Leeuwin Coast’s Akoya – Western Australia’s new frontier for aquaculture
Part of the Harvest Road stable, the Leeuwin Coast aquaculture and seafood brand can genuinely boast that it is one-of-a-kind – on multiple fronts. The launch of the Akoya, a novel shellfish category, is capturing the attention of conscious consumers and discerning foodies around the world.
Leeuwin Coast, known for its oysters, now boasts the world’s first commercial edible Akoya farm, and Australia’s first ever carbon neutral shellfish aquaculture products.
The product has already caught the attention of renowned chefs and taken out prestigious food awards – and recently completed its first commercial sales into the overseas market.
Despite being deep in a global pandemic, Harvest Road forged ahead launching its Leeuwin Coast seafood brand in August 2020, what it describes as, “Western Australia’s new frontier for aquaculture.”
At its launch, Harvest Road Founders Andrew and Nicola Forrest said, “Through being innovative and bold we will challenge paradigms and put Western Australia on the map as a leader in delicious yet sustainable seafood.
“Our journey into aquaculture is going to be a long one and we are excited to bring Albany and the broader WA community along on this ride as we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible and create a world leading aquaculture company.”
General Manager of Harvest Road Aquaculture, Justin Welsh, is helping to push those boundaries.
“Every member of our team and our shareholders are passionate about sustainability. It’s the foundation of our aquaculture business and the reason we pursued becoming carbon neutral,” said Justin.
“One of the ways we really wanted to prove that, was to go down the carbon neutral certification path, so we worked to become the first shellfish aquaculture company to have certified carbon neutral products.
“We explored our supply chains, looked at our operations, and were constantly challenging ourselves and questioning how to be more efficient and cut carbon emissions.”
Justin said critical to that process was working with suppliers with the same mindset.
“Suppliers who either have carbon neutral products already or were on the journey, achieving carbon neutrality in their own supply chains. We sought people and organisations like us, who are happy to challenge the status quo and innovate, push boundaries, and have some fun.”
The Akoya – an innovative shellfish category
Leeuwin Coast’s raw oyster production is supported by world leading technology, but where they’re really breaking new ground is with the Akoya.
An innovative shellfish category, the launch of the Akoya has seen Leeuwin Coast adapt modern technologies to domesticate and commercialise the native species in Australian waters.
Akoya has been traditionally farmed by Japanese producers, where it’s seeded with pearls, whereas Leeuwin Coast has cultivated a culinary delicacy, which Justin Welsh describes as a ‘leap of faith.’
“We knew they were a sustainable product but first we had to learn how to farm them. So, there was a lot of learning, evolving and adapting to market feedback in our production technology,” he said.
“We looked at what the rest of the world was doing in the shellfish aquaculture space to see if any technology could work in our supply chains to figure out a really sustainable way to both harvest and lock in that really premium delicious flavour at the point of harvest to make sure it stays there until it’s on someone’s plate.”
That flavour profile is described as being a hybrid of an abalone and an oyster with the sweetness of a scallop – the ultimate combination of Australia’s premium seafood products.
“That flavour is then shaped by the beautiful crispness we get from the pristine environment we farm in and what we’re really excited about is it’s so versatile as a product,” Justin said.
The natively grown shellfish is perfect cured, cooked or raw and works well with a multitude of other flavours. Justin personally recommends, “Akoya cured in chardonnay, with a little bit of jam on the side, which brings out the sweet notes of the abalone-like texture. I could sit and eat that all day long.”
Premium seafood: on the menu in Australia and Singapore
Critical to the success of the launch of the Akoya to date has been the support of chefs throughout the food and restaurant scene.
“The chef network, especially around Albany, has given us their feedback and provided that end customer focus into our innovation to help us to create the very best product we possibly could,” Justin explained.
A host of top Australian chefs, including Matt Stone, Ben Ing, and Melissa Palinkas, have given the Akoya – and Leeuwin Coast’s rock oysters – a public vouch of confidence and the product has earned high-end praise at the 2021 and 2022 delicious. Harvey Norman Produce Awards.
The accolades and awareness around the Akoya means Justin and his team now have a new focus – balancing production at their regenerative aquaculture operation with the growing demand for the sustainable product.
“We’re looking to introduce this wonderful product to not just all of Australia but the rest of the world as well, so that’s a big step change in terms of scale,” he said.
“Today we’re looking at about 8 million Akoya in the water for our production and that’s going to go up to about 18 million as market demand grows.
“During the height of the pandemic we couldn’t really reach the world, but we were able to deliver on the promise we made to the West Australian market and launch it here first. To create that sense of ownership which we’re really proud of. We’ve also launched in the East Coast and that’s gone fantastically well. The whole story around it being a truly sustainable carbon neutral delicious shellfish product has resonated with like-minded chefs.”
Now, two years after launch, Leeuwin Coast has finalised its first commercial sales into Singapore.
“Those premium markets are really resonating with Akoya and are really excited about it,” Justin said.
“With a brand-new category, you really only get one shot at positioning. Because the Akoya is such a premium flavour we had to make sure it sat among its premium peers. So, when we looked at our export plans, the question was identifying the markets that had a well-developed premium market segment that we could properly service and do right by our product,” he said.
“We’ve got Singapore and now we’re looking at some of the other southeast Asian capital cities and then definitely we have our sites firmly fixed on Europe for early in the new year.”
Enjoyed this story? Want to learn more about the Asia Pacific region’s innovative agrifood tech ecosystem? Join us at evokeAG. on 21-22 February 2023 in Adelaide, South Australia. Tickets are on sale here.