Charlie Fermor, director of family-run business Perry Court Farm in Kent, UK, describes himself as a ‘farmer first and foremost’. Yet 20 years ago, low supermarket prices prompted the Fermor family to diversify its strawberry growing business.
Perry Court Farm still grows strawberries, as well as a range of other fruits and vegetables, for sale in its own farm shop, London markets, and independent delis and health stores. “We don’t do any multiples,” explained Fermor.
Beyond fruit and veg, the business has also diversified into fruit-based snacks, including ‘clean label’ apple and raspberry bars, and tangy apple crisps. The apple and raspberry bar fruit bar, similarly to its apple and strawberry counterpart, contains just two ingredients.
Two ingredients: ‘It’s simple’
Like it says on the packet, the bar contains just apples and raspberries. “No preservatives, no additives, no processing aids. It’s simple,” Fermor told FoodNavigator.
To manufacture the bars, the Perry Court team harvests the fruit – including surplus or unsellable apples – and washes and slices them. The washed produce is put through a sieve, which removes the pips and stalks, but retains the skin and fibre. The fruit is then dehydrated in a factory located ‘in the middle of the orchards’.
“We basically stick it in a big tunnel and circulate warm air around [repeatedly]. This eventually takes all the moisture out of the dried fruit,” we were told. It is this slow drying technique that helps the fruit retain its natural flavours, nutritional profile, and gives the bar a long shelf life. In fact, the business director suspects the bars’ ‘best before’ date could be extended to 10 years after production, although such tests have yet to be completed.
The technique also means Perry Court can avoid using any E-number binders, stabilisers, texturisers and preservatives. Instead, Fermor and his team rely on water activity. “We are able to dry the product down to a level where it is so dry that nothing grows on it. And because we are drying it very, very slowly, it keeps the texture in there. It is still nice and chewy, but not too dry.”
Once both fruit categories are processed separately in this way, it can be moulded into a bar.
Mintel on clean label
According to a 2018 survey from market insight firm Mintel:
- Nearly 60% of German, Italian and Spanish snack bar eaters agree that bars made with natural ingredients are worth paying more for.
- Certain countries perceive ‘clean label’ and processed foods in different ways. Fifty-five percent of French think that cereal/snack/energy bars are too processed, compared to 29% of Germans.
Food for kids or sports nutrition?
The Perry Court range is currently targeting young families looking to purchase healthy products for their children. The clean label trend is certainly one Fermor has seen rise of late.
“In our market over the past years, we have seen this gradual increase turn into a deluge of customers wanting to know more about what they are putting in their own and their families’ bodies. There is growing concern over the effects of food additives, fuelled by ever-increasing media awareness on the issue,” he said.
The business is building on its clean label products with the development of a new brand set to launch in the coming weeks. The ‘Freddie’s Farm’ range will use the same dehydrating process, with ‘farm shape’ cut outs for kids in 20g packets. Freddie is his son, and also incidentally his ‘chief taster’ at the moment, Fermor added.
While the business director acknowledges the children’s snacking category is a ‘big growth area’, Perry Court Farm is also investigating the sports nutrition space. While still in early stages of development, Fermor is looking into ways his fruit bars could be given a ‘little bit of oomph’. “The idea is that it will have the right nutritional profile to give you energy for a long distance run,” he revealed. The business is also testing the bars for use in in army ration packs.
Tackling food waste
Sustainability is high on the agenda at Perry Court Farm. Not only is surplus fruit upcycled into bars and fruit crisps, but the business is partnering with other players to address the food waste agenda.
“That has always been very important to us, and also to the brands we are working with,” said Fermor. One such brand is UK-based Snact. The company makes foods out of produce that would otherwise be rejecting at the harvesting stage for not conforming to supermarkets’ cosmetic standards.
When Snact obtains large quantities of surplus fruit that must be dealt with quickly, it sends it to Perry Court Farm for processing. “We will dehydrate them and make it into a [fruit] bar for Snact to sell,” Fermor explained.
Perry Court has also set up a contract packaging business to sell its fruit bars under other brands’ names.
FoodNavigator is hosting a Clean Label 2019 online event on Tuesday 24 September.
Clean eating remains a key influencer in product development. And clean label, which is associated with an understandable ingredients list, is perceived by many as ‘natural’ and better for you.
While the clean label movement continues to shape innovation in the food sector, FoodNavigator wants to put conventional wisdom to the test, asking whether clean label products are in fact healthier. We will examine innovations driving improved performance from clean label ingredients. and consider just how much shoppers care about the pack of pack small print. For more information here.