A recent increase in papaya production has led to an Australian producer to launch some creative value-add products, including an award-winning vodka.
Skybury Farms, based in Far North Queensland, has been noticing steadily increasing volumes in recent months, which General Manager Candy MacLaughlin says is creating a slight "flush" in the markets.
"As you get bigger and you start producing more, you are going to grow produce that you can't sell, and that creates an opportunity to find a home for that," she said. "Whether that is with juicing companies or we have started producing jams on-farm. We have a great papaya jam, and then mixing that with coconut or ginger - and even turning it into chutney. Where we can, we are trying to collaborate because we find that's where the greatest success lies. Someone who specialises in alcohol or even using the FNQ Incubators in Cairns who have commercial kitchens that can be hired."
A major highlight for Skybury was the launch of its alcoholic beverage range, from Papaya (and other tropical fruit) vodka, schnapps and liqueurs, which have already proven a success internationally, as well as domestically, being stocked at some major liquor retailers as well as through the company's online store and on-site.
"We had the opportunity to work with Troy from FNQ Spirits," Ms MacLaughlin said. "That relationship is probably 18 months old now. It started when the pandemic first started having an effect and he came to us looking for coffee, and I told him that we had a lot of papaya that we needed to find a home for, and we started working together to create this amazing range of alcoholic beverages. We weren't really expecting it to be as successful as it has been. We have won multiple awards now - both domestically and internationally. We got the best vodka in some London competitions. To have that recognition for the product has been outstanding."
The vodka and jam products are made through Skybury's excess fruit, meaning produce that is too small or too ripe to be shipped from the farm. Ms MacLaughlin says it is about creating value for a product that might not make it into an existing market.
Another project that Skybury is working on is cosmetic products, from the seed of the papaya.
"You can actually dry it and get an oil out of it," Ms MacLaughlin said. "That oil has amazing fatty acid components and is highly valued in the beauty industry. So, it goes towards a range of oils and serums."
The Skybury plantation is based near Mareeba, north of Cairns in Far North Queensland, it also grows coffee and has a retail store and cafe on-site, with farm visits. It was the first commercial plantation to introduce the larger red varieties to the Australian market. Another way Ms MacLaughlin says the company is aiming to attract consumers is through looking into new varieties through research and development, which she notes will always remain a core part of the business.
"We are always after something that is sweet and has a bit of shelf life," she said. "For us, it is all about the consumer and how we can improve their eating experience. So, we ask can we improve our Brix, because that is what I think really makes our product stand out; it is always sweet, but can we take that to another level. Then we are also looking at improvements that we can make on-farm as well, in terms of improving the longevity of the plant or decreasing the mortality rate. When you are farming, you are always looking for improvements on-farm to make us more sustainable and improve the eating experience of the fruit for consumers."