We discovered Loving Earth whilst on the hunt for some glorious Camu Camu a few years back and you could only find and purchase Loving Earth products online at the time. Fast Forward to 2014 and now it has become a massively known and loved conscious brand selling super foods and the most delicious chocolate of life in supermarkets right across Australia. Going to Loving Earth factory was a dream come true and we can't thank Cormac, Scott and the team any more. An amazing bunch of people!
Tell us about how & why loving earth was born?
The company began about seven years ago after our founders Scott and his wife Martha returned from Mexico with a baby on the way. Having previously worked with producers in India, Scott had begun developing the skills needed to empower these growers to commercialise organic crops. Where he’d been working in rural India, north of Mumbai, much of the topsoil was being used in the construction industry, meaning that the key resource of the local people was being decimated: the land. Going on to work with a Mayan co-op in Mexico, Loving Earth began when Scott & Martha returned to Australia and began importing and selling just a few products in order to support indigenous growers they’d met there.
What were the first products?
The first products were Maca Powder, Cacao Powder, Cacao Butter, Agave Syrup, Lucuma Powder and Mesquite Powder. These were initially sold online.
When did you start making the famous chocolates and what were the first flavours?
It’s a pretty funny story really! When the company started Scott had precisely zero experience or knowledge of making chocolate. He simply realised that the ingredients he was importing were those which were necessary for the creation of raw chocolate. Experimentation time! He started out by making a mess in the kitchen at home. After some reading and advice from people in the business, when it came to the point of tempering the
chocolate (giving it a stable form so it doesn’t melt too easily), the advice he received was pretty simple: it’s not going to work.
Everyone said that a liquid sweetener would be impossible to use on a large scale and that it wasn’t even worth trying to make chocolate with agave. Scott persevered and managed to create a viable product. When the orders trickling in, himself and Richard (now our production manager) found a broken down old bakery to use after hours. They’d head down there after working their day jobs selling renewable electricity and make chocolate all night, hand-wrapping it and selling online.
As interest increased, it became a fulltime endeavour - Scott, Richard and Martha processing orders, designing the website and packaging, making chocolate and basically everything else necessary. It spread to the spare room, crept down the corridor, filled up the garage and when it began to completely take over the kitchen it was time to move! A premises was found, staff were hired and the company grew. For the past seven years we’ve not been able to keep up with demand and three years ago we moved into our current home in Campbellfield. But our capacity still wasn’t enough to satiate the appetite of all you chocolate lovers!
So finally, now in 2014, we’ve secured an additional facility in Scoresby (just outside Melbourne) which will be dedicated to chocolate production. Exciting times! The first flavours back in 2007 were those of the Agave Chocolate range: Dark, Goji, Lucuma Maca and Crunchy Mint.
It seems like a loving workplace – tell us the diversity of where everyone is from?
There’s over a dozen nationalities here – aside from the Aussies we have a large number of Nepalese, many of whom have been here from the earliest days. There are New Zealanders, Americans, Indians, Mexicans, Lebanese, Japanese, Irish, English, Dutch, Italian and others. Over the years we’ve had people on our team from every continent. Definitely some interesting lunches going around!
How does the workplace practice conscious decisions – eg. You can talk about people riding to work, the staff lunches, how you recycle etc.
All of these things have grown organically (no pun intended!). Basically the majority of people here are interested in conscious living. That said, there are plenty who had no connection to organics etc before they started working here, though the majority are people who’ve been conscious of what they consume and how they live for a number of years prior to working at Loving Earth. Generally the team is made up of artists, musicians, cooks, nutritionists and various other creative type people.
Loads of us cycle, so we take part in events like Ride2Work Day. We have a Workers Council and an Equality Officer to help make sure that everyone’s concerns are heard. There’s an EBA (Enterprise Bargaining Agreement) in place to make sure that people can ensure that they’re fairly treated.
At some point the idea came up to have staff lunches, which began with myself and a few others taking turns (I used to work as a cook). It gradually became a regular thing and now every Monday lunch is provided for the whole company.
It’s always nutritious and wholefoods-based and a really informal affair, which is great as it saves you having to think about lunch on Sunday night! Once a month we have a big party on a Thursday to celebrate peoples’ birthdays and events in the life of Loving Earth. We used to do it in the evenings and it would be a bit of a boozy affair but as the staff grew we changed it so that everyone could attend at the same time, and now we keep it alcohol free for obvious reasons (drinking and operating machinery don’t mix!).
A major draw card on your instagram is the staff lunches – people love what you guys eat for lunch! Tell us about who makes them and some of the delicious creations so far?
