A Victorian food manufacturing company is helping to bring a healthy diet and also reduce fresh produce waste, with its product Chippy Apples.
Managing Director of Pipan Foods, Phil Gomizel’s background is in food manufacturing, and he says it is marketed towards families, with the main driver being improving nutrition in children, who are renowned as ‘picky eaters’.
“Kids especially absolutely love it,” he said. “That was the big thing for me because my existing business has been around nutrition, and we have even been exporting products to Asia. So, when I first tasted the Chippy Apples myself, I knew that kids would love it, and it’s a snack we could put in the family homes. Children are far more likely to try processed food than fresh fruit and vegetables, so we have not had much hesitation from kids trying it. We have had a great response and are already supplying through kids’ lunch box providers, and we are having a great uptake. We take low-grade apples, and usually, apples are available year-round. We predominantly work with Pink Lady, but we can take a juicing apple or a grade two or three apples, whatever is local. This year, in particular, there has been a lot of apples discarded.”
The concept began after a farmer, and one of Phil’s close friends lost his farm to weather and did not want to completely rebuild the farm. So, he began looking for other alternatives and discovered vacuum drying through the family connection of a Taiwanese picker who was working in Australia.
“After visiting the highly-experienced technician in Taiwan, they thought the technology was amazing and made an investment in it,” Mr Gomizel said. “That led to a small pilot plant to be built, during COVID, and being his friend, he called me telling me he has made this product but doesn’t know how to sell it. So, we came up with a brand and strategic plan to launch it and extend the manufacturing. Chippy Apple was launched originally in one flavour – apple. Then we wanted to get a few other flavours off the ground, and have expanded to cinnamon flavour, and lightly salted. We have also built a prototype flavouring machine to come up with new products in apples, and we are even exploring a series of ‘hot sauce’ apples, including Wasabi, which we are just finishing the R&D on that.”
After launching the apple products, the company has already thought of expanding and launching into other produce lines, such as pears, mandarin, mangoes and bananas, but that requires research and development work that is ongoing.
“We can make some delicious snacks that aren’t readily available on the market, but what we need to do is work out how do we balance the supply chain of seasonal fruit. How do we keep up constant production on products that only grow for a few months a year?” he said. “Our facility can manufacture around two million packs per year, and our forecast run rate has us hitting maximum capacity in the next 18-24 months – then we have plans to either build another big facility or smaller facilities near the fruit supply.”
Mr Gomizel says a key aspect of the product is that it is 100 per cent fruit, with no added sugar or preservatives.
“The apples are just cored, sliced and there is a two-stage drying process,” Mr Gomizel said. “The first stage is a regular, 24-hour dry, the way you would dry any fruit. Then it goes into our vacuum drier, which is a very low pressure, low-temperature bake, at around 70 degrees. We have four small ovens, which is a highly-efficient process and is the most efficient out of the baking process, and uses the least amount of energy. It sucks all of the moisture out of the apple slice down to 0.1% and put it straight into the package. People love it. It’s crispy and crunchy, and retains all the natural sweetness of the apple, meaning there’s no oxidation or taste of a cooked apple. We have had such a great interest in learning more about this tech, which gives them more options with their fruit and veg.”
He added that the company is also working on the packaging, which is currently recyclable through the ‘REDcycle Program’, but work is being done to introduce a compostable foil.
Pipan Foods has just signed a national distribution deal, meaning the product will be available in over 400 stores across Australia, and there are plans to pitch it to the major supermarkets in the coming months. There is also a crowdfunding page to help with production and research into product expansion through the Birchal platform.