CURLWAA Fresh has established its place in the beverage industry.
From humble beginnings the company has become a key play in the industry and remains one of the few Australian-owned companies producing fresh orange juice from only Australian citrus growers.
- AT A GLANCE
- What: Curlwaa Fresh
- Why: Australian-owned orange juice company
- Where: Curlwaa
- Report: SANDRA GODWIN
The company began more than 20 years ago, formed by two citrus growers and a local businessman at Curlwaa, northwest of Mildura,
The trio began with the basics: freshly picked, locally grown valencia oranges hand-squeezed in a backyard shed for the first three months.
Demand quickly outstripped their physical and financial resources, so the business was handed over to the Curlwaa Co-operative Packing Society Limited in September, 1991.
Mechanical crushing has since boosted production five-fold to more than 2.5 million litres a year.
Director and operations manager Graeme Beevers said while the plant had spare capacity, there was no pressure for the company to quickly move from being a boutique juice producer.
"We've always produced 100 per cent Australian orange juice," he said. "We do orange juice and that's all we do.
"We have had people ask us to water it down so that we can sell cheaper and compete with other products, but we've never done it and we don't need to as we are already very competitively priced. We've stuck to our guns and put out a really good orange juice."
Curlwaa Fresh also is an approved organic processor and kosher-accredited.
Fruit is crushed and the juice chilled for 48 hours before it is minimally treated and bottled.
The juice contains no added water, sugar or fruit concentrate.
Pasteurisation equipment installed in 2006-07 enables the production of juice suitable for export into the Asia-Pacific.
Innovation continued last year when Curlwaa Fresh dipped a toe into the market with a new line: blood orange juice.
Graeme said there had been a "fantastic" response to the month-long trial of blood orange juice. But because of the limited volume, distribution had been restricted to the Sunraysia region.
"This year we'll be certainly doing it for the full season, from August to November," he said.
Graeme, who also operates SS Citrus, a packer and exporter, with orchards at Dareton and Monak, has been involved with Curlwaa Fresh since 1996.
The company philosophy hasn't changed, despite the citrus industry's rollercoaster ride.
Fellow director Richard Permewan is equally passionate.
"Our goal is to continue to steadily expand the niche in the premium juice market by promoting the unique natural flavour of Curlwaa orange juice products," he said.
"Our point of difference is that we're fresh, 100 per cent Australian, a local product, supporting the local industry."
The company's handful of suppliers includes Curlwaa citrus grower David Bailey and his father, John, who produce navels, valencias grapefruit and mandarins on their 40ha orchard.
John was one of the original Curlwaa Fresh shareholders and suppliers.
Unlike many citrus growers who bulldozed their valencias and replanted with navels after a downturn in juice prices and the opening of the US navel export market, the Baileys have stuck with the variety.
"Originally it was because we had a share in the juice factory - it would be a bit silly to take them out, then you've got no supply - so we've always had valencias," David said.
"Valencias also used to still average out reasonable money on an average year because the juice component was so good."
David said returns to growers last season were about $500 a tonne, thanks to a lighter crop, the shortage of supply and higher fresh fruit and juice prices.
"This year, there's increased volume, the demand is not as strong and they don't need to pay as much for it," he said.
"But it's good to see that (Curlwaa Fresh) is still having a crack for everybody. And they've got the growers' interests at heart."
Richard said Curlwaa Fresh juice was sold in stores across the Sunraysia and through the Melbourne Market and there were plans to expand into wholesale markets interstate.
Curlwaa Fresh is one of four companies eligible to use the Citrus Australia Aussie Grown logo, which can only be displayed on products containing 100 per cent Australian fruit.
Most orange juice sold in Australia is made with imported juice or frozen concentrate, or a combination of local and imported products, much of it from the US and Brazil.
- For more details on Curlwaa Fresh, phone Richard on 0427 320 265.