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Asian demand drives freekeh sales

Primary Industries

PROMOTION on Korean television and a partnership with a company in Singapore is helping an Australian super grain producer reach new markets.

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Greenwheat Freekeh is the world’s leading premium producer of the ancient superfood, which it has been producing commercially in South Australia since 1997.

It exports to 17 countries including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Brazil and has begun shipping product to Japan and Korea this year.

Freekeh, a process of heating immature green grain to halt maturation without cooking it, was developed in the Middle East in about 2300BC.

But it is the processing technique invented by Greenwheat Freekeh’s managing director Tony Lutfi that has allowed its production to grow to more than 500 tonnes a year. The company plans to expand production at its plant north of Adelaide to 3000 tonnes a year by 2018.

Lutfi said Korea had come out of the blue earlier this year following a meeting with a Korean businessman in May.

“The next day we got an order for a 20-foot container of our highest value retail product,” he said.

“Then he turned around a week later and said they needed it to be a 40-foot container – that’s 45,000 boxes.

“Before we shipped in July they paid for them and ordered a second 40-foot container and wanted to order more.”

Lutfi said promotion of Freekeh on the Korean Food Channel had led to 168,000 orders.

“They bring in celebrities, chefs and nutritionists and they sit down and talk about freekeh and consumers call up and place orders,” he said.

“The Korean market is incredible, it is doing things for us that we never would have imagined.”

Grenwheat Freekeh has also formed a partnership with a company in Singapore to produce a rice and freekeh blend, which will be launched in the coming weeks.

“That is a product that will go into all of the Asian markets including Korea and China,” Lutfi said.

As well as expanding production in South Australia, Lutfi said the company was looking to licence its technology in a joint venture arrangement, particularly in the northern hemisphere so that the seasonal production could continue year round.

Demand from the US soared in 2011 after television host Oprah Winfrey nominated freekeh as “one of four exotic grains that can improve health”.

Freekeh is cooked and served in a similar fashion to rice and can also be used in salads, breakfast cereals, soups, breads and cakes.

Lutfi said demand for his freekeh products continued to grow globally and in Australia.

“In 2011 the Australian market accounted for less than 1 per cent of our sales. In 2015 it accounted for 50 per cent of sales,” he said.

“I could sell our entire product to export up front but we are holding stock back for the Australian market.

“There are so many companies from all over the world writing to us … it’s a genie out of a bottle and we are the main supplier.“

According to US website Health Status, freekeh has four times more fibre than brown rice, provides more protein than almost any other grain and is excellent for digestion because it is rich in prebiotics and probiotics.

It is also a rich source of zinc, iron, calcium and potassium and is very low on the Glycemic Index, which means that it might decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

“It’s the number one super grain in the world today,” Lutfi said.

Greenwheat Freekeh was this week awarded two Gold Medals in the Grains and Pulses category at the Australian Food Awards.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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