Sowing the seeds for a family business

Sowing the seeds for a family business

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The Kitto family Ebony (left), Tom, Tanya, Robert, Jemma and Maddi are proud of the lupin products they have developed over the past few years. Photo by Justine Rowe.

The Kitto family Ebony (left), Tom, Tanya, Robert, Jemma and Maddi are proud of the lupin products they have developed over the past few years. Photo by Justine Rowe.

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A sixth-generation farmer often asked lupins could only be sold as animal feed.

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 Wheat and lupins are the mainstays of the Kitto family's crop rotation, on their property 100 kilometres east from Geraldton.

Wheat and lupins are the mainstays of the Kitto family's crop rotation, on their property 100 kilometres east from Geraldton.

ROBERT Kitto is a sixth-generation farmer, who for a long while, wondered why the quality lupins growing on the family's 8000-hectare family holding, 100 kilometres east of Geraldton, could only be sold as animal feed.

Robert and his wife Tanya knew that the naturally gluten-free legumes were healthy and nutritious.

They only needed to look out into a paddock to see how well lambs grew on them to be convinced of the legume's benefits.

But it took a bold leap and a significant investment of time, money and energy for them to arrive at a human food grade product, which went on the market in October last year.

Their Australian Sweet Lupin flours and pancake mix are being sold online through their My Provincial Kitchen website; cake mixes, seasoning and rubs are in various stages of planning and development and the family has their ambitions set on ultimately developing a gluten-free range of lupin products to be sold in supermarkets.

They have also set up Golden West Foods to manage the provision and wholesale of raw lupin products and bulk supply to the food services industry.

"Robert was really the instigator of all of this being passionate about and seeing the benefits of the lupins when he has fed them to the sheep and seeing how much stronger and healthier the animals are,'' said Ms Kitto, who is the cook at My Provincial Kitchen.

"Being just that deep-thought farmer that he is, he kept asking 'why don't we eat them and how can we get them into people's diets? How can we get people to start eating them?'.''

The My Provincial Kitchen wholemeal flour is a dense flour that can be used as a tasty and nutritious crumb or in casseroles, bolognaise sauce and in fish cakes and meatballs.

The My Provincial Kitchen wholemeal flour is a dense flour that can be used as a tasty and nutritious crumb or in casseroles, bolognaise sauce and in fish cakes and meatballs.

Ms Kitto said the family had a strong belief in innovation and, like many farm businesses, wanted to value-add to create premium lupin products for which they could set a strong price.

Early in the five-year process, they considered producing a fish product to sell into the aquaculture market.

"But it is another feed market, so again we would become price takers - and essentially we want to be price makers,'' Ms Kitto said.

"We want to be able to have a consistent price for our lupins.''

Being able to achieve a consistently higher price would not only flow back to their bank accounts, but would help more farmers grow the crop - with a double benefit of feeding into a growing market for human food grade product and helping them to rejuvenate their soils.

"It is not only for us, we want our fellow farmers who are in more marginal areas, to be able to plant lupins and put them back in their rotations,'' she said.

"Because on the marginal areas they can grow them, but the price for them is ridiculous.

"So if we can get them up to the price that they deserve to be at, then those smaller yields will be worthwhile growing.

Lupins are a low GI legume which are high in protein and fibre and low in starch and oil making them healthy and nutritious. Farmers also grow the crop to rejuvenate their soils.

Lupins are a low GI legume which are high in protein and fibre and low in starch and oil making them healthy and nutritious. Farmers also grow the crop to rejuvenate their soils.

"We want people to be able to benefit from the nutrition of them, but we also want our fellow farmers to be able to include them back into their rotations, to be able to help their soils again."

The family considered the conundrum of how to make lupins palatable and acceptable to Western cultures and how they might create products that were easy to incorporate into an everyday diet.

"It is a very interesting product to work with, as you can't just swap it one for one with wheat flour as it is super-dense,'' Ms Kitto said.

"Your cake generally turns into a house brick and you throw the lupins out and swear you are never going to use them again.

"So we thought about how can people use it and have success with using it?"

