Queensland organic grain company Kialla Pure Foods has pivoted from bulk sales to the retail market as consumers worldwide embrace a lockdown baking boom.

Based at Greenmount on the Darling Downs, the company watched in dismay as bulk exports to Asia slowed from January to March this year, but were heartened to see retail sales of organic pancake mix and flour products taking off in Japan and Korea.

Kialla Pure Foods Managing Director Quentin Kennedy said the pandemic had changed how the company approached exporting its certified organic grains and flours, which include everything from wheat flour to products based on newly popular grains such as spelt, quinoa, millet and more.

‘Traditionally 90% of our exports are in bulk to the food service and manufacturing buyers, and only 10% go directly into the retail sector,’ Mr Kennedy said.

‘But we’ve been wanting to move away from bulk exports in Asian markets for a while because we’re competing against Turkish and Russian flour producers and it’s difficult to compete with them on a price basis.

‘The home baking boom brought about by COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to explore a retail focus more fully.’

Mr Kennedy said the company’s retail exports from 1 March to 15 May were up 141% overall on the same period last year, with exports to Japan jumping 251%.

He said Korea was another market that had shown real growth for Kialla Pure Foods during COVID-19.

TIQ helped the company enter the Korean market in 2004 and Kialla representatives have also joined TIQ trade missions to Seoul.

TIQ Korea Business Development Manager Charley Hyun said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased Korean demand for healthy products, including Kialla’s mixes.

‘Koreans have been working from home while their kids also study at home and they have been relishing the clean, green and safe image of Australian food products, especially organic foods,’ Mr Hyun said.

‘A focus by parents on healthy foods has seen sales of Kialla Pure Foods’ organic pancake mix increase by 30–50% each month since January.’

Kialla’s Quentin Kennedy said the company was now looking at how to differentiate itself from competitors in the retail space.

‘We’re looking at ways to compete in the retail sector such as promoting the traceability of our products through our Plate2farm tracker,’ he said.

‘Plate2farm allows consumers to track their product back to the farmer who grew it via a batch number so they can watch a video of the farm and read the farmer’s story.

‘Because of the increased demand we have seen domestically in Australia due to COVID-19, we’re looking to roll this feature out in Japan, Korea and Taiwan to help promote our organic pancake mix and other organic flour products in retail markets.’

Mr Kennedy said the next challenge would be converting new Kialla customers into long-term ones.

‘There was already a trend towards natural and healthy products before the pandemic, but I think people will now place a different value on food and appreciate it a little more because they’ve discovered the enjoyment of creating good food for themselves,’ he said.

‘Kialla Pure Foods’ new challenge is how do we continue to speak to those people and serve them as they keep creating their sourdough loaves.’

Exports currently account for approximately 30% of Kialla Pure Foods’ business, with the company exporting around 1,000 tonnes of flour annually, milled from grains grown by certified organic farmers in Queensland, interstate and, when necessary, overseas.

The company employs 37 staff at its Greenmount mill.

Supporting Queensland exporters is a priority under the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.