Sprouted seeds and pulses could be about to make a major impact on an increasingly health-conscious mainstream market and catapult Aconbury Sprouts out of its current niche supplier status.
The grower and supplier of fresh organic beansprouts, sprouted seeds and wheatgrass is poised on the edge of achieving major multiple recognition to go with its health food store wholesale contracts. The Herefordshire company grows, harvests and packs 20,000 bags of ten varieties of sprouted living 'superfoods' for retail per week, a 40% increase year-on-year.
The enterprise began in 1985 when a cook working at an alternative cancer health centre in Bristol began growing sprouted seeds and pulses to supply patients.
Current owner and organic farmer Jim Hardy bought the business a year later to build it into a national supplier to the health food industry.
Positive endorsements by television nutritionists such as Gillian McKeith have fuelled demand for alfalfa sprouts, wheatgrass and mixed bags of chickpea, aduki bean, lentil and mung bean sprouts.
The company achieved a listing in the Booth's 20 biggest stores last December, and is in six Fresh 'n Wild stores in London.
Following a best in show award at the Food and Drink Exhibition for its Sango radish sprouts, the company has had approaches from Holland & Barrett, Waitrose and Asda, while pre-packed salad companies are also showing an interest.
"The products are a joy to market because they are so nutritious, so convenient and have a delicious flavour," said marketing manager Philippa Swattridge.
"Their great advantage is that they are a living food, not a cut plant, and harvested just as they sprout, when they have more enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals than mature plants."
The sprouts are grown indoors in tanks of fresh water, harvested every week, all year round. Shelf life is 10-12 days if kept chilled.
Ready rinsed bags of organic seed and pulse sprouts are retailing for between 89p and £1.15 per pack for 115g or 230g packs.
"We are still very niche at the moment but I think this is a really big secret in the health food industry, and we aim to bring about mainstream awareness of these products," said Swattridge.