At wits end, Scott feeds a taste for pulses

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Photo of Scott Niewand, holding bags of his Wits End pulses

Scott Niewand: taking pulses to the people

PHOTO: Tom Bicknell

Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and who has grown it. But attaching a strong provenance story to a crop typically sold through bulk collection systems is not a simple task.

So Rupanyup grower Scott Niewand decided to go about it a different way.

Scott had grown up eating lentils and chickpeas grown on the Niewand family farm, ‘Wits End’, and cooked them for friends while he was living in Melbourne. In October last year he decided to take his family-grown product to a broader audience, and began selling pre-packed Wits End Pulses-branded lentils and chickpeas direct to consumers at farmer’s markets in Abbotsford and Collingwood.

“We did a few farmer’s markets and got really good feedback, and thought there might be something there,” Scott says. “We kept going with it, and each little step, whether we went and spoke directly to a restaurant or through online sales, we kept getting good feedback, so it’s gone from there.”

The ‘pod to plate’ story of the family farm has been an effective selling point. The Niewands have been growing pulses since the 1980s, and have been farming at ‘Wits End’ for six generations. The farm’s name is certainly a hook with consumers.

“It’s the first thing everyone asks about,” says Scott. “My parents have been trying to get rid of that name for decades – they’ve never been fond of it – but I’ve brought it back into the spotlight.”

The Wits End brand currently offers three product lines; Kabuli chickpeas, PBA Ace medium red lentils, and PBA Hurricane XT small red lentils. Next year, Scott aims to launch new product lines in faba beans, split red lentils, and French green lentils. About 250 kilograms of Wits End Pulses pre-packs are sent out each month to restaurants and consumers from Western Australia to Queensland. While Scott says this is still only a tiny portion of the farm’s production, sales are steadily building, and selling online involves very little upfront cost.

“Packing is done manually here in the kitchen at the moment, but we’re in discussions with someone to contract pack it,” he says. “It’s no fun staying up until midnight packing lentils the night before a market day, and it’s got to the point where we need to get it done by someone else.”

Scott sees a big opportunity to increase the consumption of lentils and chickpeas in Australia. While the country produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the crops, very little is actually sold here. Australians in the main are unsure about cooking pulses and Scott says even growers at Rupanyup, the “pulse capital of Australia”, often aren’t sure what to do with them in the kitchen.

“There’s lots of people who grow chickpeas and lentils, but don’t eat them.”

He says feedback from consumers at farmer’s markets has shown that many people don’t know how to cook lentils and chickpeas, or don’t know what to cook with them. Scott says there’s clearly a need for more education to make pulses a greater part of the Australian diet and food culture.

“The Australian market is pretty small at the moment, but hopefully it can grow. We’ve certainly changed the diet in our house.”

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