EnInterview conducted by our CEO, Antonio Ramirez by FRESH PLAZA, the leading magazine and portal in the fruit and vegetable sector.
Fruits and vegetables are essential healthy foods in our diet, whose consumption, as shared on the website of the international movement “5 a day”, is associated with a lower risk of mortality and chronic diseases. To make it easier for consumers to take them at any time and place in an easy and tasty way, there are options such as Natural Crunch and its dehydrated organic fruit and vegetable snacks.
“Our snack manufacturing process simply aims to concentrate the flavor and replace the water with air so that we get a crunchy texture. This is all done at a mild temperature, so that as many of the product’s nutritional properties, vitamins and minerals can be preserved, and without adding anything (no salt or sugar or sweeteners or any other additives). We do this by means of a gentle air drying process at a moderate temperature, followed by a vacuum expansion process and a final drying with extra-dry air,” says Antonio Ramírez Fajardo, CEO of the Almeria-based company from the municipality of Benahadux.
“To ensure we obtain excellent products, we have to start with excellent raw materials. Thus, we make it a rule to always use selected seasonal organic vegetable products at their optimum point of ripeness. We try to resort to local products, such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini or oranges from Almeria, strawberries or blueberries from Huelva, broccoli from Murcia, pumpkin from Granada, sweet potatoes from Malaga or Cadiz or beets from Cordoba. However, in some cases, as is the case with tropical fruits, the initial processing phase (handling of the fresh product and the first gentle drying prior to expansion) is carried out close to the areas where they are grown,” which has several advantages, according to Antonio.
“First of all, the raw material is at its optimum point of ripeness, but we also reduce the carbon footprint by transporting dehydrated products instead of fresh produce (less weight and less need for refrigeration), and we facilitate the development of local economies through the generation of added value on their surplus fruit productions.”
“We always do this through supplier approval processes, in which not only their documentation and facilities are audited, but also their own production processes. This way, we make sure that they are able to implement the processing conditions indicated by us, so that the quality is exactly what we need and their products meet our specifications.”
From “food for astronauts” to being part of a state R&D&I program.
The province of Almeria is a key producer of fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe and also a driver of innovation in the agri-food sector, with companies that are actively involved in research and new developments. One of these is Natural Crunch, which is currently involved in the project “Development of fast healthy food solutions through a range of healthy snacks“, carried out under the State Program for R & D + i Oriented to the Challenges of Society-Challenges in Collaboration, funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the European Regional Development Fund.
“After leaving the University of Almeria to set up a food innovation consultancy, among other projects, we researched how to extract natural antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, developed the process with which we make our snacks, and 10 years ago we decided to set up our own factory to be able to offer something that contributes to and facilitates the consumption of fruits and vegetables.”
“Another of our motivations was to find a use for the high quality fruits and vegetables that, for aesthetic reasons, or due to overproduction, have no commercial outlet,” says Antonio. “This is the policy we apply to all our flavors, with which the production is rotated throughout the year in line with the seasons and production schedules.”
“The market for these products is not yet mature and changes a lot from one country to another, from one channel to another and from one customer to another. For example, in the chains in Spain, the favorite fruits are apples, mangoes and blueberries, and the top vegetables are sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.”
“But, year after year, we see consumers becoming more familiar with our products. When we started, we were congratulated for ‘having invented fabulous food for astronauts’ and now we have more than 6,000 diehard fans.”
Unique in the market
“This is a new product category, but different players are starting to appear with different alternatives, including vacuum fried products from Thailand, baked ones from Portugal, and frosted or freeze-dried ones from America or even China. However, our vegetables and fruits are the only crunchy ones without the need for frying, freezing or baking, and with nothing added, so we can proudly say that we are genuine in the category and that we offer the healthiest crunchy vegetables and fruits on the market,” says the CEO of Natural Crunch.
“We have worked with all channels, supplying ingredients for the industry and caterers and offering direct sales to the consumer. In Spain, our products can be found in the organic area of retailers such as Carrefour, Alcampo or El Corte Inglés; on the shelves of Hiperdino, Maskom, and BM supermarkets; in premium stores, such as Sánchez Romero, or in specialized organic chains, such as Veritas, Herbolario Navarro, etc. All products and formats are also available to any location through our online store. We believe that, given the growing demand and the increasingly demanding consumers of all kinds, going for omnichannel is the best option.”
Natural Crunch’s organic snacks are ready to eat. “You just open the package and enjoy them,” says Antonio Ramírez, “although they can also be used to enrich your dishes as toppings, as a garnish or side dish, and to dip on hummus or guacamole.”