Loving the Earth

Loving Earth #4An idea that sprouted in rural India became a company with 96,000 followers on Instagram. Melbourne-based Loving Earth has made a big impact in its past seven years of operation.

There are now around 70 Australian Certified Organic Loving Earth products on the shelf with four new products coming out this year, including a salted caramel chocolate, a creamier version of the coconut milk chocolate, a Turkish delight Luvju and the carob bar made from Australian Certified Organic carob grown in South Australia.

Another Australian-produced certified organic ingredient used in Loving Earth products is kale from the Gippsland region of Victoria. The company launched its kale chips onto the market five years ago before kale became popular. There wasn’t enough organic kale on the market to fill requirements, so Loving Earth asked the Labertouche grower to plant it for them.

“Kale production has grown immensely since then. Some people have said Loving Earth kale chips helped people discover kale and now there is kale everywhere,” says Loving Earth’s brand manager and co-director, Martha Butler.

Fair trade for farmers

Loving Earth was originally founded to help small-scale indigenous farmers commercialise their unique products in a sustainable and fair way.

Loving Earth’s founder, Scott Fry, was inspired to start the company when he was working with rice farmers in rural Maharashtra, India. He saw how they were selling their topsoil to make bricks because the rice prices were so low and thought there had to be another alternative for indigenous communities.

Scott and Martha then spent three years living in Mexico, working with indigenous cooperatives that cultivated heirloom varieties of cacao, vanilla and agave that their ancestors domesticated thousands of years ago.

“We decided that a focus of Loving Earth had to be to support these communities by bringing their raw materials into developed markets, enabling us to pay good premiums back to the farmers,” says Martha.

Gubinge, or Kakadu Plum, is another Australian ingredient used in Loving Earth products and is known to be “the world’s highest natural source of vitamin C”. It is “wild harvested” by the traditional owners in the Kimberley region of Western Australia where it originates. Loving Earth has been working with the Nyul Nyul community to commercialise this product over the past six years.

“We financed the project and developed a brand for them. One hundred per cent of the profits Loving Earth receives from the sale of this product are sent back to the Nyul Nyul people who harvest it. This is now having a significant impact in the area, with a couple of hundred thousand dollars being injected into the indigenous community around Broome between December and May every year during the harvest,” Scott says.

“The project has helped fund the bringing back of traditional land care techniques such as cold burning. The areas where the wild Gubinge groves have been looked after are so much healthier than other areas that haven’t been cared for and that get badly burnt out. It is also helping fund native title claims. We are currently waiting for the completion of these claims so the product can be certified organic.”

“It’s about stripping the products back to their purest form and giving people the opportunity to taste the subtle flavours of the raw ingredients,” says Martha about Loving Earth’s products and philosophy around food.

She says the company has never been specifically conscious of staying ahead of food trends, even with the introduction of maca powder.

“Since the beginning we decided to only minimally process products, which usually involves drying and milling. We decided not to use or deal with any gluten, cane sugar, dairy products or soy, so this has necessitated doing things differently and being innovative.”

Most product is sold in Australia, however, Loving Earth has opened up several export markets including to New Zealand, Japan, Dubai and Singapore.

The company imports the majority of the ingredients it needs to make its products, so transports goods primarily by sea and always fills a container before it goes on the water.

Throw your wrapper in the … compost

The inner wrapper on a Loving Earth chocolate bar might look like plastic, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually 100 per cent plant based, so you can dispose of it in the compost! Meanwhile, the chocolate bar’s box is made from post-consumer fibre and printed with vegetable-based inks rather than chemical dyes. Even the wrapper of the Luvju bars is a compostable film made with renewable plant resources. The little white balls used for packing are made from cornstarch and are compostable, while the bubble wrap is also made from 100 per cent recycled plastic.

“With our breakfast cereal, Buckinis, we decided to convert the entire packaging so it was 100 per cent compostable. At that point the technology in this area was not advanced enough to produce transparent, compostable film with a high enough moisture barrier to keep the product fresh,” Martha says.

“We decided to go ahead even though that meant consumers would no longer be able to see the product. It’s hard to say if this has impacted on our sales, although it was always a risk. We’re now in the process of possibly sourcing transparent compostable film with a good moisture barrier so things are looking good. It’s great how many advances are being made in this area.”

Dedication to experimentation

The raw chocolate bars are sweetened with organic evaporated coconut nectar or agave and at the time of experimentation Scott was told it wouldn’t work.

“He started out by experimenting in the kitchen at home. When it came to the point of tempering thechocolate (giving it a stable form so it doesn’t melt too easily), the advice he received was pretty simple: it’s not going to work.Everyone said a liquid sweetener would be impossible to use on a large scale and that it wasn’t even worth trying to make chocolate with agave,” says Martha.

“Scott persevered and managed to create a viable product. With the orders trickling in, he and Richard (now our production manager) found an old bakery to use after hours. They’d head down there after working their day jobs selling renewable electricity and make chocolate all night, hand-wrapping it and selling it online.”

Social consumers hungry for more

When the “Loving Earth operation” spread to the spare room of Scott and Martha’s rented house, crept down the corridor, filled up the garage and began to completely take over the kitchen, they decided that it was time to move.

The Loving Earth site in Campbellfield is now overflowing and so the company has just secured an additional facility in Scoresby (just outside Melbourne), which will be dedicated to chocolate production.

Surprisingly, this company has never paid for advertising and doesn’t have distributors.Loving Earth team

Martha says Loving Earth’s growing popularity on social media is largely due to encouraging conversation and developing a sense of community with a growing group of people who share the same ideals.

“We have become part of a community. We don’t push our products onto people, but rather let consumers know we are here and this is what we are doing,” she says.

“Every week we post our favourite ‘foodie’ photos sent in by customers and this gives people more incentive to get involved. We also love things like yoga and bike riding and so do a lot of our customers. We find this is also a great avenue to connect with new and existing customers.”

You can fall in love with Loving Earth in organic stores, health food shops and independent supermarkets.

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