After six weeks of consuming the additives, they were placed back in the maze to see if their abilities to manoeuvre it was the same, with some frightening results.

“The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity," Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.said.

"Their brain cells had trouble signalling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier."

Of even more concern, further examination found that those rats who were not fed the DHA supplements appeared to have developed a resistant to insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates brain function, which Type 1 diabetics lack, while those with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin but is less efficient at moving sugar out of the bloodstream than healthy people.

Many years ago, Type 2 diabetes was often referred to as “sugar diabetes,” as it was known to be caused by lifestyle factors including obesity, high consumption of sugar and fat and low levels of exercise.

"Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla said.

And it’s not just memory that feels the effect of the sugar, with  thoughts and emotions also impacted as the fructose interferes with insulin’s ability to regulate cells.

"Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body.

“This is something new."

While it is not clear what the equivalent amount of high-fructose corn syrup a human would have to consume to suffer the same consequences in the brain, the study does raise questions and concerns over the amount of the additive we are consuming without knowing it.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information.

“But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimise the damage."

Do you think Australians need more education about high-fructose corn syrup? Do we need better labelling around this additive?

Image: High-fructose corn syrup

Undeclared “meat glue” used in countless American products

First it was “pink slime” horrifying consumers in the US, now it’s emerged that millions of Americans are also consuming “meat glue” each week.

The additive is used to produce not only meats found in fast food outlets, but also supermarkets, local delis and restaurants.

Even vegetarian foods have been found to contain “meat glue.”

The two main types of "meat glue"

The “meat glue” is made up two major types, the first transglutaminase Activa, a white powder form of a natural coagulant-like enzyme called transglutaminase.

The other type is Fibrimex, which is made of enzymes extracted from pig or beef blood by a process developed in the Netherlands.

According to the companies who make the “meat glue” they were designed to bond pieces of protein or irregularly shaped meat so it can be cut and cooked evenly by the food-service industry.

Food scientists told Scripps News Network the two cold-binding agents are used to reduce the use of sodium phosphate, sodium alginate, carrageenan, sodium caseinate and other chemicals that had been used for decades to form and mold meat.

Despite US laws requiring labelling to disclose the inclusion of the two brands of protein adhesive are apparently being ignored, according to an investigation by Scripps Howard News Service, which found almost none of the companies tested declared the additive.

Over five months, Scripps examined over 130 meats and deli products in Seattle, Milwaukee, Omaha and Denver which food scientists found contained the adhesive mixtures, but only four of them had the word “enzymes” on the ingredients list.

No companies would discuss the use of the additive, but it is estimated by food scientists that it is found in up to 35 per cent of all sliced ham, beef, chicken, fish, pizza toppings and other deli meats.

Cold cut processors and fast food outlets including McDonald’s and Arby’s were contacted by Scripps to discuss the use of the additive, but all declined to comment, on whether they use transglutaminase or blood-extract products,  raising concerns over the use of processing products.

While the government regulates that the use of the product should be included on a product’s ingredient list, producers can use a loophole which defines binders as a “processing aid.”

Is this the next "pink slime?"

Similarly to the “pink slime,” which is used as a cheap ground-beef filler, meat glue is not considered a health risk by federal food watchdogs, but consumers are disgusted and frightened by the inclusion of such additives.

After much publicity in 2011 and 2012, the use of pink slime has fallen in the US, although there are reports it is still being used in school lunches.

Experts say the US food industry needs to be accountable for it’s actions and be more transparent with consumers.

“For decades, the meat industry has conveniently operated in the dark, not sharing the dirty details of their practices with the public, while the federal government looked the other way,” Michele Simon, a policy consultant for the Center for Food Safety, told Scripps.

“But now, consumers are demanding to know the truth about what they are.

"We need more transparency in a food system that puts profits before people.”

The impact on religion and diet

The undeclared use of Activa and Fibrimex can cause issues for people with beliefs or dietary restrictions.

Jewish or Muslim consumers could be eating pork products chicken or fish pieces without being aware and vegetarians could be unknowingly consuming meat in their apparently “meat-free” products.

“There may be economic adulteration going on here, and the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) or the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) needs to look at whether laws are being violated,” Tony Corbo, legislative representative for the national consumer group Food & Water Watch said.

“We are especially appalled that certain consumers’ religious beliefs may be unknowingly violated because food manufacturers are hiding what goes into the production of these binding agents.”

The Australian standards

A spokesperson from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) told Food Magazine in a statement that the use of the enzyme, transglutaminase, as a processing aid is permitted under the Processing Aids of the food standards Code.

“Like all processing aids, the safety and function of this enzyme was thoroughly assessed before it was permitted to be included in the Code,” the spokesperson said.

Clause 6 of the Meat and Meat Products of the Code states that “Where raw meat has been formed or joined in the semblance of a cut of meat using a binding system without the application of heat, whether coated or not, a declaration that the meat is either formed or joined, in conjunction with cooking instructions indicating how the microbiological safety of the product can be achieved must be included on the label; or if the food is not required to be labelled, must be provided to the purchaser."

“This mandatory information requirement applies to all raw meat that has been formed or joined and is available for retail sale,” the spokesperson told Food Magazine.

“Where there may be compliance concerns, for example raw meat that is joined or formed being sold without the required labelling, consumers can approach the relevant enforcement agencies with their concerns.

“In addition, where the physical form of the formed or joined meat is labelled in a manner that implies the meat is a whole cut (for example, raw formed or joined meat labelled as ‘steak’), such representations could be considered deceptive or misleading to consumers and would fall under  Australian Consumer Law.

“This legislation is administered and enforced jointly by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the state and territory consumer protection agencies.”

What do you think of these kinds of additives? Are they necessary? Should there be more stringent labelling rules?

Visy accused of using Hell’s Angels for debt collections

Packaging company Visy has labelled reports that it uses Hells Angels bikie gang members as debt collectors as “nonsense.”

According to Victorian newspaper The Herald Sun, a whistle-blower has revealed a connection between the bikie gang and the packaging company.

Visy allegedly pays the Hells Angels a retainer to ensure bikies are available for the company to use as “problem solvers” when required.

The Herald Sun reports that the senior police sources detected the connection in police intelligence files and detectives are now investigating the ties.

Superintended Gerry Ryan, head of bikie gang Taskforce Echo wouldn’t comment on specific reports, but did say police are aware of some questionable activity since debt collector regulations in Victoria changed last year.

"We are monitoring this closely," he told The Herald Sun.

"Taskforce Echo has received recent intelligence of instances where members of outlaw motorcycle gangs have been used to collect debts from individuals and businesses.

"We are monitoring these activities closely and will act swiftly if offences are being committed, including the use of physical force, harassment and intimidation tactics."

Last year the Victorian government changes the regulations for debt collectors so that they don’t have to be officially registered to undertake the role.

The move has been widely criticised, with opponents saying that without monitoring or registration, individuals or companies could pose a significant threat to those in debt.

According to a former senior employee at Visy, the connection with Hell’s Angels has been in place for years and was personally approved by founder Richard Pratt, who died in 2009.

These links first emerged in the County Court in 2007.

The former employee alleges that Visy was owed significant sums of money by criminals connected to the fruit and vegetable industry, and when they refused to pay up, the packaging company decided it had to meet muscle with muscle.

"So Visy kind of had to find someone of equal status to the market heavies to collect what was owed by the sort of people who just ignore requests from traditional debt collectors," the whistleblower said.

"A senior Visy employee knew a couple of Hells Angels through a former job.

“He approached them and that's how the relationship started, with Richard Pratt's knowledge and approval."

Image: News Ltd.

