The grain idea that paid off into a fine food venture

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of thinking outside the square.

That’s exactly what fifth generation Clare Valley farmer Jim Maitland did in 2011 when he value-added his family’s durum wheat by launching a line of wholegrain pasta.

The Pangkarra Foods brand included a stone milled wholegrain flour and lavosh, giving the Clare Valley family a chance at a secondary income and launching them into the world of fine foods.

But the length of the boutique enterprise didn’t stop there.

In 2016, Pangkarra released a paddock to plate range of ready-to-eat snacks that are now sold Australia-wide.

The roasted pulses range has been a hit.

The line includes an Australian first in cooked and ready-to-eat chickpeas, as well as a trio of snack packs featuring roasted chickpeas, faba beans and broad beans.

Managing Pangkarra Foods is Katherine Maitland, Jim’s wife, who also has a background in media, marketing and public relations.

She says the range of snack pulses now make up to 50-60% of Pangkarra’s total sales, while a small portion of the range is exported to Asia.

“Paddock to plate-style, healthy snack ranges are really growing in popularity, especially with the nut free and gluten free (movements),” Katherine says.

“With the snack range there is less competition and a growing market – it’s been very successful.”

Fifth generation farmer Jim and wife Katherine Maitland on the Clare Valley property.

While Jim and Katherine are at the helm of Pangkarra Foods, Jim’s parents David and Margot head the family’s farm, Anama Park.

The farm, which also exports hay, has been in the Maitland family since 1866 and is the unit’s “core business”.

“We’re only starting to break even and make a small profit (from Pangkarra Foods), but the idea is that we’re building something for future generations,” Katherine says.

“It’s about not being a one trick pony, having another means to the end and controlling the supply chain a bit more.”

Pangkarra products are now sold in 150 stores Australia wide and online.

The name Pangkarra is an Aboriginal word which holds great significance to the Kaurna people and means a small piece of land that has been sustained for generations.

The Maitland’s Clare Valley farm has been in the family since the 1800s.

The family practices sustainable farming methods such as the use of organic fertilisers and crop rotation (changing the type of crop grown in a particular area).

Jim’s decision to branch out from a reliance on traditional farming has also benefited two other South Australian businesses.

Once harvested, the grain for the Pangkarra products are milled at longstanding establishment Laucke Flour Mills in Strathalbyn.

Laucke uses traditional stone milling methods to grind the grain into flour.

The grain is crushed, not cut, meaning that more than 80% of the nutrients are kept, resulting in a stronger, nutty flavour and a more wholesome product.

The Pangkarra 100% wholegrain pasta range was the Maitland family’s first taste of the world of fine foods.

The flour is then made into pasta by L’Abruzzese in Glynde in Adelaide’s north east using traditional Italian methods.

While the Clare Valley is mostly recognised as the home of Australian riesling, Katherine says it’s also emerging as a valued food bowl.

“We’re very lucky to live here in Clare, which is very well known for food, wine and tourism and it’s emerging as food destination,” she says.

“We’re working with our cool climate … which is good for growing crops and wine grapes.”

Katherine stresses the importance of choosing SA and says local shoppers have backed Pangkarra since day one.

“The products might be more expensive, but the process is of higher quality,” she says.

“Our best sales are here in SA.”

Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.


Green grain guru Tony Lutfi on the ‘huge’ potential of SA freekeh

What is freekeh and have you ever tried it?

The ancient grain process has been around for more than 4000 years, but the average Aussie household has probably never heard of it.

Based in offices off Adelaide’s Grenfell Street, Tony Lutfi is the brains behind Greenwheat Freekeh, the world’s first major company producing freekeh via modern automated means.

He says the superfood is experiencing increasing demand in the western world, and that it holds huge potential for South Australia.

“We offer a unique product that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world except in primitive conditions in the Middle East,” he says.

“Why? Because it’s very difficult. Freekeh is a high technology process.”

Greenwheat Freekeh is sourced from grain harvested by farmers in the Lower Light region. PHOTO:

Greenwheat Freekeh is produced by harvesting grains from five SA famers from the Lower Light region.

The grain is harvested while it’s still green before it’s parched, roasted and dried.

The freekeh process halts maturation of the grain and captures its nutritional benefits, including high levels of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Typically wheat is harvested when it’s matured and golden.

Prior to 2001, Greenwheat Freekeh sales in Australia were less than 1% of production, but by 2017 that figure hit 52%.

Now Greenwheat is in the midst of establishing a new plant at Dublin in the Lower Light to keep up with demand.

The new facility is backed by a $900,000 State Government Regional Development Fund grant, and will increase production to 3000 tonnes by 2019.

Tony in the wheat fields in regional SA. PHOTO: James Knowler/@jkcrewphotos

Greenwheat Freekeh exports to 19 countries and is the world leader in scientific research into green grain.

It has worked with the CSIRO and the Flinders Medical Centre to undertake two studies which cemented the nutritional value of the ancient grain as well as its health benefits.

“They (Flinders) found that when they injected the mice with a carcinogen to simulate the development of cancer, the mouse that ate the freekeh didn’t develop a tumour,” Tony says.

“The apoptotic affect sweeps out damaged DNA cells from the body before they mutate into a tumour.

“There is no way I can claim it can cure or prevent cancer, but based on those scientific indicators it does help in preventing and controlling bowel cancer and possibly soft tissue cancer.”

Tony says there is potential for Greenwheat to delve into the field of nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and to extract the protein from freekeh for use in skincare.

“There is a whole area of industrial opportunities that exist in other countries,” he says.

“What freekeh does is create huge potential opportunities for this state.”

Originally a chemical and petroleum engineer, Tony first tasted freekeh when working as an advisor to the Crown Prince of Jordan.

Greenwheat Freekeh is enjoyed as a side dish, in soups, stuffings and burgers. PHOTO: Dougal McFuzzlebutt.

“He said to me that I was very lucky to eat freekeh in his house because typically freekeh is full of stones and dirt, and that by eating it in his house I could guarantee that I wouldn’t break a tooth,” Tony says.

“He told me that if someone ever developed a process to make freekeh via modern automated means and completely free of stones, then they would be successful.”

Due to the primitive way freekeh is processed in the Middle East (on the bare ground) stones and rocks are usually found in freekeh from these regions.

After leaving the role in Jordan, the American moved to Australia with the intention of settling in Perth.

Instead he fell in love with Adelaide.

“It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Australia,” he says.

Tony reflects on a comment made to him by the first person who imported Greenwheat’s freekeh to the US.

“He told me that there is nothing more painful that a product whose time hasn’t arrived and there’s nothing more rewarding that a product whose time has come,” he says.

“Well, freekeh’s time is here and now.”

Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.

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