Macadamia nutters celebrate 40 years
FORTIETH birthdays can be a bit depressing for those desperately clinging to youth but the crew at Macadamias Direct is celebrating with food trucks and a toast or two.
Manager Jon Perrin was on his way to a Friday evening birthday party for the Northern Rivers macadamia processing business when he spoke to The Northern Star about the rise and rise of the Aussie player in the world of nuts.
"We were the first company to focus on diversification - introducing macadamias to new customers through many unique products," he said.
"Our range has grown from raw and roasted kernel to healthy oils, soaps, spa & skincare products along with nut milks."
Macadmias Direct's related company Jindilli makes macadamia oil for cosmetic use in Australia and overseas and is particularly popular as a beauty product in South Korea, Mr Perrin said.
Milkadamia, a US-made dairy alternative based on kernels from Macadamia Direct, was increasingly popular around the world and won product awards in California and Oregon for its suitability in espresso.
Kernels were exported to at least a dozen countries including Germany, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Mr Perrin said competition in the macadamia processing industry drove the company to attract more growers - and bigger output growers - by introducing fairer payment terms and conditions seven years ago.
"Fixed price offers started in 2010," he said, "we started faster payments and crop advances after that".
Growers used to wait a year before getting paid for crops supplied to Macadamia Direct but are now paid within 21 days, Grower Liason Officer Ross Burgess said and can expect advance cash payments for new season crops.
Capitalising on suppliers allowed the company to increase exports to Japan by more than 300% over the past two years, Mr Perrin said, making it the region's fastest growing macadamia operation.
"No one else has gone from 1400 to 6000 tonnes that quickly in my living memory and I've been in the industry 25 years," he said.
Investment in state of the art equipment and technology, including almost $500,000 spent on European infra red and blue lasers to sort kernels, boosted production.
Mr Perrin has been with the company since 1992 when there were around 40 employees; that number has increased by around 30% in peak processing times and includes 12 permanent staff, he said.
"The casual season runs from April to October or November and we get people coming back year after year from around the region to earn extra income," he said.
"This season looks like an increase on last year's crop, it's a good time for the industry."