Calling time on alcohol taxation in Australia


Australia’s approach to alcohol taxation is riddled with inconsistencies:
  • Alcohol is a prime target for taxation. It’s a good source of government revenue 
  • it allows governments to recoup costs for providing services to drinkers (such as accident and emergency care and policing) 
  • it provides a mechanism for drinkers to pay for the harm they impose on others as a consequence of their drinking
  • it helps discourage excessive drinking due to information failure (not all drinkers are aware of all the risks of drinking and some harms are not yet understood) and drinkers’ tendency to discount the long-term harms of alcohol
  • and reduced consumption of alcohol has known public health benefits.

Moreover, a recent Australian review of the evidence clearly showed alcohol taxation is cost-effective.

Given the utility and cost-effectiveness of alcohol taxation, the challenge is to identify an optimally efficient tax system: one that maximises the potential benefits of restrained alcohol consumption for the least amount of cost to those who don’t consume alcohol to excess.

If an economist was asked to design the least efficient alcohol taxation system imaginable, it would more or less approximate the current Australian system.

It would be blatantly unfair to lay the blame for this situation at the feet of any particular Commonwealth government.

The current system is, ahem, a cocktail of mixed methodologies, ideologies, idiosyncrasies and the remnant battle-lines of long-forgotten policy negotiations.

Essentially, alcohol can be taxed as either a fixed amount per volume of alcohol (a fixed rate of tax per standard drink) or as a proportion of the wholesale price.

Australia has both at the same time. Wine is taxed as a proportion of the wholesale price (called the wine equalisation tax), which means the tax applied to cask wine (around 60 cents per litre) is much lower than bottled wine (around $2.60 per litre) because it has a lower wholesale price.

All other types of alcohol products are taxed as a fixed amount per standard drink, although the fixed rate varies, not only between different types of beverages (beer and spirits, for example) but also between different types of containers (such as kegs and stubbies).

In other words, you pay between 5 cents and nearly $1 in tax on your alcohol, depending on whether you buy draught beer, bottled beer, mid or high-strength beer, cheap wine, expensive wine, cider, straight spirits, pre-mixed spirits or brandy.

Although tinkering with the current alcohol tax system is tempting – because it is easier to negotiate amendments than an overhaul – perhaps it is time to draw breath and go for broke: take the lead from Apple’s army of geeks and scrap the current operating system in favour of a new, more efficient one.

What might this look like?

Let’s go back to our definition of optimal efficiency: maximise the benefits (in other words, reduce harms) and minimise the impact on those who don’t drink to excess.

Since alcohol harm is not beverage-specific (drinking too much is drinking too much), the most efficient method is to tax the alcohol, not the beverage type or its price.

That would remove perverse incentives that currently distort drinkers’ choices between beverage types and would optimise the compensation paid by drinkers for increasing risks of harm and government costs, and reducing public health.

Taxing the alcohol content, known as a volumetric tax, requires a decision about the appropriate rate of tax per unit of alcohol and moving to this system will inevitably create winners and losers (essentially wine and beer would be relatively more expensive, while spirits would be relatively cheaper), but the principle is infinitely closer to optimal efficiency than is currently the case.

Our modelling shows a volumetric tax would deliver both significant health gains and increased taxation revenue, compared to the existing taxation system.

However, a volumetric tax is not the only price control mechanism that could sensibly be utilised, for two reasons.

First, although drinkers are sensitive to changes in alcohol prices, they are relatively price inelastic (that is, demand remains relatively strong despite price rises), which means there is a limit to how high the volumetric tax could be set before it unfairly impacts on relatively light drinkers.

Second, there is more than one type of harmful alcohol consumption: drinking too much on average; and drinking too much on one occasion (getting drunk).

Our modelling suggests that in response to a price increase, Australians will increase the number of days on which they do not drink at all (and reduce the number of days on which they only drink a bit) in order to preserve their financial ability to drink more heavily on the weekend.

This suggests some people just like to get drunk, and you can do that quite a few times and still work out that the most financially savvy way to get drunk is to drink the cheapest alcohol.

A volumetric tax would help inhibit such drinking but could be reinforced by complementary pricing controls, such as a minimum retail price (or floor price). Scotland and England have indicated they will introduce this strategy in 2012.

Unlike the current situation, this mix of price control strategies is not attempting to idiosyncratically amend one taxation system: it is a synthesis of two separate and equitable approaches.

A volumetric tax would effectively transfer funds to the government to compensate them for the cost of mopping up the harms from excessive drinking, while a floor price would inhibit the availability of cheap alcohol.

The practical difficulties of negotiating the introduction of a more optimal alcohol tax system are daunting and will require skilled politics, but it is time to untangle the mess.

And it seems fair that researchers advocating for change ought equally be accountable for measuring the impact of a more optimal alcohol tax system.

To paraphrase Dostoevsky: drinkers, politicians and researchers are all responsible for all.

Anthony Shakeshaft is an Associate Professor at National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

 

Josh Byrnes is a research fellow in health economics at Griffith University.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Coles and Woollies not entirely to blame for supermarket wars, Dick Smith tells Inquiry

Dick Smith has warned against forcing the break-up of Coles and Woolworths, saying it would only further damage the food sector.

Speaking at the Senate Inquiry into the Australian food processing sector this morning, the entrepreneur also said government protection of the food industry, by enforcing a quota of Australian products, would be a positive move.

Industry protection funds, similar to those in the car industry, could be another viable option, he said.

In his submission to the Inquiry, Smith blamed the current supermarket climate, which is pushing Australian companies and farmers out of work, on rich foreign companies, namely ALDI.

He said dividing up Coles and Woolworths will not improve the situation “because I think they will just become uncompetitive when they become small with the internationals we allow them to compete with.”

Smith voiced his concern that the current “extreme capitalism” environment will lead to WalMart and Costco being the only supermarket companies in the world.

He told the Inquiry he does not believe the infamous milk price wars, which saw Coles drop the price of private-label milk to $1 a litre and Woolworths quickly follow suit, was either of their faults, but rather the blame is squarely at the feet of foreign-owned cheap food retailers.

''I think Coles and Woolworths were reacting to the situation that Aldi and Costco have come here,'' Smith said.

He also wants penalty rates in Australia looked at, and says a reduction in the rates would improve our competitiveness.

''Do we value our country towns?” he asked

“Which I do, do we want to go to these country towns and find them boarded up?

“Because our farmers are paying $20 an hour for labour, (and) will never be able to compete with people paying $5 an hour.

''But don't blame Coles and Woolworths for it, I think we are getting off the track…I think it is the fact consumers want the cheapest prices.''

Smith maintains Australians would readily pay slightly higher food prices if it ensured the future of the food industry.

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that while most Australians say they would like to buy Australian produced and processed food, the main contributing factor is low price.

Similar rules to those in television broadcasting which impose a certain quota of locally-made content, would be effective in the supermarket sector, he said.

''One idea that I heard a number of days ago which could have potential is that we require Australian supermarkets to have a certain percentage of their sales, say 25 per cent, to be from Australian-owned processors and made and grown in Australia,'' Smith said.

''The advantage in doing that is it will create a level playing field.''

Last month Smith, along with Greg Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer started calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to allow shoppers to easily understand which products are locally made and produced, and therefore keep local industries alive.

The current packaging and import regulations leave most consumers confused, they said.

Smith predicts that ALDI’S share in the supermarket sector, currently sitting at 8 per cent, will increase gradually over coming years.

 

Dick Smith fronts Senate Inquiry into food industry

Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith will front the Senate Inquiry into the food processing industry and supermarket dominance today.

The Inquiry has come up against problems getting people and companies to participate in the process, as the supermarkets bully them into silence through their market control.

Smith is one of the few who is openly critical about not only the anti-competitive practises of the supermarkets, but also the government policy that is ruining the entire Australian food industry.

The case against ALDI

He  has taken a slightly different angle in his submission to the Inquiry, effectively blaming foreign-owned supermarket ALDI for most of the problems in the supermarket sector.

