Noodle demand bridges cultural tastes

[Photo by Brad Collis: Mr Ken Tohara inspecting soba noodles being made at the Hakubaku noodle factory in Ballarat, Victoria]

[Photo by Brad Collis: Mr Ken Tohara inspecting soba noodles being made at the Hakubaku noodle factory in Ballarat, Victoria]

To show appreciation for good Japanese noodles it is customary to make slurping noises as you eat - and if Ballarat-based Japanese noodle manufacturer Hakubaku has its way, slurping will soon be Aussie etiquette as well.

After setting up in Ballarat in 1996 to be close to the source of Australian-grown Rosella wheat for its range of noodles sold in Japan, it is now also entering the Australian market with its udon, soba and somen noodles. Hakubaku"s research identified Rosella as the ideal variety for elasticity, adhesiveness, consistency and appearance, so to ensure supplies it decided to establish an operation in Australia.

The Ballarat plant produces 2000 tonnes of noodles a year for export to Japan and the US, and more recently for sale in Australian supermarkets.

Finance manager Ken Tohara says Japanese customers are discerning, and are willing to pay for a top-quality, higher-priced noodle.

It is an observation also made by AWB, and product development manager Cindy Mills says this is why Asia is a major growth market for wheat-based products. She says AWB intends to target Asian markets with increasingly differentiated wheat products tailored to the region"s consumer diversity: "We aim to sell 60 per cent of Australian export wheat into Asia by 2008," she says.

Conversely, Hakubaku sees opportunity in Australia. The company believes that Eastern-style diets incorporating noodles have health benefits for Western cultures.

Hakubaku sources its organic Rosella wheat from the Flood Plain Organic Group based at Balranald, in south-western NSW. Rosella is grown through a controlled flooding system beside the Murrumbidgee River. The system enriches the soil by adding river sediment. Submerged fields help control pests and eliminate the need for chemicals or pesticides.

Mr Tohara says ensuring consistent supply remains a challenge, although having an Australian operation has helped. "A stable supply of high-quality wheat is our main requirement and this can be difficult because of the climate here," he says.

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