Truckloads and truckloads of produce – from chillies and avocadoes to onions, beetroot and herbs – roll out of the loading docks of the family-owned business in Bundaberg every day.
While much of it is consumed fresh, much more of the De Paoli family’s produce is value added and is supplied to food manufacturers for sauces, marinades and dressings.
“Nearly all Australians are consuming some of our product in some form or another, whether it’s chillies, avocadoes, lemons that’s gone into a dressing, or basil that’s gone into a pasta sauce,” Austchilli owner David De Paoli said.
With 10 farms scattered around Bundaberg and Childers, the De Paoli family alone produces about 50 per cent of the produce supplied by Austchilli, and buy in the remaining 50 per cent from other growers.
“We grow all year round and supply both the fresh avocado market and fresh chilli market. Probably 80 per cent of Australia’s fresh chillies come from us,” David said.
“We have growers supplying us fresh produce from other areas for the peak season in summer, and also in winter when our production drops.
“This means we can supply to the supermarkets 52 weeks a year. We also supply to wholesale markets in each major city in each state.”
But there is much more to their business than supplying fresh fruit and vegetables. They also supply about 48 different products by processing fruit, vegetables and herbs that aren’t suitable for supermarket shelves.
“We send those products all over Australia and all over the world,” David said.
In addition, they operate a state-of-the-art High Pressure Processing (HPP) system which extends the shelf life of some of their retail products but retains the nutrition and health benefits of fresh.
Another extension of their product range is AvoFresh, cold pressed avocado in tubes and tubs, which can be found in Woolworths, IGA, independents and some supermarkets in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Brunei and Singapore.
David and his family are also looking into further expanding their product range in both retail and food services in the future, undeterred by a temporary drop in demand from cafes and restaurants due to COVID-19.
“COVID-19 hit us a like a ton of bricks. Our orders initially went through the roof, but then dropped right down to the point where we now have a lot of stock on hand,” he said.
“A lot of growers couldn’t put their product on the market and we tried to help those growers out by taking it off them. So we have got cold rooms and cold rooms full of products that growers couldn’t move on the market.”
“We are hoping as the markets open up we will be able to move it out into the food service industry – the pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes.”
All through the COVID period, they have been able to retain all of their staff of more than 160 people. In fact, David said, they had to employ additional staff as they had more produce to process and store.
Overall, David believes that Australians don’t realise how lucky they are to live in this country.
“Australia would be one of the unique food supply places in the world, one where we have so much security of food,” he said.