“ALDI’s lower prices primarily come from having lower labour costs, that is, they employ less Australians,” Smith writes in his submission. 

“When Coles and Woolworths follow this particular trend, (as they will be forced to) where in a large supermarket you might only have one or two Australians employed our food prices may be slightly cheaper but in the long term our taxes will  very likely go up to pay for the social services of people who no longer have jobs.

“When ALDI stocked a limited range of products there was hope that the Australian owned retailers could survive because they could sell the other necessities that were required, place a higher price on those and obtain an extra margin to cover their extra staffing overheads. 

“The alternative was to go broke.

“That’s  now  all changed.  

“ALDI have announced that they are going to increase their product range so a typical Australian family can buy all of their products in an ALDI store. 

“This will result in Coles and Woolworths either following ALDI further on this lower cost, 90% private label, “lack of choice” model or losing substantial market share and eventually failing.”

Woolworths and Coles are already increasing their private-label products at a rapid pace, pushing Australian companies out of business and placing unfair demands on producers and transporters.

Supermarkets killing drivers

Yesterday the Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused the major supermarkets of causing road deaths by forcing truck drivers to drive for unsafe lengths of time and meet unrealistic deadlines.

"The union is saying very clearly to Coles and the other retailers that [their] practices have to change, that they are literally killing people on our roads because of the economic pressure," TWU federal president Tony Sheldon told ABC News.

"What happens with Coles and other major retailers with dominating the market at 32 per cent of road transport tasks, is that they say to manufacturers, they say to farmers and they say to transport operators that you've got to do this work the cheapest and the fastest way you possibly can.

"They're price takers, which means the trucking industry either makes the decision to do the work or they don't have a job."

Collapse of Australia's beetroot industry

Smith points towards the beetroot industry as a prime example of the damaging impact the ridiculously low prices have on Australia.

“As an example, for many decades, a simple can of Australian grown beetroot has sold for about $1.50 in our supermarkets and this has allowed a viable farming and  processing industry to exist,” he said in his submission to the Inquiry.

“The cost price of such a can is about 90 cents, the remainder being the supermarket overheads and profit margin. 

"Not at any time in the past few decades have I  heard of consumers complaining about the price of a can of beetroot. 

“In fact, it’s about half the price of a cup of coffee and I find it truly amazing that it could be so cheap, considering that Australian award wages and conditions are included in the price.

“Notwithstanding the lack of pressure on price, ALDI started to sell beetroot at 75 cents a can.   Immediately, Coles and Woolworths matched the price, as they had to.  

“ALDI proudly claimed that the beetroot they were selling was from Australia however they did not state that this would basically sound the death knell to our beetroot growing and processing industry.

“Within a short period of time, Heinz announced the closure of its beetroot processing plants in Australia, sacking hundreds of workers and Australian farmers were ploughing their beetroot crops back in the ground. 

“Heinz announced that their beetroot from now on will be grown and processed overseas.

“At the present time, there are still stocks of Australian beetroot at 75 cents a can, but it’s obvious that once these go, if the price is to remain the same, all beetroot in future will come from overseas. 

“We will have lost a complete industry, but this didn’t happen  because of pressure from consumers. 

"This is an important point. 

“It happened because one of the most astute examples of modern “extreme” capitalism, fully foreign owned ALDI, decided to flex its power.”

Smith said another differentiating factor between ALDI versus Coles and Woolworths is that the latter two are publically-listed companies, dependant on and accountable to shareholders, whereas ALDI is privately owned by a German company.

The “highly secretive” ALDI is therefore creating an uneven playing field, he said in his submission.

"Intentionally vague" labelling

He also takes aim at the labelling laws for country of origin, claiming they are deliberately misleading.

 “The current food labelling laws in Australia are intentionally vague so the requirements are accepted by the large multinational companies who  have political clout,” he said. 

“Although there have been campaigns such as the “Australian Made” mark, this was in reality an indication that the majority of the cost of production of a product was made up with Australian content. 

“For example, if the cost of a jar, a lid, label and an ingredient such as sugar represented greater than 50% of the total cost, but the primary ingredient (say, the strawberries in strawberry jam), was imported, the label could  still  state  “Australian Made”.

“In more recent times many labels bear the words “Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients”.  In this case, the local content may be very small.”

Smith’s own company, which produces food ‘as Australian as you can get” has felt the impact of the obsession with cheap, often imported food, and is personally watching his products getting pushed out of the market.

“Turnover peaked at $80 million per year in 2002 and has now dropped to $8million per annum as most Australians move to lower prices,” he said of his company, Dick Smith Foods.

“It’s interesting to note that the prime reason Coles have refused to stock our products is that  they are about 30 cents more expensive, and they believe Australian consumers will not  support this extra cost.”

A statement from Senator Richard Colbeck, the Liberal Senator for Tasmania who called for the Select Committee last year, said he is pleased that the Inquiry has secured both Coles and Woolworths to appear as witnesses at a subsequent meeting in Canberra next week.

The committee is due to release the findings of the Inquiry by 30 June.

Good culture: how the rise in yoghurt consumption is helping Aussie farmers

Yoghurt is one of the fastest-growing food categories in Australia, and the increased consumption is not only improving health, it's helping Aussie farmers.

Whether its health consciousness on the part of consumers, or the range of flavours and types that manufacturers are producing, the rise in popularity cannot be ignored.

A mere few years ago, the Greek yoghurt category was almost non-existent in the Australian market, but the current demand is something that is not being ignored by manufacturers.

As dairy farmers struggle to survive the milk price wars and more dairy products become private-label domain, yoghurt and in particular, Greek yoghurt, is offering Aussie dairy farmers some hope.

“Greek yoghurt uses about triple the amount of milk compared to other yoghurts and the hope and expectation is that this will change the local milk consumption drastically,” Peter Meek, Managing Director for Bead Foods, which is launching Chobani Greek yoghurt in the Australian market, told Food Magazine.

Since launching Chobani in the US five years ago, the consumption of Greek yoghurt has risen dramatically, and Meek anticipates a similar story in Australia.

“There really wasn’t a Greek yoghurt category back in 2007, there were a couple of small niche players and then Chobani came along and almost created the mainstream category,” he explained.

“It’s gone from one per cent of the total yoghurt market to about a third of the market in five years.

“In Australia the greater yoghurt segment is not tracked by retailers, but based on our estimations, we think [Greek yoghurt] is about 15 per cent of the market, and it has seen strong growth in the last few years, mostly the plain variety because people like to add it to cooking and other things.”

Back to basics

The difference is the way the yoghurt is made, which takes on an old-fashioned, traditional approach to making Greek yoghurt, which Meek believes is the main reason it has been so widely adopted in the US and will also be in Australia.

“I think firstly because almost all of it is natural and organic and properly strained. We call ours ‘Greek yoghurt,” not ‘Greek-style” because we strain our yoghurt and it takes three litres of milk to make one litre of our Greek yoghurt,” he told Food Magazine.

“The standard Greek yoghurt available in Australia is 10 per cent fat because it is just full cream milk with cream added and then it is fermented.

“But we start with lots of skim milk, we strain it and remove the fat, which makes it incredibly thick and creamy naturally because there are tons and tons of proteins in there.

“I think the health and wellness trend is growing and consumers are looking for products that are authentic.

“Our yoghurt is milk and cultures, what we don’t use is the stuff consumers are saying they don’t want: gelatines and thickeners and artificial additives.

Chobani has invested $20 million into building what Meek describes as “basically a whole new factory alongside our existing [Gippsland] one,” to make the Greek yoghurt locally.

“We’re putting in a whole processing plant to make the base yoghurt, as well as new filling lines, warehousing and storage capacity to store and ship,” he explained to Food Magazine.

“In the process, we’re also recruiting people for the development and there will be about 25 more peopled when it’s up and running, so we will have an impact on the wider community with employment too.

