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Traceable and sustainable: The drivers behind Australia’s booming Kakadu plum market

Image: We are Feel Good Inc. Words: Donné Restom

Kakadu plum has earned its status as one of Australia’s key native species – offering huge market potential. Almost exclusively wild harvested, production of the in-demand superfood extends from Broome, right across the Top End of Australia and into Queensland.

A traditional staple of Indigenous Australia, Kakadu plum has been used for both food and medicine for over 40,000 years. Its combination of high-level Vitamin C content and notable presence of skin-repairing ellagic acid has created a wealth of opportunity for application within the cosmetics sphere.

Australian made and owned sunscreen brand, We Are Feel Good Inc. has embraced this opportunity to explore the unique properties of the native ‘wonder fruit’. Dedicated to developing high-quality, natural, and ethically sourced SPF products, the Western Australian based company added a Kakadu Plum Body Milk to their range in 2020.

Company Co-founder, skin doctor and cosmetic physician, Dr Scott McGregor recognised the value of Kakadu plum when searching for hero ingredients for a moisturiser, which had real clinical benefits.

“The ingredients that I was looking for at the time were Vitamin C and B3. The Kakadu plum is one of nature’s most potent sources of Vitamin C, which means you can put a little bit of it in your products, and get pretty amazing clinical benefits as far as protecting against environmental damage and repairing skin,” he said.

Ensuring that the hero ingredients chosen for their products were sustainable and ethically sourced was a key factor to Scott’s selection process; something Australian made was considered a bonus.

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“It was a bit of a double whammy, being able to find a very useful clinical ingredient, but also finding one which has a great Australian story,” he explained.

The brand sources its ingredients directly from a wholesaler that has arrangements with authorised companies whose product is harvested by those living in Indigenous communities.

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A key challenge

Rising demand for Kakadu plum, a key challenge for the wild harvest industry

Keeping up with the significant growth of Kakadu plum demand has been one of the key challenges for the primarily wild harvest industry. Maintaining profitable Indigenous involvement and ownership, while supporting this growth has required an expansion of research and development to better understand how to support the industry sustainably.

The Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance (NAAKPA) is looking at how it can improve production of the seasonal fruit. AgriFutures Australia is working with NAAKPA to develop a better understanding of techniques that can be used to improve yield.

AgriFutures Australia spokesperson, Tom McCue said the emerging industries panel believes that there’s enough production for a 10-million-dollar industry because of the multitude of end uses for Kakadu plum.

RELATED: Ripe opportunity for Australia’s native bush foods industry 

“AgriFutures is continuing to support the supply chain, including the native bush foods and Indigenous Australia, to develop and improve the productivity of the industry,” said Tom. “For example, we want to look at how we can improve yields of Kakadu plum through better pollination techniques.”

Working closely with traditional land practices is vital to the continuing success of the industry and local growth. This supports global interest in relation to increasing consumer focus on sustainability and traceability in their buying decisions.

On the upside

Consumers willing to pay premiums for ‘ethically sourced’

We Are Feel Good Inc. Co-founder and world-renowned surfer, Jake Peterson who is based in Western Australia has noticed the provenance trend in their customer base, with a growing number of consumers choosing to pay a premium for products that are natural or ethically sourced.

His instincts are right. According to the global consulting and research firm Kline & Company’s 2018 report, the ‘natural’ trend is the most important trend in the personal care industry.

“People are getting so much smarter these days, wanting to find out more about the products that they’re using on their skin and where they’re coming from,” said We Are Feel Good Inc. Marketing Manager, Carly Simmonds. “They’re not getting so much hung up on slogans, they’re looking for particular ingredients and obviously if you’re Australian and you can see that it’s coming from Australia – consumers want to engage with that story.”

With suppliers already in New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, China, and South Africa, Carly noted the impact strong Australian branding has on the global market. “We are about to penetrate Europe this year,” she said. “We know it sells well overseas because people love buying Australian made products.”

For companies like We Are Feel Good Inc., being able to verify their ethically sourced status through UEBT (Union for Ethical BioTrade) is vital to the authority of the brand. But it’s not just the ingredients that need to be sustainably sourced, the entire package needs to be sustainable too.

To gain UEBT’s certification, the bottles that We Are Feel Good Inc. use are required to be medical grade, ‘virgin’ plastic, meaning no recycled plastics can be used in their products.

For the founders, especially ocean-loving Jake, this was just not good enough. “After some investigating, we teamed up with Precious Plastic Margaret River, Precious Plastic Victoria and Socially Plastic Sydney and we now have over 100 participating stores around Australia where people can drop off their used We Are Feel Good Inc. bottles for recycling,” said Jake.

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What happens from there? Bottles are made into colourful hair combs, and there are even moulds being used for creating surf fins and planter boxes.

But the quest for a more sustainable product doesn’t stop there. The company’s tube manufacturer plants trees for every tube they make, and they have joined a carbon offset program for plastics to reduce their plastic footprint.

“It’s always changing,” said Carly. “In the world of recycling and sustainability, there’s always new things coming out, new research coming out, so it’s just about staying on top of that, always.”

We Are Feel Good Inc.’s dedication to natural products, combined with their commitment to pave the way for a more sustainable future prove a growing trend in the Australian cosmetics industry. Not only are consumers demanding ethically produced products like wild harvest Kakadu plum, but increasingly, our Australian brands are listening.

Precious Plastic x We Are Feel Good Inc.

Recycling program