The two main cooks here are Gian and Trent, but a lot of others join in or take the reins when those guys are too busy. We basically travel all over the world from our kitchen table! It helps that they’re both vegan and have previously worked as cooks, as it means we can cater for everyone.
Very occasionally there’ll be a dairy-inclusive option but roughly half the staff are vegan so it works out best like that. In terms of delicious creations so far…that’s a tall order! Everything from Laksa, San Choy Bow or Bánh Mì to Senegalese Cashew Soup, Moroccan Tagine or Sushi…so many! Check out some of the recipes here: https://lovingearth.net/recipes/chefs/gian-manik
And at the Queen Victoria Markets in Melbourne you make up special chocolates not available anywhere else –what have been the favourites so far?
Has to be the Coconut Bounty Bites – so good! https://lovingearth.net/recipes/coconut-bounty-bites
Check out our dedicated QVM Instagram account so you’ll know when exclusive flash specials and tastings come up! http://instagram.com/lovingqvm
“So finally now in 2014. we've secured an additional facility in Scoresby (just outside of Melbourne) which will be dedicated to chocolate production ”
Can you tell us about the packaging of loving earth products – the blend of design aesthetic and the sustainability of the packaging?
This is something that’s evolved as we’ve grown. Sustainability is a key part of what we do, and packaging is of course a huge part of that. There’s a challenge inherent in being a company that imports the majority of our produce from abroad, as that puts a lot of miles onto any given product.
To counteract this we transport goods primarily by sea, and we make sure to completely fill a container before it goes on the water whenever possible - which is most of the time. In terms of the packaging itself, almost all of our products are housed in post-consumer recycled board and printed with vegetable-based inks. Our chocolate wrappers are also made of a vegetable-based compostable alternative to plastic, as are our Luvju wrappers.
We still however package some products in plastic, which we’re not happy about. It’s been an ongoing endeavor to find suitable materials which will are both kind to the environment and keep our products nice and fresh. We’re constantly seeking to improve the sustainability of our packaging materials, and as the technology improves this is becoming increasingly successful. Our design aesthetic is also very important to us. We feel that beautiful products deserve beautiful packaging, and we work very closely with our designers to ensure that we successfully communicate the essential aspects of our brand.
You personally spent some time in WA visiting the land and people growing the Gubinge for Loving Earth – can you tell us about it?
Just under two years ago I took a trip to Broome in WA to document the harvest. It was fantastic! Gubinge is a native Australian superfood and the highest source of vitamin C on the planet, and Bruno Dann and the Nyul Nyul people from the Kimberley region near Broome wild harvest it using ancient methods of caring for the land which have almost been lost.
They’ve been doing fantastic work up there, and in fact it was they who initially approached us about commercialising the plant. Overall it’s been a really successful project.
Being from Ireland, I’d never visited anywhere like that before. I’d lived in Mexico but the desert there is very different. I was entirely blown away by the beauty of the place and the people, but also by the sadness of the history out there. I could speak at length on it but actually I blogged about it here, which tells the full story: https://lovingearth.net/blog/2012/11/out-harvest-part-i.
And then the process of getting the Gubinge from WA to your factory, what you do to it and how it ends up on our shelves?
We actually want to make a video of this! Here’s the process:
The local harvesters go out on the land early in the year and pick as much ripe Gubinge as there is to be had. Some years there’s just one harvest, some years up to three. (During the course of the year they act as custodians of the land, removing non-native grasses and doing selective backburning which allows the native flora and fauna to thrive.)
As soon as possible after being picked the Gubinge is brought to big freezers in Beagle Bay, where many of the pickers live. The harvesters are paid and the fruit is transported in refrigerated trucks via Broome to Melbourne where it goes into Loving Earth’s freezers.
We defrost it in batches and process it in our large blenders before spreading it on trays and dehydrating it overnight. At the beginning we used to dehydrate the whole fruit but the skin was too tough and water would too often be retained.
After dehydrating it we grind the whole fruit including the seed into a very fine powder before putting it in jars and sealing them, ready for sale. (The Aboriginal people we met swallow the seed, as it helps with digestion.)
Finally any new products or ideas coming that you can spill the nibs about to our readers?
Well, with our new facility things are going to be getting pretty interesting around here over the next year, as we have tons of ideas! So much of our energy has been consumed with keeping things going and logistical considerations, so we’ve spent the past year getting a lot of things in place organization-wise to enable us to keep making interesting, delicious and healthy products. We can’t quite reveal anything just yet but rest assured there’s LOTS of awesome new ideas on the way!
“...sustainability is a key part of what we do”