Plum power: Aussie firm eyeing East Asian expansion with science-backed metabolic health products

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

The Queen Garnet plum was developed as part of a breeding programme by Queensland scientists, looking to maximise the nutritional value and health benefits of fruits.
The Queen Garnet plum was developed as part of a breeding programme by Queensland scientists, looking to maximise the nutritional value and health benefits of fruits.

Related tags plums Australia Probiotics

Australian nutraceutical firm Nutrafruit is fine-tuning its plum-derived formulations as it eyes expansion in East Asia, with continued scientific research lending credibility to its health claims.

In a recent Victoria University clinical trial​ involving 32 mildly hypertensive or overweight individuals aged 20 to 60, daily consumption of 250ml of the company's signature Queen Garnet plum nectar was said to have lowered blood pressure and inhibited metabolic syndrome risk factors, such as fasting glucose, insulin and LDL cholesterol.

These effects were reportedly similar to those of anti-hypertensive medication, and were attributed to cyanidin 3-glucoside, the anthocyanin found in Queen Garnet plums.

This is the latest independently funded study to have been conducted using Nutrafruit products since their introduction to the Australian market in 2014, and the second such study to have found blood pressure-lowering effects of the Queen Garnet plum; the first was conducted by University of Wollongong researchers in 2017.

Lead researcher Prof Michael Mathai is currently applying for funding to conduct further research into other health benefits of the Queen Garnet plum, especially with regards to diabetes and obesity.

Meanwhile, concurrent studies on the same fruit are being conducted at the University of Southern Queensland, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, and the University of Wollongong, with the first results expected next year.

Formulation evolution

Nutrafruit, which was established in 2010, first launched its signature Queen Garnet plum nectar commercially in 2014. Its powdered products followed in May 2018, and have since been used in independent research as well.

The nectar, which comes in 250ml bottles, is made from 100% Queen Garnet plums and contains no added sugars, colours of flavours. It is also available in freeze-dried powder format, packaged in boxes of 30 sachets each.

Referring to the plums as the "gold standard in anthocyanin-rich fruits", ​head nutritionist Hannah Naismith told NutraIngredients-Asia​ that the Queen Garnet plum was developed as part of a breeding programme by Queensland scientists, who were trying to maximise the nutritional value and health benefits of fruits.

"It was sort of by accident that it came into being. When the scientists cut into it, they noticed that not only was its skin really dark, the flesh inside almost matched the darkness of the skin.

"Since purple pigment in fruits is an indicator of anthocyanin content and a darker purple correlates with an increased antioxidant concentration, they were convinced they had grown something special.

"Indeed, when they tested it, they confirmed it had an average of about six times the antioxidant levels of other plum varieties."

Soon after, Nutrafruit was granted the global commercial licence to oversee the production, marketing and processing of nutraceutical products derived from the Queen Garnet plum.

Debuting in the Aussie market with the nectar in 2014, the company went on to develop prebiotic- and probiotic-enriched powder formats, as well as probiotic chews, from the Queen Garnet plum.

Naismith said: "The freeze-dried powder products have the same antioxidant concentration as the nectar, and can be added to food and drink, as well as used in cooking and baking."

Elaborating on the prebiotic and probiotic products, she said: "The strain we use in the prebiotic and probiotic powder, Bacillus coagulans, is not used in a lot of probiotic products. It's a very stable strain and therefore a lot more versatile (than many other strains).

"This strain can maintain a high number of CFUs (colony-forming units) as it travels through the digestive tract, whereas many strains don't even reach the gut, where they are supposed to exert most of their effects."

In addition to Bacillus coagulans and ​37% pure Queen Garnet plum, the prebiotic and probiotic formulation also contains organic baobab fruit powder, inulin (also called chicory root), green banana-resistant starch, and raspberry powder.

The probiotic chews, on the other hand, contain Lactobacillus acidophilus ​and Bifidobacterium lactis​, as well as rice starch and xylitol.

Naismith said, "The focus with our products is always the plum itself, but adding in ingredients that have a synergistic effect when combined with the plum is also one of our goals. For instance, organic baobab fruit powder feeds the good bacteria in the gut."

She added that at the moment, Nutrafruit was working on improving the formulation of its chews in terms of flavour profile, with new product development on the horizon.

Plum process

Unlike most plums, the Queen Garnet plum is grown year-round. Naismith said, "Normally, the season for plums lasts from around late January to early April, but we wanted to ensure a year-round supply.

"This requires a cooler environment, and the plum needs to mature on the tree so that as soon as it's picked, it doesn't ripen further.

"There's been a bit of trial and error over the years — we've found that as soon as the skin is a little shrivelled and the fruit is soft to the touch (but not mushy), it's dark enough inside and ready to be picked."

Nutrafruit works with commercially licensed growers in Australia, with a farm in every state. The harvested plums are sent to a manufacturing plant on the Sunshine Coast, where they are puréed or freeze-dried.

Once packaged and ready for consumption, the finished products distributed to Woolworths outlets and health food stores across the country, as well as Nutrafruit's Brisbane warehouse to fulfil orders placed via its web store, which ships internationally.

The company outsources the growing, harvesting, manufacturing and logistics of the business, but according to Naismith, it manages each process closely to ensure its requirements are met.

Outside of Australia, the firm;s products are available in South Korea and Taiwan through pop-up stores, and it has seen significant consumer demand in China via its online channel. Nutrafruit is also interested in expanding to Canada and South Africa.

Naismith said, "We have had some research conducted at the University of Manitoba, which seems to have increased our reach in Canada.

"We've also been trying to figure out the logistics for China over the last couple of months, as we think that will be a big market for us.

"Some aged care facilities in Hong Kong and China have also expressed interest in using our products there, so we are assessing our opportunities and how best to go about them."

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