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Ulu Summit: Introducing ‘gluten free’ breadfruit to the world market

reporters@samoanews.com

Commercialization of ‘ulu’ (breadfruit) at an industrial scale for export has yet to occur anywhere in the world. But with ‘gluten free’ one of the latest health food buzz words, the discovery that ulu is gluten free, will open a window of opportunity for a fruit most of the world knows little about. 

The Ulu Summit sponsored by the American Samoa Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the A.S. Dept. of Commerce, the University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center Program and the U.S. Economic Development Agency (EDA) National University Center is designed to introduce breadfruit to the world market.

Organizers told Samoa News that this week’s Ulu Summit means to explore opportunities to develop and refine ulu processing by taking advantage of the ‘gluten free’ connection, which has the potential to provide major economic development, food security and sustainability benefits for small island countries, including American Samoa.

Breadfruit has been dehydrated and processed successfully into flour in Samoa, Philippines and Jamaica. However, efforts to expand the processing to a sufficiently industrialized scale for the introduction of breadfruit flour in the U.S. market, as a gluten free food product has not been tried.

The few countries developing breadfruit flour in the Pacific have yet to connect with a major distribution network in the U.S.

Now, through the joint efforts of the ASG Department of Commerce deputy director, Lelei Peau and University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center Program (PBCP) senior business manager, Dr. C.L. Cheshire, FoodSource G.H. Robinson — one of the largest logistics and distribution companies for food products in the U.S. — will be a presenter at this conference.

The presentation by FoodSource’s Sean Nelsen, will feature the gluten free market and distribution strategies with potential growth demand for the gluten free products. (Two of FoodSource’s major clients are Subway Sandwiches and Trader Joe’s.)

The Ulu Summit will bring research expertise, food engineering and manufacturing technical capacity, market experience and food security strategies together.

The interaction of visiting and host resources accelerates the progress towards the development of a viable model for industrial manufacturing and processing of ulu into ulu flour among other food related initiatives.

SHARING THE BENEFITS

Given the looming demand for gluten free foods in the U.S. market, the Ulu Summit will be discussing development of a concept model that is deemed viable, as much of the research testing and design work will be done by a process no single community entity can afford.

It is believed that the benefits from the Summit would jump-start many island communities that can support the developed model.

The model developed at the Summit will require a design that addresses the scale of the manufacturing and processing so it is adaptable to the needs of a variety of communities and their uses.

A viable summit model on the table encourages communities to form cluster groups to share processing. Like spokes on a wheel, they will be linked to a central processing and manufacturing center for each island for export and shipping. 

This can then be consolidated in American Samoa in the South Pacific, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in the Central Pacific and Guam in the Far East Pacific. These processing and manufacturing centers can then all link to a shipping and distribution hub in Hawaii for multiple freight destinations on the west coast.

WHY AMERICAN SAMOA AS A MANUFACTURING CENTER?

American Samoa has a total land area of 76.1 square miles and two thirds of it mountainous. The agricultural land available for increasing the production of breadfruit is insufficient for supporting a new breadfruit industry. 

However, American Samoa has the basic food manufacturing and export infrastructure in place through decades of exporting canned tuna. Ulu grown in Independent Samoa and shipped to American Samoa for processing into an export product from American Samoa can gain access to the marketing and distribution network of the specialty foods industry in the U.S. and beyond.

Also on the drawing board is the cocoa industry that can contribute to the success of the ulu venture and use similar manufacturing and distribution infrastructure.

Following the model established by the tuna industry, Pago Pago enjoys the status of a duty-free, tax-free gateway to the U.S. market. Consequently, partnering with its Pacific Island neighbor, the Independent Island State of Samoa with a total land area of 1,133 square miles, brings to the table substantial agricultural land capacity in support of the breadfruit initiative.

GLUTEN FREE

U.S. News and World Report wrote in June 2012, “A gluten-free diet has been touted as a cure for everything from obesity and rashes to autism and migraines. Gluten-free products now command their own keys on menus and sections in grocery stores. Previously exotic grains that lack gluten, like quinoa and amarinth, have become more mainstream. And manufacturers are promoting their gluten-free products.”

In the U.S. the demand for gluten-free (GF) food and beverage products has increased astronomically since 2008, going from$1.54 billion to an estimated $3.31 billion in 2012 and is projected to double again by 2017.  (Gluten Free Foods and Beverages Market: Trends and Developments in the U.S. 4th ed,  www.packagedfacts.com).

The largest part of this market is baked goods and snacks that substitute GF flour for wheat flour. A gluten free beer has also hit the market and is gaining in popularity. Local breweries may want to investigate that potential.

THE PLAYERS

Pacific Business Center Program (PBCP) is an advocate of market driven development and provides technical assistance utilizing the technical and scientific resources of the University of Hawaii system and national university center programs supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce-Economic Development Administration (EDA). PBCP engages government and community needs by invitation only with the agreement that a counterpart is trained to replace the need for PBCP technical assistance.

The EDA National University Center program links the top university technical and scientific expertise in the nation providing state of the art technology, research, engineering and scientific know-how to support the growth and strength of American Economic development and initiatives that include the American Affiliated Island governments of the Pacific.

The PBCP, winner of six national and three regional awards in the past ten years for its project management, technical assistance and leadership in the Pacific region, serves the largest EDA University Center area in the nation that includes the State of Hawaii and the US Affiliated Island Governments of the Pacific.

The geographic service area is larger then the 48 contiguous states of the Union. The US Department of Commerce-Economic Development Administration, Western Regional Office based in Seattle, Washington, supports PBCP.

Governor Togiola Tulafono has tapped the EDA University Center Program to provide technical assistance and support of American Samoa Government initiatives during his administration.

Dr. C. L. Cheshire has assisted ASG with its post disaster economic recovery initiatives under the leadership of the Government Authorized Representative (GAR) Evelyn Langford and is currently assisting the Director of the Department of Commerce by linking University Center expertise to assist with DOC initiatives.



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