Milking the dairy industry

“The hope and expectation is that this will change the local milk consumption drastically.

“We currently source all Gippsland dairy from Victoria, so we’re already buying that and once we start making Chobani locally, we will obviously increase the amount we’re buying dramatically.”

“Anything that uses local milk has got to be a great thing.

“One reason we will make the milk here is that we will have access to a wonderful quality of milk.”

When Food Magazine asked Meek for his take on the supermarket price wars and its impact on the dairy industry, he was hesitant to comment.

“It’s a very complicated issue and I don’t have all the information on it,” he said.

“All I know is that for my business to be successful, I need a viable farming community behind me anything that will support that, I am definitely in favour of.”

Dairy farming second worst job in the world

This month, a US survey rated dairy farming as the second worst job you can have.

The findings of the American survey might not come as a surprise to most Australian dairy farmers, who are facing a slump in profits as the major supermarkets continue to sell milk for $1 per litre, despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into what the industry calls “unsustainable”prices.

Australian Dairy Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine earlier this year that farmers are leaving the industry in droves because they cannot manage to make a profit, or in many cases, break even.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

The only profession deemed to be worse than dairy farming is being a lumberjack, according to the results collated by American HR group, CareerCast’s.

The five key categories were used to determine the best and worst jobs were physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

The importance of five

With Greek yoghurt going from strength to strength, one may wonder whether there is any room left in the market for more mainstream varieties. And the answer is ‘yes there is.’

So much so, that from a big idea became an even bigger development for an entrepreneur and his yoghurt brand, which had a buyer before he even had a working factory.

David Prior has a unique take on the adage ‘make the most out of your day’.

Having started his day at five o’clock in the morning for over a decade, Prior treasures this moment each morning where he feels he can pause and create his day.

It was this philosophy that fuelled Prior to capture what he calls this ‘five:am-ness,’ and bottle it.

And so, the five:am organic yoghurt brand was born, but Prior also wanted to ensure his operation was environmentally sustainable.

At this stage of pipe dreams and grand ideas, the unimaginable happened: a major Australian supermarket decided to buy his product.

Only problem was, they wanted it by March 2011 – just eight months later – and at this stage Prior didn’t even have any equipment, let along a sustainable manufacturing operation.

“When the contract was signed to produce and distribute our yoghurt within an eight month timeframe, all we had was a 35,000 square foot site located just south of Melbourne, Victoria,” explained Prior.

“Our site had no manufacturing system in place, inadequate air flow and water supply, and none of the technology needed to produce organic yoghurt.”

Despite the short time frame, Prior did not want to sacrifice the environmentally sustainable factory he had dreamed of for his yoghurt brand.

In May 2010, five:am engaged Process Partners, a specialist dairy engineering and process improvement group, to help manage and execute the project, who conducted a detailed audit of five:am’s requirements, taking into account its need to produce more variations of the product than was initially required to meet its March 2011 distribution deadline.

From this, they developed a manufacturing strategy for the plant and evolved the strategy based on budget and business objectives.

Process Partners joined forces with Schneider Electric to provide a full suite of automation and control technology in the small timeframe.

“Nobody can believe how quickly we got it up and going,” Craig Roseman, Schneider Electric’s food and beverage specialist, told Food Magazine.

He agreed that the focus on health has opened up doors for more players in the yoghurt category, including Prior.

“I guess why there has been such an increase in the market in Australia versus the UK is that our consumption per capita is less than them so there was always scope to increase it.

“There is definitely a trend towards more wholesome foods and yoghurt is one example of that.

The milk used in five:am’s yoghurt is an important part of it’s organic processing, which Roseman said is sourced from a farm in Victoria.

“It is a certified organic farm, and it went through rigorous process to get it that certification,” he said.

Roseman told Food Magazine that while the supermarket duopoly is impacting the market, the yoghurt sector is proving to be a hopeful case.

“I guess we have, apart from the independents, a strong duopoly between Coles and Woolworths so they are always going to have pretty strong market power and I think basically having market power means they can dictate a lot about what they want.

“There is that element of end users, some are more susceptible to that [supermarket power], while some can push back a little.

“I certainly agree that it’s not conducive to a healthy local sector in the long run, it is going to put strain on the businesses that are already struggling.

“We’re not that different to ‘a dollar a litre’ farmers, a lot of our business is cut out or improved on too.

“Fortunately the yoghurt sector is one of the few dairy derivatives that is not home branded to the extent that milk and cheese.

“The profit is driven out for manufacturers when a category becomes dominated by private label, but yoghurt has somehow managed to stay strong.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supermarket price wars are killing drivers: transport union

The supermarket price wars are claiming more victims than just food manufacturing facilities, with accusations from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) that the pressure is forcing truck drivers to drive unsafely, leading to road deaths.

TWU federal president Tony Sheldon told ABC News that the tight deadlines forced on drivers are unrealistic and forcing them to drive unsafely.

"The union is saying very clearly to Coles and the other retailers that [their] practices have to change, that they are literally killing people on our roads because of the economic pressure," he said.

"What happens with Coles and other major retailers with dominating the market at 32 per cent of road transport tasks, is that they say to manufacturers, they say to farmers and they say to transport operators that you've got to do this work the cheapest and the fastest way you possibly can.

"They're price takers, which means the trucking industry either makes the decision to do the work or they don't have a job."

In a bid to shine some light on the dangerous impacts of the major supermarkets on drivers, the union will begin a series of supermarket protests in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth today.

He said the larger transport industry is being impacted by the behaviour of the major supermarkets.

"When the two big gorillas make a decision, and particularly with the aggression of Coles, it means a knock-on effect occurs right across the market, right across industries above and beyond retail," he said.

Is Coles the ringleader?

It’s not the first time Coles has been identified as the main instigator of the anti-competitive and bullying behaviours currently plaguing the food industry, with many in the sector believing Woolworths simply has no choice but to match Coles’ prices and attitudes.

Last year, Coles was the first to drop the price of milk to $1 per litre in the now-infamous milk price wars, and earlier this year it slashed the price of produce in half.

The impact has significant flow-on effects for food manufacturers, growers and suppliers, who cannot maintain a business with prices so low.

Earlier this year national secretary for the food and confectionary division of the Australia Manufacturing Workers Union, Jennifer Dowell discussed the damage the supermarket price wars are doing to the Australian industry.

“The mistake that most people make in these Inquiries and things is that they look at Coles and Woollies as retailers, but they are food processors and they control the market,” she told Food Magazine.

“If a company like Nestle came out and said “we’re going to buy a stake in Coles, and dominate the shelves with our products,” there would be uproar, it would be a huge scandal, but when the supermarkets do it, it’s a non-issue.

“That just doesn’t make sense.”

Sheldon agrees, saying the systems in place to force drivers to arrive on time are unsafe and unfair.

"When you dominate the market to the degree they do, and have policies that actually say if you arrive outside a half-hour window you get fined; as an owner-driver or a transport company, if you come in within that half hour and we can't unload you, you could still waiting for a day for hours," he told the ABC.

"We've got plenty of examples of people having to stay a whole day or being called back the next day without any work, without appropriate breaks, and with fatigue and economic pressure that goes on the transport companies.

"[The policies] are a damnation of this industry and the retail industry – how it squeezes the road transport industry and leads to unsafe practices."

Speaking up is commercial suicide

The pressure Coles and Woolworths place on companies and workers are well-known in the industry, but almost all are too afraid to speak publically, for fear they will be pushed out of business for doing so.

A Senate Inquiry into the behaviours of the major supermarkets found people would only speak up on the basis of anonymity and most were still concerned that even under such conditions, they would be found out by the big two and punished.

But Australian Logistics Council chief executive Michael Kilgariff told the ABC the latest claims from the TWU need to be substantiated and he believes there is enough regulation in the industry.

