When Michael Jolley left his carob orchard in South Australia to attend his first Asian food industry show in Hong Kong recently, he was amazed by the response of visitors who had never before seen the ingredient.
“We didn’t expect to get anything like the reaction we got there. We had people coming back a second and third time buying products because nobody had come across it before,” said Jolley, the owner of The Australian Carob Co.
“It was great to see, so we’re going back. We now have a distributor in Hong Kong, so hopefully we can make people a lot more aware of what carob is—a high quality, good tasting, sweet product.”
Familiar in the West, unknown in the East
Carob is a familiar ingredient to Western countries and is used to give sweetness to a product like chocolate without adding sugar. Because The Australian Carob Co. is the only producer in the world whose products are harvested, processed an packed on the farm where the trees grow, Jolley likes to highlight how the product is contaminant free, which goes well with its gluten-free and nut-free credentials.
“We found a lot of the [Asian] public tried our carob and didn’t know what it was. But then they loved it. It’s great to get this consumer interest because their interest excites manufacturers who then know that people like the taste and quality of the product. It gives manufacturers greater confidence to go ahead with products containing carob,” he said.
Like apples, which have a number of varieties, carobs also differ depending on the type that is grown. Because the tree is not indigenous to Australia, Jolley sampled pods from a range of Mediterranean carobs and decided on the type he would plant Down Under.
“Going by the taste of the pods, we planted the ones with a sweet, full flavour. Over the last 14 years, we have just concentrated on these varieties. Our conditions in South Australia are very similar to those in the Mediterranean, and carobs like dry conditions with winter rains. We have a good weather balance and environment for the trees.”
With his wife, he has planted 6,000 trees. This year, he anticipates 150-300 tonnes of pods, though in five years he is hoping to increase this to 600 tonnes, and this increased production should suit the growing Asian demand he has experienced.
“We would like Asia to be a large market for us, so we are concentrating on it more than any other market—there are a lot more people there.
“The thing about Asia, it’s a real up-and-coming market for health products. It’s probably the fastest-growing market in the world, and that’s where I see the potential of our products. It’s going to be a big part of our business in coming years.”
The Australian Carob Co.’s Hong Kong-based agent looks after its packaged product business in Greater China, though Jolley prefers to deal directly with food manufacturers where possible. As a grower with many years’ experience as a grower, he feels he can supply answers and specifications to any questions they may have.