The Future of Food
Michael Buckley’s innovative company Freeze Dry Industries is tackling Australia’s food wastage problem and considering the future of the food and agribusiness industries by literally freezing waste in time. Here’s how it works.
If you caught ABC’s three part series, War On Waste earlier this year you’ll be familiar with the massive food wastage problem the world is currently facing. If you didn’t watch it, allow me to paint a picture of one of the most eye-opening scenes from the series. Imagine tonnes of delicious, freshly picked bananas that could feed hundreds of people, being dumped in piles because they’re deemed as a waste product. The episode revealed that banana farmers are forced to throw away 40 per cent of their yield simply because they’re either too bent, too straight, too fat, too thin, too long or too short to meet the supermarket’s unrealistic standards.
Now picture this: a system that can dramatically reduce food wastage by capturing fresh produce before it perishes to create something delicious and nutrient rich, while considering the environmental footprint at almost every stage of the supply chain. It seems like the sort of technology that we won’t see for decades, or that is currently out of reach to Australian farmers. But that’s exactly what Freeze Dried Industries is doing right now in their factory in Yandina. Headed by CEO Michael Buckley, the company is built on innovation and technology while supporting regional areas, jobs, farming, Australian industries all the while addressing our food waste problem.
Michael’s background in business development and technology, coupled with his eco-conscious mindset meant he could target a number of issues with just one company.
“We’ve got more people consuming more, food production is a high energy producer, and a carbon emitter, how can we use solar technology, use waste and feed the people in a highly nutritious way?”.
Freeze drying is the answer.
So how does it all work? When I spoke to Michael he was expecting an arrival of strawberries to the factory that very afternoon.
We’ll have a tonne of picked and washed fresh strawberries from a farm and these are particular ones that are quite small, so they’ve been rejected by the normal market, but they’re ideal for our packet,” he says.
The strawberries are deep frozen overnight to turn them into a rock hard state, then locked down into a vacuum chamber. The moisture is then gently extracted over a three or four day process.
“Then you have that perfectly dry result. Bulk packed and shipped off to the customer,” says Michael.
I can personally say the result is a delicious, dry version of your favourite fruit, which loses only a tiny amount of nutrients in the drying process. I can see why their Sunlife products are a great snack option for kids, it’s almost as if you’re eating candy but it’s actually 100 per cent fruit.
“If we can purchase and use the products wisely, create innovative products that is comparable price wise, well there’s a 100 per cent Australian, healthy food versus imported full of sugar, cooked in oil, preservatives,” Michael adds.
But the process doesn’t just stop at drying fruit. The company’s focus on innovation means that they’re always exploring new ideas. They’ve tested celery, cheese, camel’s milk, seafood, proteins, mushrooms, truffles and the trials just keep coming.
Michael says approximately seven out of 10 tests produce a successful product with almost endless applications. They can powder the product down to be used in supplements, pharmaceutical applications, probiotics, pet food – the sky’s the limit.
So what about that pesky banana issue?
We know that we can capture those bananas and powder them. Powder doesn’t matter what shape it was. Why can’t that banana powder go into a cereal, a smoothie mix, a protein powder, ice cream?” asks Michael.
It seems like we’ve got a major player in the war on waste, right here in our own backyard.
Michael also has a philanthropic vision for Freeze Dry Industries in the form of targeted nutrition
Say for example kids in Africa are deficient in vitamin A, why can’t we produce a vitamin-A-rich product here, dry it and ship it? We call that targeted nutrition. We can be directly working with NGOs. That’s something we’re seriously thinking about and something we need support for. Whether that’s for outback Australia, regional centers, the young, the elderly. There’s all these targeted nutrition needs that we can solve.”
In a world that’s facing famine, nuclear war, climate change and the list goes on, it’s nice to know there are people like Michael considering the future of food.
“If we are able to mass capture waste, which is highly nutritious and it feeds people when they can’t afford fresh food, I think we’re in there with a shot.”