"The Australian Logistics Council has a retail logistics supply chain code of practice which deals with these issues such as waiting times, and both the carriers and the supermarkets are very focused on making sure that we don't have these sorts of situations occurring,” he said.

"If Tony Sheldon and the TWU have any evidence that the law is actually being broken, then they have a legal responsibility to ensure that the authorities are aware of where this is occurring so that prosecutions can commence.

"The supermarkets are currently liable under chain of responsibility laws – as is everybody in the supply chain – for incidents that may occur anywhere else in the supply chain where it can be demonstrated that they somehow caused it to happen.

"[The] chain of responsibility… is about to become a national law from January 1, 2013, and so we're going to have a national focus on these issues, and again if the TWU knows that the law is being broken, then they have an obligation to ensure that the authorities are informed."

Coles denies claims

Coles and Woolworths both refused to speak to the ABC on the issue, but said in a statement that the claims are baseless and incorrect.

"We're disappointed the TWU continues to make unsubstantiated claims about our transport practices.

"We outsource our transport business to large and reputable providers, we take safe transport practices very seriously and in no way do our transport contracts force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices. 

"We require our transport providers to comply with all road safety laws and regulations and all our freight contracts include fatigue management programs.

"Contrary to the TWU's claims, Coles's delivery windows into our stores are two hours, which is aligned with retail industry practice, and there are no penalties for suppliers or carriers for missing a time slot into our [distribution centres] or stores. 

"Coles is a co-founder of and current signatory to the Australian Logistics Council's retail code of practice and takes chain of responsibility very seriously as being core to its operating practices".

The release of yesterday's Federal Budget didn't offer any immediate improvements for the industry either, with calls from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) for a Supermarket Ombudsman ignored.

It  wanted the appointment of an Ombudsman, to oversee the anti-competitive and bullying behaviour of the major supermarkets to ensure a future for Australia’s food sector, to be included in the budget.

 

 

 

Federal Budget 2012: Did the government forget the food sector?

The Gillard government has left the food processing industry reeling with its Federal Budget, channelling little money to the sector and ignoring calls for a Supermarket Ombudsman.

Farming groups have slammed Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s declaration that Australia can be a ‘foodbowl’ for Asia, saying current policies are killing their businesses, not helping them.

Despite the fact that hundreds of workers in the food processing sector have lost their jobs in the last two years as SPC Ardmona, McCain, Heinz and National Foods, amongst others, close their doors or scale back their businesses, Gillard announced earlier this week that the future for Australian food should be in export.

The high Australian dollar, supermarket price wars and lack of new recruits in the sector are making it impossible for food manufacturers to make a profit, or in many cases even break even.

Dairy, produce industries in trouble

The infamous milk price wars is leading dairy farmers to leave the industry in droves, and with the average age of an Aussie farmer about 65 and no new workers coming through the ranks, the future of the farming sector looks dire.

With the dairy industry still reeling, Coles slashed the price of produce in half in Fenruary and AusVeg spokesperson Simon Coburn told Food Magazine it “had the making” of the milk price wars.

“Long term this could deliver lots of damage to the industry,” he told Food Magazine.

“Depending where the reduced retail price is going to be absorbed, whether it’s a small grower or a big business, this will damage them long term.

“Eventually it will come back to growers and that’s where they’ll get into trouble.

“These prices aren’t sustainable if they’re passed onto growers, small operations and even big ones won’t survive this.

When asked whether the price cuts shows a lack of knowledge or respect for growers from Coles, Coburn said that will be determined by Coles’ behavior going forward.

“It depends on how these costs will be set up,” he said.

“If they absorb the costs within their own structures, it could be good, but if it is going to be passed onto growers, which it probably will, it shows mass disrespect to growers.

Murray-Darling Basin impacts

Australian Dairy Farmers Association Chris Griffin voiced similar concerns about the impact of the supermarket when he spoke to Food Magazine in the same month, saying the dairy industry is not only losing workers, but will be further damaged by the carbon tax and Murray-Darling Basin plan.

“The carbon tax will also cause problems when it’s implemented on the 1st of July; we’ve done work to find the costs that will be incurred and they are largely electrical costs,” he said.

“The average increase for dairy operation will be between $5000- $7000, and that will be an overall direct increase in cost that will have to be passed on somewhere.”

The cost increase cause by the carbon tax will have to be absorbed by the farmers in the milk export market, Griffin told Food Magazine.

“It will have to be absorbed by the farmer because our price is governed by a royal export set price.

“Australia has come out ahead of the game in a way with implementing the carbon tax, but farmers can’t go to their overseas customers and saying ‘we need extra money because Julia has put on a carbon tax,’ the customers would just go elsewhere.”

The Murray Darling Basin plan, which is tipped to see farmers sell 2750 gigalitres of water back to the Government, will mean less water available for the same number of farmers in the region, Griffin explained.

“Given that the government has a national food plan they’re trying to roll out and we believe the dairy industry is a massive part of that, we would like to consult with them about the plan,” he said.

“Australia has been very fortunate that we have been able to produce enough dairy products not only for domestic consumption, but also for export, which then generates wealth for the country.

“This plan is going to jeopardise that.”

“At this stage we say a certain amount of water has been taken out already and we need to have a strategic look, working with the government to see where it is going to come from in the future rather than using the ‘Swiss cheese approach’ currently being used.

“It means less water for the same amount of farmers, and maintenance costs will be higher because there are not as many people contributing to the maintenance.”

National Irrigators' Council chief executive Tom Chesson said if the Gillard government wants to feed the Asian middle class, it will need to ensure "water to produce food,” and  “unless government gets its act together, we won't have a food processing industry left.”

Declining produce output

AusVeg chief executive Richard Mulcahy voiced similar concerns about the government’s view of exporting to Asia, saying there simply isn’t enough.

"Only 7.7 per cent of our ]vegetable] production goes offshore,” he said.

“We need to address that before coming up with ambitious plans about feeding hundreds of millions of people in Asia.”

In the last two years fruit and vegetable exports have declined $200 million to $497 million.

The Federal Budget, announced this morning, revealed funding for the Murray-Darling Basin will be reduced, and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, which manages the government’s water rights, will be slashed by $13.2 million over the next seven years.

The Caring for our Country program, which aims to improve biodiversity and sustainable farming, which many feared would be cut in Wayne Swan’s budget, was retained.

A further $2.2 billion will be invested into the program’s second phase, to run until 2018.

Part of the money will concentrate on ensuring the health and sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef, which will get an extra $12.5 million over four years to fund research on the impact of climate change and how to deal with global warming.

Over six years, $58 million will be delivered to develop and maintain marine reserves to protect oceans surrounding Auustralia.

But submissions to the senate inquiry into food processing are painting a bleak picture for the rest of the industry, saying the sector is "going backwards at a rate of knots".

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has also been lefty disappointed by the Budget, after calls for funding for a Supermarket Ombudsman were not delivered on by the government.

The AFGC wants an Ombudsman to oversee the anti-competitive and bullying behaviour of the major supermarkets to ensure a future for Australia’s food sector.

PM doesn’t understand true realities of farming industry: opinion

The government needs to support its farmers if it wants to be the food superpower Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants it to be.

 As a farmer, marketer and writer, Sophie Love understands the realities of life on the land and how the politicians’ mission to get the “good soundbite” does not translate to a better life of business for Australian farmers.

She writes for ABC’s The Drum:

Julia Gillard is absolutely right that Australia is on the brink of becoming the global economic superpower as the economies of Europe and the US falter, dip, double-dip and recede in the wake of the rampant consumerism of the eighties, nineties and noughties.

The shift has already happened, it is just the global consciousness that needs to catch up. Gillard is also correct in her prediction that Australia has the potential to be the food bowl of Australasia.

