THIS year is shaping to be a milestone for the far north Queensland creators of ground-breaking banana flour, with a major national distribution deal, new United Kingdom office and foray into the American market.
The developments come just six months after creator and developer Rob and wife Krista Watkins opened their state-of-the-art $3.8 million factory at Walkamin on the Atherton Tablelands, and launched Natural Evolution Foods.
“The last two years has been probably the most immense, intense journey because we were trying to go from semi-commercial/hobby to develop this into large-scale production,” Mr Watkins said.
“There were so many challenges.
“You are flying in the dark, you are on unchartered waters so its very very hard. There’s no light or pathway set.”
Natural Evolution has evolved from its flagship product, the Green Banana Resistance Starch made from Lady Finger bananas, to now include a baking flour made from the Cavendish variety, smoothie mix and other superfoods. Medicinal products have also been added.
The Watkins have fielded interest from pharmaceutical companies from Japan, America and the United Kingdom.
Natural Evolution UK, a collaboration between the Watkins and associates from England, will see the Natural Evolution range stocked throughout Europe, while the range will hit health foods stores across Australia through wholesale distributor, Unique Health Foods, from April.
The factory, the world’s first and only pharmaceutical grade banana flour factory, can take green bananas and turn them into powder in 25 minutes as opposed to a 24-hour drying process.
It processes about 10 tonnes of bananas weekly to produce two tonnes of powder, with capacity to ramp up to four tonnes.
The Watkins buy unsaleable fruit from local farmers and have recently started processing organic bananas they grew on eight acres of “poor country” beside the factory, with incredible results.
Mr Watkins said designing and building the factory was challenging.
“We had impossible mountains to climb because its a hard product to handle,” said Mr Watkins, who trademarked the processing method.
“The factory is special because it allows us to bring value to people and it delivers a better product. We are processing an unsaleable product that is deemed waste and turning it into a beneficial product.
“This is full vertical integration – grown, made and branded – which is not easy to do these days.”