Lupins are familiar to most as stockfeed, but the humble legume may be poised to become the next human health food revolution. Boasting 40% protein, 37% dietary fibre and only 4% carbohydrate its competitors such as chick peas and quinoa pale in comparison to this golden yellow star.
David and Lee-ann Fienberg of The Lupin Co are at the forefront of the revolution, with growers in Mingenew and Coorow harvesting lupin crops which are then processed at their purpose-built milling facility in Bullsbrook.
David had his first foray into lupin farming more than thirty years ago.
“I come from a family farm around Mullewa and by a twist of fate in 1987 I planted my first lupin crop and found that it did amazing things for soil,” says David.
“Around the same time, I was working for CBH and was involved in managing a number of businesses, one of which was about lupin exports – at that stage it was about lupin exports for stock feed.”
In 2016, although now semi-retired, lupins still lingered on David’s mind.
“I felt I had a bit of unfinished business. My wife and I decided we needed to give this one more shot,” he says.
The combination of David’s farming background and business prowess gave the business a head start, but he also met the market with perfect timing. Launching a gluten-free, high protein, plant-based product with low carbohydrates, which is also GM free and sustainably grown – to a population that is actively searching for the same – has seen the success of The Lupin Co exceed their expectations.
Fundamental to the growth of the company was entering the market with value-added products. Anyone who has tried to make a shift in their diet for medical or general health benefits knows it can be overwhelming to completely swap out a staple ingredient for a healthier alternative. The Lupin Co’s cookie and protein bar mixes, breadcrumb and rice substitutes make it convenient to start substituting lupins for grains.
The Lupin Co also offer versatile lupin flakes, which can be used in everything from salads and smoothies to desserts, and a new product, lupin flour.
“Lupins are pretty close to neutral in flavour, but they carry flavour well,” says David.
“They have an amino acid profile that makes them a complete food. Other than vitamin B12 and iron, the scientists tell me you could live off lupins — with the exception of water!”
Dr John Gladstones released the first fully-domesticated lupin (Lupinus angustifolius) adapted to Western Australian conditions in the late 1960s. This was a major technological breakthrough and Western Australia now produces 80-85% of the world’s lupin supply.
This hardy crop requires little water to grow and is largely free of the common problems that can plague other grain crops, requiring no chemical pest management.
“The water activity of lupins is really, really low — down to a level where bugs, fungi, mould etc just don’t live,” explains David.
“The benefits of growing lupins for farmers are: reducing organic nitrogen, the plant is tap-rooted so improves soil quality and sequesters carbon, it’s really thick foliage stifles weed growth.”
The low moisture content and large inter-granular space of lupins means they can be stored on the farms for up to three years, being brought down to Bullsbrook for processing on a just-in-time basis.
The Lupin Co was awarded Most Sustainable Product and came second in the Best New Health Food category at the world’s largest food and beverage trade show in Dubai in 2018.
“I’ve made a tonne of mistakes over the way, but also some good decisions,” says David. “One of them has been to get involved with a product that, as I travel globally, everyone says, ‘Wow this is amazing – how come I haven’t heard about it?’”
The Lupin Co products are sold through 700 independent grocers across Australia and internationally in New Zealand, Dubai, Bahrain, Singapore and the United Kingdom. With demand only expected to rise, The Lupin Co is focused on sharing their success with the wider community.
David explains, “Current volumes in WA are 750,000 tonnes and it can potentially increase to 4.5 million tonnes.
“We would love to employ lots more local staff. We use local manufacturers and we are really passionate about local community. We would love growers and the community to get behind the product.”
“If we are going to be successful anywhere in the world, it should be in WA.”