The potential is there, but the reality is that federal and state governments are going to have to markedly shift their attitudes, funding allocations and support for farmers if Australia is ever going to be anything other than a dust bowl importing all its food from Asia. That's the way we're headed.

Farmers are leaving the land in droves, frustrated with government treatment of rural communities and the right of farmers to earn a living wage for the crucial food production and custodianship of the land they battle the elements for every day.

The age of the average Australian farmer is ever increasing (currently around 65 years of age) and the industry is not attracting newcomers (except Asian and other overseas purchasers).

The children are leaving the land in preference for fringe dwelling – who can blame them when the rural schools are being closed, the Coles/Woolworths price wars and market domination demand ever-lower farmgate prices for produce, the satellite signal for broadband is slower than the city peak hour crawl and we can't get a TV or radio signal, let alone a doctor, a post office, a store.

Full article available on The Drum.

Sophie Love also blogs about her daily life on the farm here.

Sales of fair trade certified products still rising

Sales of products carrying the Fair Trade Certified logo have increased by almost 40 per cent, as consumers become more informed about work conditions for foreign workers.

Saturday marked the beginning of Fair Trade Fortnight, which aims to bring more awareness to the free trade cause.

Fairtrade Australia New Zealand (Fairtrade ANZ) said the increase in Fair Trade certified products in 2011 represents just over $165 million for the cause, which helps to ensure decent working conditions for employees.

In 2010, over AU$63.8 million in additional Fairtrade Premium payments were made globally to farmers for investment in growing their businesses, improving the quality of product and providing their communities with essential services such as healthcare and education.

Fairtrade ANZ chief executive Stephen Knapp said the growth shows Australian shoppers and businesses continue to believe every choice matters when it comes to giving farmers in developing countries a fair go.

 

“Whether it’s your morning coffee or the products your workplace uses for the office canteen, every choice matters,” Knapp said.

 

“Unlike any other third party certification system, Fairtrade works in partnership with small-scale farmers in developing countries to provide fairer prices, better terms of trade and additional funds for business and community development.

“Making a choice that matters and choosing Fairtrade is now easier than ever for Aussies shoppers with the number of Australian businesses licensed to sell products carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark rising by over 13% per cent to 220 and a range of Fairtrade Certified products now readily available on major supermarket shelves across the country,” he said.

Last year a number of large food brands started offering Fairtrade choices to Australian consumers including Starbucks and San Churro, which both now serve 100 per cent Fairtrade Certified espresso in their stores throughout the country.

Fairtrade Certified coffee on the supermarket shelves also continued to grow with brands including Republica, Oxfam, Global Café Direct and Grinders and Marco offering Fairtrade Certified and organic coffees.

“The choice of these businesses to support and offer Fairtrade Certified products is reflective of the continued demand by consumers who more than ever know that every choice matters, even in harder economic times,” Knapp said.

“Even in tough times Aussie shoppers understand the sense and importance of a fair go for all.

“They are continuing to make the choice to buy Fairtrade Certified products because they know they are making a choice that matters – one which makes a real difference to the lives of millions of farmers and their communities in some of the world’s poorest countries,” he said.

 

In October last year , a global poll has revealed  more Australians not only recognise the Fairtrade label, but are also actively looking for it when making purchases.

Of the 17 000 consumers Fairtrade surveyed from 24 different countries, over half said they believed buying certified free trade would help farmers in developing countries.

Over six in ten surveyed said they trust the Fairtrade Label and use it to make decisions.

Do you look for Fairtrade Certified products when shopping or eating out?

Rate of animals slaughtered without stunning rising faster that Muslim population in UK

An animal welfare expert in the UK has accused the local meat industry of increasing the number of animals slaughtered without stunning, claiming it is for religious purposes, when it is actually a financial decision.

Professor Bill Reilly, former chairman of the UK Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, said the increase in the number of animals not being stunned prior to slaughter was “unacceptable.”

He is currently a consultant on veterinary public health and believes the practise of slaughtering animals without stunning should be reduced or banned entirely.

He said reports by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and EU-funded Dialrel Project, combined with publically-available footage on YouTube "clearly demonstrate the pain and distress of obviously still sentient animals after non-stun slaughter".

Legislation in the UK and EU allows the slitting of animals’ throats without stunning, in accordance with Muslim and Jewish food requirements, but the number of animals slaughtered without stunning is increasing faster than the rates of people who require animals to be killed in such a way for their religious beliefs.

The production of halal meat in particular has been growing at a rapid pace, Reilly said, and now significantly exceeds the proportion of Muslims in the UK population.

The halal share of the UK meat market increased almost 15 per cent in the last 11 years he said, while the Muslim population is estimated at 4.6 per cent.

“Why has there been this growth in demand for halal meat and the proportion that is from non-stunned animals?” Professor Reilly wrote in the Veterinary Record.

“There may be operational advantages for an abattoir if stunning is not carried out.

“Other commercial drivers include the convenience of not offering a Halal processing line."

Reilly stressed that he is not targeting the right to religious freedom, but rather attempting to ensure as many animals as possible are slaughtered in a humane way.

"The challenge to society is to enable religious slaughter without compromising animal suffering," he said.
He wants to reduce the minimum number of animals killed without pre-stunning in the UK/

But Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said there is a "lot of confusion" over Halal meat.

He said animals can be stunned before slaughter and still be labelled Halal.

"Over 90 per cent of Halal meat is stunned before slaughter," he said.

In October, Australian agriculture ministers failed to resolve discussions over ritual slaughters, meaning exemptions that allow some Australian abattoirs to conduct slaughter without prior stunning will continue.

There are 12 abattoirs in Australia that are exempt from the regulations that say animals for consumption must be stunned before they are slaughtered.

The exemptions are on religious or cultural grounds, but animal welfare groups want to practice stopped altogether.

The council released a statement following the meeting, saying ministers have reviewed the results of a two-year consultation process with stakeholders and have considered the science involved and the views of religious groups, but could not reach a conclusion.

Up to 250,000 animals are killed without prior stunning in Australia every year under the religious slaughter exemptions and the RSPCA has rejected claims that stunning is not allowed on religious grounds, saying stunning is accepted by the Islamic community and Jewish community and no reason existed for un-stunned slaughter to continue.

Image: The Guardian
 

What do you think about the slaughter of animals without prior stunning?

When it comes to juice, keep it simple, stupid

Fruit juice used to be simple. You got some fruit, squeezed it until liquid ran out and then drank it. But then, things got complicated.

Somewhere along the way, juice producers realised they could make those expensive fruits go further: put less of it in the bottle, but sell it for the same price. Genius!

Often additives like water, sugar and orange flavouring are mixed with the real stuff that looks like juice, and is stocked in supermarkets with all the other juices, but can only technically be called a "fruit drink."

Then there's "reconstituted" juice, which is a way of adding water to dry solids from which the water has been evaporated.

Taking the moisture out of the fruit, by using heat, is a way to make transportation easier and ensure availability all year round, but can result in many of the nutrients being extracted.

But as people become more aware of the impact of obesity and the part that food and drink consumption plays in that, there is more demand than ever for proper, traditional fruit juice.

Its juice like it used to be, only better.

When nudity is perfectly acceptable

Ten years ago, Nudie Juice was launched by a man affectionately known as 'Tall Tim," and since its initial days, which came off the back of Tim Pethick's obsession with making fresh juices for his family, it has grown into a well-known and trusted brand with state-of-the-art juicing facilities, thousands of stockists and countless "Nudie addicts."

"Our proudest moments are often the unprompted bits of feedback that we receive from our consumers," Richard Glenn, Nudie's National Sales Manager told Food Magazine.

"We are continually amazed by the amount of people who take the time to contact us and tell us how much they love Nudies, their experience of their first nudie, or what they think of our new products.

