Teff has had a tough time penetrating the consumer consciousness, partly because it can be costly but also due to a lack of awareness about the grain among the UK population.
Previously hyped as the new quinoa, the world’s smallest grain is native to Ethiopia and is gluten-free, as well as being naturally high in prebiotics and other essential nutrients.
An Aussie outfit called Outback Harvest is hoping to take teff to the next level with a new range of products expected to launch into Ocado at the end of April.
It is a diverse offering too, allowing consumers to dip their toes into teff with the likes of pre-packaged baking mixes, including muffins, banana loaf and pancakes, as well as teff pasta in penne or fusilli form. The more adventurous can experiment with Outback Harvest’s flour and grain that comes in either a brown or ivory teff variety.
The teff is grown on the family farm of the McNauls, who have a long agricultural history stretching back four generations and created the Outback Harvest brand.
Father and son Shane and Fraser McNaul had always wanted to start a food brand and to diversify their cropping program, which includes rice, corn, wheat and barley, along with livestock.
“We also saw the need for variety in people’s diets and there is quite a big thing around gut health, so we saw the need to supply a different grain with different proteins and carbs,” Fraser tells Food Spark. “We did research and came across teff. We thought it looked fantastic and put a trial crop in.”
The crop was a success and the family planted more. The past year has been tough water-wise in Australia, so the McNauls only planted teff last summer – a turning point to make the crop number one for the farm.
“It’s nice as a farmer to try and vertically integrate the farming operation with a food brand as well to try to give us more security, as opposed to growing wheat and hoping for a good price,” he notes.
Playing with products
Fraser admits product development took quite a long time for them to navigate.
“As a farmer we had never had to mill something to food-grade human consumption before,” he says. “It took a while to get the networks and then there was a lot of tweaking. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen, tweaking the formulas, sending it out to people and getting feedback.”
Starting with the grain in raw form and the flour was a no-brainer, according to Fraser, but convenience was also front of mind when developing the range.
“You can use the grain for sushi, salads and porridge, and then the flour had really great baking properties, especially as a gluten-free flour. It had a really nice flavour,” he explains.
“We wanted to create a range of products that were easy for consumers to pick up as an introduction to teff. We thought of some of the common uses and thought about the popularity of baking products in Australia and around the world, and it also resonates in the UK with pancakes, muffins and banana loafs.
“We also saw the need for a gluten-free pasta that has a really nice texture. We played around with pasta formulation and now it’s quite popular. It has fantastic reviews.”
Outback Harvest’s products are already available nationwide in Australia, selling in independents, health food stores and greengrocers.
Easy baking category
Fraser believes the grain’s nutritional properties are a real selling point for the products. Teff is high in fibre and protein and is also a good source of calcium and Vitamin K, which is rare to find in grains, he says.
“On top of the nutrition, the iron levels are fantastic,” he comments. “It’s got more iron than red meat gram for gram, which is huge for vegetarians or vegans, but on top of that it’s really functional. It’s really versatile to use in the kitchen and has a really nice flavour – a nice light nutty flavour – and with all those combined together it’s a really exciting product.”
There is also a need for ‘better for you’ products in the UK, while pre-packaged baked goods is also a category that is crying out for more.
“It’s definitely a much slimmer category over here in the UK as opposed to Australia. There is a lot less choice over here, so there is definitely a gap and need for a product like ours,” Fraser says.
He acknowledges that consumer education is key to selling the products and says there is a need to communicate how simple and easy the grain is to use, as well as highlighting its health benefits.
Outback Harvest is always focused on NPD and Fraser notes that there is a lot of potential for teff.
“We are not going to be moving into the ready meal category any time soon,” he adds. “We are still a family business with a farming background and we want to try and keep things simple and easy for consumers.”