Apple growers invent new drink to save fruit rejected from supermarkets

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A Queensland apple-growing family believes it has made a world-first fruit drink that bottles all of the apple, minus the pips and core.

The Savio family, from Stanthorpe in Queensland’s Granite Belt, spent more than a million dollars and three years researching and developing how to get both the skin and the pulp into a commercially acceptable liquid form.

Neither a juice nor a nectar, Upple is pitched as a filling snack and healthy drink.

“One of the things I looked at prior to even coming up with any specific idea was we had to look at things that other people aren’t doing,” grower Johnny Savio said.

“When an apple is juiced, you throw away the really nutritious parts of the apple, which is the peel, and the pulp, which is fibre,” explained brand consultant and project leader Deb Loosely.

“So the challenge was, how could we take a whole apple and value-add it in a way that retained the whole apple goodness?”

A woman on a step-ladder reaches to pick Granny Smith apples from a tree.A woman on a step-ladder reaches to pick Granny Smith apples from a tree.
Expanding into the new product has been a learning curve for the farming family.(Supplied: Rosie Savio)

Ms Loosely is not surprised a family operation managed to do what bigger juice companies hadn’t.

“Large companies tend to be a bit afraid of innovation,” she said.

“They’re very protective of profits, they run their businesses in a completely different way, they’re not nimble, and I think a lot of people in decision-making roles are risk-averse.

“This has been an enormous leap for the family, moving into packaged goods.

Two small round bottles on a branch.Two small round bottles on a branch.
A Gold Coast company custom-designed the bottles from recycled plastic.(Supplied: Rosie Savio)

Grower says retailers reject more fruit

The Savios decided to value-add to offset a steady decline in apple income, which Mr Savio blames on increasingly tough retail specifications.

Eating-quality fruit with small blemishes which was good enough for supermarkets 10 or 20 years ago is now rejected.

“Anything that’s just a tiny bit off the mark is basically downgraded to a juice price, and juice price is unviable for us to be in business,” Mr Savio said.

An old man in a blue jumper and grey fedora hat sorts Granny Smith apples on a conveyor belt.An old man in a blue jumper and grey fedora hat sorts Granny Smith apples on a conveyor belt.
Family patriarch Peter Savio sorts apples at their Stanthorpe orchard.(Supplied: Rosie Savio)

He consulted food processing engineer Gordon Young to turn his idea into a commercial product.

His key request was it had to taste like a fresh apple.

“Early on, my very simple attempt at it didn’t work and I must admit at that stage there was some wondering about how we could make it happen,” Mr Young said.

“Probably the biggest challenge was to find a way of getting the viscosity, the thickness of the product, down to a level that was pleasant to drink.”

Glass bottles of orange liquid pass through a machine.Glass bottles of orange liquid pass through a machine.
The biggest challenge in producing the drink was perfecting its texture.(ABC Landline: Pip Courtney)

That was achieved with the assistance of the University of Queensland, which also helped measure apple fibre particles so they couldn’t be noticed in the mouth.

After two years of pulverising apples, Mr Young has a successful process that has a patent pending.

“There are some secrets we’re keeping very close because they’ve been areas that the Savios have spent a lot to get developed,” he said.

A way to boost fruit consumption

The Savios hope Upple’s four-month shelf life will encourage people to lift their consumption of fruit.

“It appeals to parents because often they find it difficult to have fruit with them when they’re out and about, and to the 18-to-40 age group, which is very conscious about consuming healthy nutritious snacks on the run with no fat, no added sugar and lots of fibre,” Ms Loosley said.

A container of red apples inside a packing shed.A container of red apples inside a packing shed.
The Savio family hopes their new product will inspire more apple consumption.(ABC Landline: Pip Courtney)

Local fruit and vegetable shop owner Sam Giacca has no problem selling fruit with small blemishes, but knows how hard it is for growers to see it discounted to juice prices.

He’s glad to see someone acted to cut waste and save so many apples from a low-value fate.

The Savio family hope sales will outgrow their pilot bottling pant.

They then plan to build a factory on their farm to use out-of-spec apples from the whole district.

A family crows around an a piece of farm machinery in an apple orchard.A family crows around an a piece of farm machinery in an apple orchard.
The Queensland family wants to provide for future generations.(Supplied: Rosie Savio)

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.