Hayley Blieden has created an extraordinary business that taps into the most authentic Australian fare available – our own superfoods. A dietitian with an MBA, Blieden has set about bringing Australian native superfoods into kitchens around the country and the world with her company, The Australian Superfood Co.
After tapping into a unique market that is relatively new territory, Blieden’s raison d’etre is to increase awareness, accessibility and affordability of our Native ingredients, and in turn, increase demand in order to encourage their cultivation.
“I have always been passionate about nutrition and business. I knew I didn’t want to follow the traditional dietitian’s path, choosing instead to focus on designing foods that enhance the way people feel and perform,” Blieden says. “A growing global interest in health and foreign superfoods ignited my curiosity about native Australian superfoods, so I began researching what our country has to offer.”
The passion for native food was ignited on a trip to Alice Springs and Uluru, where Blieden tasted “bush tucker” for the first time. Blieden noticed with excitement that these native foods, which had sustained Indigenous Australians for over 50,000 years in some of the harshest climates in the world, had distinctive and intoxicating flavours. “I knew that I wanted to share these foods and flavours with Australia and the world,” Blieden says. Thus the concept of Australian Superfood Co was born.
Blieden’s experience in the Northern Territory drove her to find out more about the nutritional content and current farming practices of Australian native food, and after visiting remote communities in the region, Blieden discovered a pattern in their recurring health issues borne out of inadequate consumption of fresh food. Community elders spoke to her about their poor diet; they now consumed mainly cheap, processed fast food instead of relying on their traditional diet, which featured fresh native foods. “I was thrilled to discover that Australian bush tucker has superfood nutritional status, which made me realise Indigenous communities could benefit from collecting and cultivating bush tucker,” Blieden says.
As a result, the Australian Superfood Co’s deeper agenda is to enhance the respect for Australia’s Indigenous culture, and promote the growth and development of Indigenous communities. The company does a lot of work with these communities, from sourcing ingredients to contributing back to the community financially.
The company has a multi-faceted approach to this work, including sourcing as much produce as possible from indigenous communities around Australia to encourage them to continue sourcing and growing the industry.
“We currently source and sell wild harvested wattle seed and Kakadu plum, which are 100% sourced through Indigenous communities,” Blieden says. “By doing this, we not only provide an income stream, but we also enable these communities a platform to tell their stories of how they currently and historically used native Australian produce as a source a nutrition and medicine.”
A big part of this project is engaging young indigenous people in the work, Blieden says. Recently, teenagers from Wadeye to Melbourne were brought in to see the first production run of the bars. They were the first people to
taste the bars and see how the Kakadu plum their families picked is now being incorporated into packaged food products.
“We’re trying to show the youth in these communities the different opportunities that they have by supplying these ingredients,” Blieden says. “These range from hospitality and supplying restaurants and cafes with ingredients to showing them the manufacturing process of our bars and granolas.”
Blieden’s company also gives back annual donations to different indigenous communities – last year, for example, they funded the repainting of houses in Jabiru in the Northern Territory.
Blieden says the partnerships between Indigenous communities and the Australian Superfood Co. so far have been successful.
“We are having regular conversations [with indigenous communities] regarding increasing supply and furthering research on the fruits to debunk common misconceptions that are circulating. We regard our work as a partnership, which is ongoing and mutually beneficial,” Blieden says.
The day-to-day work of Australian Superfood Co is much like any successful supplier. The distribution is broad with a varied customer base, from Attica to Dinner by Heston, to Perth fine-diner Wildflower. “With a growing interest in these native foods, we’re seeing that more and more restaurants are interested in using our native Australian ingredients throughout their menus,” Blieden says.
The company has also made the natural progression into the café scene, health food stores, greengrocers and independent supermarkets, and they also supply ingredients to other brands who incorporate them into their own products from gin, to juice, to their own granolas and even chocolate.
Beyond Australia, Blieden says there’s a strong international appetite for these native Australian foods. “We’re really proud to be exporting our products to [customers in] Japan, Korea, U.K, Singapore and United States who love seeing what Australia has to offer,” Blieden says.
Blieden says it’s quite a thrill to learn what chefs create using the ingredients the company supplies. “Chefs are always looking for new and unusual ingredients to cook with… something to give them that edge and to challenge them,” she says. “We never know what they are going to be creating when they purchase our ingredients but we are always amazed at how inventive and authentic their dishes end up being!”
Blieden says she sees the native superfoods she supplies as rare and unique rather than unusual.
“People are excited about them and are always amazed when hearing about their exceptionally high nutritional value – that’s why we love them so much,” Blieden says. “A good example is the Kakadu Plum, which has the highest source of Vitamin C of any fruit in the world. This ingredient that has been sitting in our backyard for tens of thousands of years.”
Blieden says people shouldn’t be afraid to use these ingredients just because they’re unfamiliar with them at first. “Once you try them and learn about their flavours, they’re really easy to incorporate into your daily life and home cooking,” Blieden says, further stating that that’s why they have such a strong recipe archive on their website. “It’s all about educating our customers and the public,” she says.
“This year, our ingredients have appeared a lot on Masterchef, so education around our ingredients is increasing. Hopefully soon, cooks will be substituting riberry for cloves and finger lime for lemon!”
Blieden has got to taste a lot of the food created by chefs using her products, exclaiming that she continues to be amazed by the tasty combinations people in the industry come up with. “We can’t get enough of the Riberry Pink Gin cocktail from Dinner by Heston Blumenthal,” Blieden says. “We also love the Dry Aged Wagin Duck Breast with sweet Quandong from Wildflower (or their Wood Grilled Arkady Lamb with Sheep’s Curd and Native herbs).”
Blieden says she also never ceases to be delighted by the discovery of how these native ingredients can be used in her own cooking. “At Australian Superfood Co, we are completely obsessed with Mountain Pepper Leaf and love using it in our home-cooked mushroom pastas, particularly Pappardelle. It really spices things up and gives it an earthy flavour.”