"We call these people 'Nudie addicts'.

"Last week we even received a picture from a lady who had embroidered a quilt with pictures of all of our nudie characters on it, impressive stuff!"

The ever-increasing number of 'Nudie addicts,' is clear evidence that consumers are looking for quality products, free from preservatives but full of goodness.

Before Nudie entered the market, there weren't any mainstream juicers doing what Pethick was in his kitchen each morning, when he rose early to make up fruit juice and smoothie concoctions for his wife and daughters (and of course, himself), and so an opportunity was born.

After some deliberation, Pethick decided the best name for his company was one that summed up what his fruit was all about: nothing but the fruit, hence 'Nudie.'

From little things, big things grow

In 2003, when the company launched, there were only three people, including Pethick, one stockist, one blender and one small office in Sydney's Balmain.

They went through 256 pieces of fruit in the first week, and sold 40 bottles, mostly to family and friends.

They even went doorknocking, gave out samples and delivered Nudies personally so people could taste the goodness for themselves.

Now, more than 70 people are employed by the company, and it has over 5000 stockists throughout the country, including supermarket, cafŽ and convenience store chains, as well as independent retailers and food service operators.

Nudie goes through about 3 000 000 pieces of fruit per week these days and has a state-of-the-art juicing facility in South East Sydney.

And they're not stopping there.

"Within the last 18 months we've delivered some really strong innovation to the market," Glenn said.

"We spend a lot of time speaking to consumers and identifying trends to ensure that our product offering remains relevant.

"Our Nothing But range which was launched to address the growing consumer concerns around the use of concentrates and added ingredients in many of the other juice products on the market at the time.

"We launched with Nothing But 21 Oranges and Nothing But 20 Apples, taking nudie into the larger 'take home' segment of the market for the first time.

"In addition to the Nothing But message, we are also able to make the claim that we can get the product from farm to bottle in 72 hours, and that it is 100% Australian.

"For every 2L bottle, our farmers in regional NSW pick 21 oranges (give or take a few) and squeeze them, they then deliver this juice to our factory in Sydney where we lightly pasteurise the juice and bottle it.

"We add nothing else to the juice and the whole process from beginning to end takes no more than 72 hours.

"We believe that the quality of the fruit we use and our strict discipline around this process allows us to have such a great tasting juice, which is currently the most popular chilled juice in the Australian grocery market.

"Based on the success of these lines we have since expanded the range into a 1L and 500ml offering and have also added 3 new variants to the range."

A more informed consumer

Glenn told Food Magazine the company is always looking to innovate their products and ensure they are delivering what consumers want.

"We then became the first beverage company in Australia (and possibly the world) to add chia seeds to a beverage," he continued.

"As well as being the highest plant based source of Fibre and Omega 3, chia seeds also help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

"We saw this as a great opportunity to create a nudie with chia seeds as a way of providing breakfast for people on the go, and have partnered with The Chia Co in Kimberley, WA to create the product."

Glenn believes the always-increasing demand for Nudie products is proof that consumers are becoming more educated about additives and their negative impacts, and turning towards healthier options.

"There has certainly been a lot of media coverage surrounding some of the added ingredients which exist in the market, and consumers seem to be better educated when it comes to choosing beverage products.

"A lot of food brands do seem to be increasing their focus on communicating what their products do not contain, which tends to suggest that this message is resonating with consumers across many areas of their grocery shop."

Keeping the good stuff

Another juice producer that is listening to the consumer demand for more fruity goodness and less additives is the Wild About Fruit Company, which produces two ranges of Low GI juices that are free from any nasties and full of flavour and health benefits.

The Wild Child "super-juices" and Wild About Juice ranges are based on apple juice sourced from orchards in the Yarra Valley and created with a "pure fruit" philosophy.

"There are no preservatives, no added sugar or water and no trendy boosts," the company told Food Magazine.

A few years ago a third generation orchardist in Victoria's Yarra valley, Ben Mould, wondered:  "Could an apple juice be made that actually tasted like a crisp orchard fresh apple, and also contain as much of the nutrients from the apple as possible?"

Knowing that crushing the apple caused oxidization, damaging the apple's delicate nutrients, which are found mainly in the skin, Mould had to develop something pretty clever.

Mould said that while most people have experienced the taste of commercially made apple juice – sickly sweet confectionary flavour that leaves a nasty after-taste, few had experienced good quality, sustainably juiced, delicious tasting real apple juice.

Even many home juicers damage the cells of the fruit and remove a lot of the apple's antioxidants.

Then, Mould's patented juicing process, which uses the whole apple, maintains the antioxidants of the fruit and has a low glycemic index (GI) was born.

Well, an apple a day does keep the doctor away!

The company says its Wild about Juice contains twice the nutritional value of the fruit than any other fruit juice on the Australian market and an independent nutritional analysis on apple juices and apple-blended products in Australia confirmed that the unique processing method employed by Wild about Juice which processes the whole fruit retains the naturally occurring phytonutrients and flavonoids contained in apples.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

The company's  Wild about Juice  range of healthy juices straight from the Yarra Valley are 100 per cent Australian, with absolutely no additives and is the first and only juice in Australia to be given a low GI rating.

The GI rating refers to the different ways certain carbohydrates behave in the human body and their effect on blood glucose levels.

Low GI foods and drinks  produce only small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels,  which  helps people lose and manage weight,increase the body's sensitivity to insulin, reduce the risk of heart disease and improve blood cholesterol levels.

They also leave you feeling fuller for longer, give added endurance for exercise and help re-fuel following exercise.

This 100% Australian, family-owned and operated business has been growing apples & cherries in the Yarra Valley since 1930.

Owner-operator Mould said the patented juicing process is healthier and more environmentally friendly than other juicing techniques.

"This special process extracts and retains the goodness from the fruit by also juicing the skin which contains more fibre and antioxidants than the flesh," Mould Explained.

"Wild about Juice promotes natural nutrition, as it has no preservatives or additives, and this juicing process also leaves minimal waste, making it highly sustainable."

The four powerful antioxidants that remain in the fruit through the revolutionary juicing process are catchins, a potent form of antioxidant which are good for coronary and cardiovascular health, flavanols that help in the protection of cancer and supports cardiovascular health, chalcones, known for their anti-inflammatory attributes and Phenolic Acids (Chlorogenic),  one of the most potent natural antioxidant groups known.

The Wild Child flavours consist of Green Cleanse; Antioxidant Energy; Mango Passion Veggie Detox, which are all made with using nature's own superfoods, and nothing else.

The Green Cleanse, for regeneration and rejuvenation contains apple, mango, banana, spinach, wheatgrass and spirulina to naturally detox and cleanse the body, while the Antioxidant Energy contains apple, pomegranate, blackcurrant, acai, and goji berries, in what the company describes as "the ultimate blend of the world's finest super-fruits and a natural source of antioxidants to boost energy and fight free radicals."

As these companies continue to grow, and the demand for proper, healthy juices increases, the market will see more innovation and creative combinations, and as Glenn told Food Magazine, the most important aspect for Nudie moving forward is commitment to what they do and why they do it.

"As a relatively young business just in our 10th year now, it's hard to say what the next 10 years hold in store.

"We will just make sure that we stick to the values which have got us to where we are today and continue to do what's been working for us so far."

As people become more aware of the impact of obesity and the part that food and drink consumption plays in that, there is more demand than ever for proper, traditional fruit juice.

Advertising in bottle shops encourages youth binge drinking

Point-of-sale alcohol advertising is creating a generation of binge drinkers, according to new research.

Researchers from Curtin University and the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Health Initiatives (CHI) looked at 24 different bottle shops throughout Sydney and Perth and found the POS advertising potentially damaging to young drinkers.

The report, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review, found that merchandise giveaways, discount offers and competitions to be “aggressive” in attempts to lure younger drinkers, who are more likely to respond to such advertising.

