Retreating the organic way

2014-05-16 08.09.42Squat and chew your food. To be more precise, squat every day, particularly when you use the toilet, and at mealtimes don’t swallow your food until it is a paste in your mouth.

These may be the secrets to longevity according to one of Australia’s top ranking lifestyle retreats – and if you follow research into remote tribes you probably already knew about the squatting bit. It makes a lot of sense and it’s not hard to squat on your haunches when you get the hang of it.

The other mantra of the retreat is regular movement (exercise), reduce stress and eat certified organic wholefoods. The latter is what brought me to Gold Coast’s Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat – it lives and breathes organics. The philosophy permeates the kitchen and the 33-room spa centre (the largest in the Southern Hemisphere).

Food4Perched on top of a mountain overlooking Burleigh Heads, it’s surrounded by 200 hectares of bush. There’s a restaurant, shop/tearoom, church, reception and villas that accommodate up to 60 guests and over 100 staff.

Gwinganna is luxurious but it doesn’t regard organic living as a luxury. That we all need to eat and use fewer chemicals is a given and driven home in its seminars.

We don’t have concierge but we have good health

“For us organic is very important. It’s been with us from the beginning. Sustainability and organic certification are very important to us – they’re part of our KPIs,” says general manager Sharon Kolkka.

Food2Gwinganna’s buying protocol stipulates buying as close to certified organic as possible. Supporting local farmers is also important.

“If we can source eggs from the valley from a small producer and they’re doing it in a way that fits with our philosophy, we’ll buy from them. If we can’t, we go to certified organic wholesalers,” Sharon says.

Gwinganna serves a range of meats – chicken, red meat and seafood. In the absence of certified organic fish operations, buying seafood is a dilemma. The retreat doesn’t buy farmed fish because of the pellets fish are fed but it’s also concerned about overfishing. Now the Australian Certified Organic Standard accommodates organic aquaculture there could be a business opportunity here for someone?

The retreat’s beef comes from Brisbane’s The Meating Place, which is certified with Australian Certified Organic. Interestingly one of the most expensive, and commonly used, ingredients in the Gwinganna kitchen is nuts.

Sharon says, “Most restaurants and hotels would be horrified about how much we spend on food. But quality is really important, organic is really important; it’s part of our philosophy, it’s who we are, what we are.”

2014-05-16 08.14.52The compromises? Sharon laughs, “We don’t have concierge. Having said that, there are good producers locally who
are very, very reasonable and we’ve built really good relationships with businesses like Wray Organic.”

Ninety per cent of the green leafy vegetables and herbs come from the retreat’s own garden, which is managed by a full-time gardener. When ingredients aren’t available organically, the menu adjusts accordingly.

I often heard staff reiterate: We give you what you need, but not necessarily what you want, it doesn’t just apply to concierge, it also means eating in season if need be.

Sharon says, “Sometimes the chef will just say: ‘You’re not going to see apples for a while’.

“A commitment to organic makes you resourceful and you also develop strong relationships. We’re a very good customer for the organic industry because we’re committed.”

Special treatment

Gwinganna’s spa centre menu is a therapy junkie’s heaven. Its pages of treatments range from body rituals, facials and Eastern therapies and it’s here that the retreat sways from its buy local policy – but stays true to certified organic.

Food“It was really hard initially. I wanted an Australian certified organic product but I also needed a spa product. What I mean by that is I needed a company to come in and be able to clinically train my staff in how to use their skincare.”

Gwinganna isn’t just after a good cream or oil, it’s after a skincare range that’s backed by science and comes with training and they found it in a French company.

“It’s sophisticated and has been around since 1958. While it’s sad we don’t have an Australian product, we ended up with a certified organic product,” Sharon says.

The spa uses eight facials and stocks over 200 products, which is why the company’s relationship with a spa provider is a big deal.

“It’s a massive undertaking because all our therapists are trained in that product. Therapists need to know each of those products and its suitability to skin type. Yes you can have a certified organic range but it might not be clinically derived. So to change from this company to another would cost a lot of time and money.”

Sharon would like to think there’s an opportunity for a home-grown supplier for the retreat’s spa range but she’s approached regularly by spa product manufacturers and she tells them the same thing: that if they want to get into a market like this they need to be able to provide the whole kit and caboodle – an established company that has research to back it up and is going in the same direction as Gwinganna.

“It’s fantastic that people are coming up with products but often they don’t realise what we need. I think that’s why it’s hard to crack into it.”

It might seem that Gwinganna will go to the ends of the earth to stick by its KPIs but all businesses have limits and for this retreat it’s when the price for an organic item is three times the price of its conventional equivalent. That’s when they would opt to go without.