13 December 2023

Yenda's groundbreaking Naturally Dried Prunes company begins on-farm chocolate coating

| Oliver Jacques
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Ann Further holding two packets

Ann Furner now coats her prunes in chocolate on her farm. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A revolutionary Griffith prune producer has taken its “paddock to packet” business to the next level by chocolate coating its fruit on-site for the first time, using a panning machine imported from Italy.

Naturally Dried Prunes, located on a family farm near Yenda, is Australia’s only company that makes prune products the way its name implies.

“Most producers put their fresh plums into a tunnel in a shed and they force hot air over them using gas,” owner Ann Furner said.

“But we use solar tunnels to dry our fruit naturally. That way we really reduce our carbon footprint; we only use a tiny bit of electricity to drive some fans.

“The Griffith region produces 95 per cent of Australia’s prunes, but we’re the only grower doing it like this.

“We sell a full range of chocolate-coated prunes; we’ve got milk, dark, white and caramel chocolate, which are our staples, and we’ve got pitted prunes and whole prunes.”

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After launching the business in 2019, Ms Furner used the Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory to coat the produce in chocolate for the first four years of operation, but has now started to do the coating on her farm.

“We have decided to control the whole process,” Ms Furner said.

“We have bought a chocolate panning machine from Italy and have done a lot of training to learn the art of chocolate making. We are using a fine Belgian chocolate brand, Callebaut.”

Melted chocolate

Coating fruit in chocolate is as fun as it sounds. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Since becoming her own version of Mrs Wonka, she’s found out coating fruit in chocolate is just as mouthwatering as it sounds.

“It’s a layering process; you slowly dribble some chocolate in, the product rolls around and catches the chocolate and builds up a layer. The fruit gets nice and evenly coated,” Ms Furner said.

Her family business is in some ways similar to Griffith’s Limone Restaurant, a “paddock to plate” operation that prepares meals at its eatery using produce grown on the business’s own farm.

“My husband [Anthony Nehme] put it best when he said we are a paddock to packet business,” Ms Furner said.

“We pick the fresh plums we grow, we clean them, we put them on solar tunnels to dry them for three to seven days, then send them to Yenda to be graded, then they’re pitted at a place near Mildura before being transported back here. We do all the packaging by hand on the farm.”

The small company produces about 55 tonnes of prunes a year.

“The fruit shrinks down a lot; three tonne of fresh plums equals one tonne of prunes,” she said.

Ms Furner, 42, grew up on broadacre farm near Goolgowi, left the region to study horticultural science and moved back to Griffith 20 years ago.

“We were living in a tiny unit in Griffith and we decided we wanted some space when a farm came up to buy near Yenda … I became the youngest female prune grower in Australia at age 27,” Ms Furner said.

Ann Furner next to her machine

Ann Furner bought her chocolate panning machine from Italy. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

She was impressed to learn about all the health benefits of her new product.

“They’re great for gut health but also for bone health. Astronauts eat prunes in space as they lose bone density,” Ms Furner said.

The couple are now looking beyond plums and are trialling three new products coated in dark chocolate – apricot halves, roasted hazelnuts and roasted coffee beans.

“Our aim is to use only local products – the apricots are grown in Mildura, the hazelnuts in Wagga, the almonds from Mandole Orchards (in Lake Wyangan) and the coffee beans are roasted in Griffith,” Ms Furner said.

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Naturally Dried Prune packets can be purchased at Knights Riverina in Wagga, Vinne’s Fruitz in Narrandera, the Leeton Visitors Information Centre, a number of outlets in Griffith, or online via the family’s website.

Prune farm tours can also be booked through Ms Furner’s website and as part of more expansive tours through the wider region via Bella Vita Tours and Griffith Tours.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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