The POS methods are creating a pro-alcohol environment, focused largely on young consumers, who are more likely to buy cheap alcohol and engage in competitions, the researchers found.

“Many people may think cheaper alcohol is a good idea, but this is generally because they are not aware of the strength of the relationship between price and consumption among young people,” CHI Professor Dr Sandra Jones said.

“What we have found in other studies is that young people are influenced by these promotions.

“They purchase more in order to obtain the 'free gift' or the 'discount' and, in many cases, they consume what they purchased – that is, more than they would otherwise have drunk.”

It’s not the first time a study has examined the link between advertising of cheap alcohol on young people’s brains, and Jones referred to a 2011 study which found an average of 33 promotions per alcohol outlet in Sydney and Perth.

It also reported that shops attached to supermarkets had a higher number of promotions which required a large quantity of alcohol to be purchased to be eligible for competitions.

Injury Control Council of WA Chief Executive Officer Debroah Costello believes the large quantities of alcohol required to enter competitions and the delivery of POS advertising is concerning.

“This exploitative form of marketing targets ‘at risk’ groups of drinkers, particularly youth, creating positive associations with alcohol and encouraging higher levels of alcohol consumption.

“This is particularly concerning when the Alcohol and Beverages Advertising Code states that ‘advertisements must not encourage excessive consumption or abuse of alcohol’.”

“As with all alcohol advertising there needs to be stricter guidelines around the use of POS that considers the negative impact on the community and way it can clearly perpetuate are drinking culture,” she says.

The researchers believe restrictions need to be implemented to limit the POS promotions in bottle shops and liquor outlets.

Do you think advertising alcohol in bottle shops needs more regulation?

WA farmers meet with Wesfarmers to discuss milk price

Western Australian farmers have met with Wesfarmers boss Richard Goyder to discuss the impact of the milk price wars on production and try to find a solution.

The farmers want fairer pricing strategies from the group, which includes Coles, and last week the WA Farmers Federation passed a motion to boycott Wesfarmers and its subsidiaries.

The WA Farmers Dairy Council say the “predatory pricing” by the major supermarkets have devalued the industry.

"Unsustainable" pricing

Australian farmers have been fighting the major supermarkets over the price wars since Coles slashed the price of its private label milk to $1 a litre in January last year.

Woolworths quickly followed suit, and despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the supermarkets were allowed to keep trading at the reduced price, which the industry has slammed as “unsustainable.”

But president of the Australian Dairy Farmers Association, Chris Griffin, told Food Magazine earlier this year that the financial pressures placed on farmers through the price wars has led to many leaving the industry.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world last week, based on physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. 

Many WA farmers wanted to support the proposed boycott immediately, but the motion was passed on to the executives of the association for assessment.

Managing director of Wesfarmers, Goyder, met with WA Farmers president Dale Park and senior vice president Tony York this week to discuss some of the issues, including the impact of the pricing on the industry, which it says has lost it $25 million.

Who absorbs the price cut?

Coles has continually denied that its low-priced milk is impacting the dairy industry, claiming it is absorbing the costs, but those in the industry know that while that may be the case for now, in the long run producers will be taking the financial hit more than they already are.

“What it comes down to, according to the supermarkets, is that it comes down the them looking after us as consumers by cutting prices, but it comes at the expense of quality and also, they’re not asking consumers if they’re OK with this, they’re just deciding for us,” Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) food and confectionary secretary, Jennifer Dowell, told Food Magazine earlier this year.

“Invariably they say it is not absorbed by the grower or the manufacturer when they cut the prices but in the end it always does.”

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs, including the carbon tax, would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

Fear campaign

While the meetings between farmers and the major supermarkets are a step in the right direction, hopefully it will pave the way for other suppliers to follow suit and start talking about the impact of the price wars, because up until now the Senate Inquiry into the power of Coles and Woolworths has been met with fear from producers to afraid to criticise the supermarkets.

“WA Farmers wants to work with all food retailers to develop a supply model which ensures locally available product is their preferred source, pricing structures are sustainable and to develop a program which highlights to consumers the source of their product,” Park said.

More meetings are planned between the executives in coming weeks.

Image: News Limited

Burger King to use roam free eggs and pigs by 2017

Burger King has announced it will only use animal products that come from free-range farms by 2017.

The global fast food giant announced the decision to only serve humanely bred and grown animal products in it’s US outlets within five years, but has not said whether the remainder of its 12 500 outlets throughout the world will also do the same.

Food Magazine has contacted Australia’s version of Burger King, Hungry Jack’s, to ask whether local outlets will be following in the footsteps of the American stores, but calls have not yet been returned.

Use of gestation crates a complicated issue

The company’s statement says it will only use accredited free range eggs and pork from suppliers who do not use gestation crates.

The gestation crates used to breed pigs have been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks, with welfare groups in Australia calling on producers to stop the use before the 2017 deadline set down voluntarily by the industry.

But a spokesperson from Australian Pork Limited told Food Magazine earlier last week that the use of the crates is for the best interests of the animals, to protect them from attacks due to increased hormone levels during the early stages of pregnancy and ensure proper nutrition.

The 200 centimetre long and 60 centimetre wide metal-barred crates are used to hold all sows for at least part of their 16-week pregnancy.

Almost 18 months Australian after pork producers agreed to ban the steel pens, a third of pregnant sows are no longer confined to the small stalls.

Recent Australian Pork Limited findings showed that 67 per cent of pregnant sows were still housed in the stalls one to four weeks after mating, while the remainder where not in the stalls at any stage of pregnancy.

Animals Australia’s Lyn White, believes that while it is ”pleasing” that some pig producers are no longer confining the pigs to the cages, the ban should be introduced sooner than first decided.

”The two-thirds of pigs who remain subjected to the cruelty of sow stalls won’t be alive to receive the benefits in 2017,” she said.

”It is clearly within the ability of the pig industry to alleviate their suffering now.”

But the Australian Pork Limited spokesperson told Food Magazine that many people don’t understand why the stalls are used and how it ensures the safety of the sows.

“As an agricultural group, we are looking at ways to please the consumers and also ensure the safety of the animals, because there are a lot of pictures out there that make it look bad, but in reality it is in the wellbeing of the animal and her piglets.

In response to questions about the Animals Australia’s calls to introduce the ban sooner than 2017, the spokesperson said it is not as simple as some people think.

“The problem we have is you can’t liken this move to walking into a room and turning off a light, it’s far more complicated that that, and we always have the welfare of animals at heart.

“And for producers to make changes within their own infrastructure, they need authority approval, from local councils and state regulatory services, and that takes time.

“Then need finances to undertake the changes.”

The spokesperson explained that the readily available horror stories and images of animals housed in the stalls during pregnancy are not painting a realistic picture.

“People are under the false impression that every pig is in a cage, but these sow stalls are only relevant to pregnant pigs, and they are placed in there for safety reasons,” the spokesperson told Food Magazine.

“What it means is that they are mated and within 5 day period are moved to groups.

“Depending on the operation, each producer will decide the size and location of the group and when they’re nearly ready to give birth they are moved to a farrowing stall, a birthing stall, which is a spring-loaded contraption to prevent her suffocating the piglets by lying on them.

“This alone saves about 1 million babies per year.”

The latest trend for retailers?

Coles has pledged to only stock fresh pork meat supplied by producers who have abandoned sow stalls by 2014 and experience would indicate Woolworths would quickly follow suit.

Burger King’s statement was made in a joint statement with the Humane Society.

"For more than a decade, Burger King Corp. has demonstrated a commitment to animal welfare,” Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer said.

"We continue to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers.”

Animal rights group the Humane Society welcomed the decision by Burger King.

"These changes by Burger King Corp. will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain,” said Wayne Pacelle, head of the group.