They focused on developing a flour as a good way of achieving that - they started with a wholemeal lupin flour, then developed a self-raising lupin flour and lupin pancake mix.

My Provincial Kitchen's wholemeal lupin flour is very dense and is recommended for use as a thickening agent in casseroles and bolognaise sauce and for crumbing and in fish patties and meatballs.

The self-raising lupin flour is a 1:1 wheat replacement, which can be used in all baking for cakes, slices, pies and quiches and doesn't require an added raising agent.

"We decided that, as it has been done in the past, flour is a really good way of introducing lupins to people,'' Ms Kitto said.

"That is where we have expanded into - creating the self-raising flour and packet cakes from seed, so that lupin becomes part of people's vocabulary and they start to accept it as a food and they start to look for it and start experimenting with it.

My Provincial Kitchen's self-raising lupin flour can be used to substitute wheat flour in baking. The Kittos faced a challenge developing a lupin product which wasn't too heavy for cakes, slices and pies.

My Provincial Kitchen's self-raising lupin flour can be used to substitute wheat flour in baking. The Kittos faced a challenge developing a lupin product which wasn't too heavy for cakes, slices and pies.

"We do have three other products (about to be released)... and it is now to the point that we are building a specialised facility on farm to be able to blend and package so we can then expand and go further into supplying supermarkets.

"It is an extremely versatile legume and is able to be incorporated into so many different products.''

Lupins, which are related to peanuts and soy, are a low-GI legume and relatively high in protein and fibre.

They are low in oil and have little or no starch.

Research suggests they may be a natural weapon to help fight obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin sensitivity - which are all risk factors for heart disease.

Lupins grow well in WA, having adapted to the sandy and acidic soils and climate of much of the Wheatbelt and Mid West regions - and breeding efforts led by the former Department of Agriculture and Food WA since the 1970s have lead to a more than doubling of yield from 0.7 tonnes a hectare to about 15t/ha.

Lupins were approved for human consumption in Australia in 1987 and in Europe in 1999 and research and development continues into the grain and other possible potential uses such as in lupin milk.

The Kitto family, which hailed from Cornwall, has farmed for more than 100 years, firstly in South Australia and then WA.

Mr Kitto's parents Ian and Wendy started growing lupins as part of their rotation in 1980, finding that the Mid West growing conditions and deep, free draining soils were perfect for the crop.

Robert and Tanya now farm, with their four children, alongside Ian and Wendy on the holding on the Casuarina sandplain, 100km from Geraldton and 60km from Mullewa and Mingenew.

The family has long maintained a 50:50 wheat and lupin crop, although this year have added in some canola to the rotation.

The Kittos sowed 3800ha to lupins this year - which formed just under 40pc of their 11,000ha total crop.

The family has 10,000t of storage available for human grade lupins on-farm, which is filled according to the season.

They mill, blend and package the lupins in small batches, when needed.

"It is a very interesting process to go through - having an idea, creating the products that you want and then being able to sell them and then also being able to expand that and consistently sell to large markets,'' Ms Kitto said.

"We have kept it very small to start with, to really find our own feet and to really get more of an idea of where it fits into the market.

"We understand now that there definitely is a market.''

They are mainly chasing the gluten-free market - with their flours selling at a premium price which is higher than some of the commercial products found on supermarket shelves but comparative to other gluten-free flours.

And they are also tapping into the widespread trend towards more holistic eating - which has also pushed ingredients such as quinoa, chia seeds and spelt flours into the mainstream.

They are still one of a handful of companies producing lupin-based foods in Australia - despite WA growing 80pc of the world's sweet lupin crops.

"We are in the top 5pc of growers, so we understand how these little legumes need to be nurtured,'' Ms Kitto said.

She said their products contained higher-quality ingredients than most off-the-shelf products, which makes them more expensive to produce.

"Gluten free products generally have lots of highly refined white flours in there and lots of white refined sugar,'' she said.

"We use better quality ingredients, including rapadura sugar.

"It is not only that it is gluten free, but it is a nutritious product as opposed to something that is just full of sugar."

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