A Queensland-bred “super plum” is set to earn the Queensland Government millions of dollars in royalties in the next 20 years.
“Interest in the high antioxidant plum is coming from every major stone fruit growing country in the world,” Nutrafruit’s Hugh Macintosh said.
“We’ve had calls from Romania, Spain, South America, South Africa, the UK, the USA, across Europe and China, everywhere.”
Nutrafruit has the exclusive licence to market and produce the Queen Garnet plum, which was bred by the Queensland Department of Primary Industry.
The plum has very high levels of anthocyanins, which are believed to provide a range of health benefits.
In a trial run by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), researchers were shocked when obese rats fed the dark red plum returned to their normal body weight, despite staying on a high calorie diet.
“We actually bring everything back to normal. Blood pressure, heart function, liver structure and function, hormone changes, the obesity, all of these come back to normal, despite this incredible junk food diet,” said USQ Professor Lindsay Brown.
“What we saw in the tissues of these animals there were no more inflammatory cells after treatment. Inflammatory cells cause long term damage to any tissue they are in. We are seeing this incredibly effective anti-inflammatory action.”
After Australian media reports about the fat rat trial results were picked up by the international media last year, Nutrafruit was inundated with calls from around the world.
“People wanted to know how they could get trees and where they could buy the fruit and the juice,” Mr Macintosh said.
“It reminds me of the baby formula crisis. People are saying we can’t find it where can we buy it?”
‘I don’t think anyone could have imagined the reaction’
Nutrafruit is a consortium of Queensland agribusiness mates which bought the rights to the plum from the Queensland Government in 2010.
The company sub-licences tree nurseries to produce the trees, and has handpicked orchardists in each state to grow them.
A worker helps with packing the Queen Garnet plums.
Photo: Demand has skyrocketed for Queen Garnets, selling for twice the price of normal plums. (ABC News: Pip Courtney)
The company has just hosted a delegation from Spain, which will be one of the first overseas countries to plant Queensland Government orchards.
Mr Macintosh predicted there would be several million trees in the ground within five years, half a million of those in Australia.
The first and biggest orchard in the country with 75,000 trees is near Inglewood in south east Queensland, owned by woolgrower Bim Goodrich, who said he was shocked by the worldwide interest.
“I don’t think anyone could have imagined the reaction. It’s just amazing,” he said.
At $12 a kilogram, Queen Garnet plums are twice the price of normal plums.
Mr Macintosh has heard reports of some fruiters charging $18.
Brisbane fruit wholesaler Viny Byrne struggled to meet demand for the fruit this summer, and said in 20 years he has never seen such strong interest in any fruit or vegetable.
“It’s very exciting for the industry, and the potential for export is huge.
“This will kill it in Asia. The market there has an insatiable appetite for things like this.”
He said everyone was waiting to see if trials on humans mirror the results seen in the fat rats.
“If we get proof of that, the sky is the limit.”
Early human trial results ‘amazing’
Insatiable consumer demand and high fruit prices means Australian farmers are keen to plant Queen Garnets, but only those approved by Nutrafruit will be licensed to grow the trees.
“Thirteen orchards are currently being planted. We have an organic grower in Swan Hill who has put in 40,000 trees, there are 20,000 going in around Shepparton and a similar number in WA,” said the Goodrich Fruit Co’s orchard manager, Rowan Berecry.
“A fellow in Tasmania is going to put some in, and in New South Wales we have a grower putting in 50,000.”
Meanwhile, a clinical trial to see how the plum affects humans is being run in Victoria.
Professor Brown said early indications were “amazing”.
“We are getting really good results on blood pressure,” he said.
“It’s a fairly short trial so weight [loss] might be a bit much to hope for within 12 weeks in humans, as eight weeks in rats is something like two years to humans.”
The leader of USQ’s Functional Foods Research Group is pleased more research into the Queen Garnet plum is being done.
The University of Wollongong is testing the Queen Garnet on elderly participants in a dementia trial, and the Queensland Government has awarded a three-year research fellowship to Dr Sunil Panchal who worked with Professor Brown on the “fat rat” experiment.
“Sunil will try and develop some of these products with industry. I think that is really exciting, and certainly the way forward,” Professor Brown said.
“Treating chronic diseases or delaying their onset would make a tremendous change to the health care budget.”
The Chairman of Summerfruits Australia said the Queen Garnet was the most exciting development in the stone fruit industry in living memory.
Andy Finlay said the plum’s extraordinary success showed the value of government investment in research and development.
“I think it’s a real shame this project closed down when you have something like this which comes out of it now being hailed as a world super food,” he said.
“There is value in R&D and it does not always pay off on the day you spend the money. It’s something for the future and that’s what we’ve seen with this variety.”