Regulations boost: Fiji Kava anticipates strong demand from South Pacific Island communities in Australia
The firm recently received approval to commercially import its drinking kava to Australia, and a listing on Coles and FijiKava.com is expected in January 2022, with pre-orders now open on the website.
Anthony Noble, CEO at Fiji Kava told NutraIngredients-Asia its first batch of imports to Australia is around 2.5 tonnes,
“We will be importing very frequently between two and five tonnes per shipment to fulfil the demand in the market.”
He added: “We are very keen to talk to retailers that operate convenience stores and supermarkets and small independent grocery stores serving the South Pacific Island communities in Australia. We think that a lot of demand will come from people with Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoan, and Solomon Islands heritage.”
Traditionally, the root of the kava plant is crushed and mixed with water to form a beverage, which is consumed at traditional ceremonies and cultural practices throughout the Pacific Islands. The beverage is said to provide relaxing and soporific effects, and treated as an alternative to alcohol.
Commercial imports of kava were banned in 2007 because the authorities said it was being abused in remote Indigenous communities. They said long-term, heavy intake of kava can cause malnutrition, weight loss, scaly skin, liver problems and mood swings.
“It was targeted at Aboriginal people and had the unintended consequence of limiting the ability for people from the South Pacific Island heritage to use kava as they traditionally do,” Noble said.
So kava was only allowed in Australia for medicinal purposes, that was until December 2021 when companies could apply to import drinking kava as a food product.
Noble added: “The Government’s own documentation released in the recent consultations estimated the volume of kava being imported to Australia in 2007, was around 70 metric tonnes per year.
“Given that the number of Australians with South Pacific heritage has more than doubled since then, this indicates that the expected demand for Noble Fijian Kava (Fiji Kava’s branded drinking kava product) in Australia could be very significant indeed.”
Drinking kava is a powdered product recognised as a food, and is regulated through Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
As it is not a medicine, no health claims can be made against it.
Fiji Kava makes its drinking kava by harvesting the roots of the kava plant, which are then peeled, cleaned, dried and pulverised to form the powder.
Noble said its drinking kava is 100% traceable: “We have full traceability back to the original farm for all of the kava that we processed and use.”
Supplements and overseas business
Fiji Kava also sells a range of kava capsule supplements with claims of promoting sleep and reducing stress. These products are listed as complementary medicines in Australia and are regulated through the TGA, making health claims permissible.
In Australia, the supplements are sold in Coles, Chemist Warehouse, Mr Vitamins, and health foods.
“We've been seeing really strong growth in Coles and Chemist Warehouse, so much so, September to November will be record months for us,” Noble said.
The firm also has a presence in the US, mainly B2B, selling extracts to supplement companies. It recently started selling its kava capsule supplements there.
Beside this, Noble said it was working on penetrating the China market with the supplements.
“It's been much slower than we expected, but we're making good progress by working with some of the big players in cross border e-commerce, and hope to have our products available for online sales early next year.”
In terms of new products, the firm is launching a range of kava-based teas in the US this year, primarily through Amazon.
In Australia, the teas are listed medicines regulated as complementary medicines, and will be available next year.
Noble told us that the firm was exploring gummy applications for the US and China markets: “We think that the gummy format could be a great format for people to experience kava because it has a numbing effect on the mouth.
“It is from the same family as the Sichuan pepper which has the numbing effect which is quite an enjoyable experience for people coupled with the calming effect of the kava, could attract consumers.”
FSANZ is calling for public comment on the proposed changes to the food standard regulating kava use, including requiring kava beverages to be produced for consumption at the place of preparation.
FSANZ also proposes to add a provision to ensure food additives and processing aids are not added to dried or raw kava root or kava beverages.
Dr Sandra Cuthbert, FSANZ interim CEO said the proposed changes would clarify the original intent of the kava standard to limit the preparation and consumption of kava beverage to traditional use.