Riverland almonds – but not as we know them

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By David Sly

Jarrad and Jackie Casaretto realised it would take a special product to radically rethink their approach to almond farming in South Australia’s Riverland.

They think they’ve found it with almond butter – a full-flavoured paste that is quickly winning favour in the United States and around the world as a nutritious health food.

Jarrad was quick to spot this emerging trend and thought they should act fast to get on board now. It meant seizing control of their commercial destiny by becoming a secondary producer – launching and controlling their own brand called The Almond Farmer, rather than just being a bulk provider of the primary ingredient.

The Almond Farmer range now comprises jars filled with three types of almond butter (plain, chocolate, and date with chia), along with packets of raw and roasted almonds, ground almond meal, and pure almond oil as a skin care product. And despite launching the brand with scant resources, it has quickly gained traction in the market through direct sales.

Chocolate almond butter on bruschetta, topped with fig, banana and raspberries.

“The first thing I did was start up a Facebook page, and that got the word out to consumers that we were doing something different,” Jackie says. “We’ve approached this from the point of figuring out what the market wants, and then re-shaping what we do to make our almonds connect with those interests.”

This represented a big shift in how almond farmers have traditionally operated in Australia, but the Casarettos felt it was a necessary step.

Having originally come from urban jobs in Queensland, Jarrad and Jackie embraced the idea of joining Jarrad’s parents, Pam and Dennis Casaretto at Taylorville (near Waikerie) in the Riverland, to expand on their retirement hobby farm by harvesting more almonds.

When a second almond property became available in the region during 2012, Jarrad and Jackie agreed to buy it and shifted from QLD.

“We said yes because we wanted a life outdoors rather than being in the city,” says Jackie. “We love food and thought this would be a great way of getting involved in the best produce.”

The almond orchard in blossom.

However, the envisaged idyllic rural lifestyle didn’t unfold as easily as they planned, so they re-thought how to best run their combined almond farms, drawing on their previous employment skills in business management and marketing. They focused on producing specialised items that could fill a high-revenue niche.

“It was a case of looking at other businesses seizing opportunities with niche products in other markets, and thinking ‘why aren’t we doing that?’ We had to look at our farm and its produce through a different business prism,” Jackie says.

“We saw an opportunity to take a unique niche product to market through direct sales – which is not how things are usually done in Australian farms.”

It took a lot of trial and error for The Almond Farmer products to take shape – after planting and nurturing a host of different almond varieties, then figuring what is the best application for each variety according to its oil content. But perseverance has paid off in the case of perfecting almond butter.

Jackie Casaretto and her husband Jarrad swapped their urban careers in Queensland for life on the land in the Murray and Mallee region.

“All nut spreads are now growing in popularity, and we’re seeing that in the emerging health food scene, a product such as pure almond butter makes clear sense to consumers,” Jackie says.

“It makes good sense among the health-conscious mums, in particular. We’ve had so many enquiries from mums with kids suffering allergies, looking for almond products that have not been in contact with any other nuts. Because we process all our almonds on our farm and there’s no risk of cross-contamination with other nuts, they’re relieved to find a product that’s reliable.”

Some food market pundits are wondering whether this product can explode into the public consciousness and enjoy a similar commercial boon as Nutella. The Casarettos hope so but know the mainstream market now has to embrace the quality and purity of what they are providing.

Every almond orchard needs a four-legged helper.

“It is more expensive because of the cost of using only highest-quality ingredients, and not bulking it up with cheap fillers. Therefore, almond butter is a treat full of nutrients and not just packed with sugar,” Jackie says.

“Our products plug into a lot of what we believe. Our family is passionate about sustainability, the authenticity of Australian-grown food, and promoting a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle. Our Almond Farmer goods are a perfect fit.”

While The Almond Farmer’s strength is through its website sales, the Casarettos are in discussion with distributors, and some products are already being stocked by Adelaide food specialty stores such as Tony & Mark’s.

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