Sales sprout from variety

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Diversification has been the key to success for Herb Bossence, of award-winning Better Sprouts.

The business is one of only two growing alfalfa sprouts in WA, and what started out as a fledgling horticulture enterprise 12 years ago, has grown to incorporate a diverse range of products.

In 1999, snow pea sprouts, grown in shade houses in Baldivis, were added to the product list and onion sprouts, dry salad seasonings, bulk cakes, chickpeas and mung beans have all since become mainstays.

But it is the sprouts that remain the core business.

It takes just four days to produce a tonne of alfalfa — all grown hydroponically at the company’s O’Connor headquarters.

The only additive to the sprouts is when the ungerminated lucerne seed is washed with chlorinated water.

“After that, basically the seed is soaked and allowed to germinate for 24 hours, then spread on trays, ” Herb said. “It’s grown in a temperature-controlled room at between 20 and 25C and it stays there for 48 hours.

“In the last 24 hours of the cycle we turn the light on.”

It’s a relatively simple process, meaning that alfalfa growers have stability in their business.

“We’re probably quite fortunate in what we do — we just don’t have those fluctuations of price, ” Herb said.

“We’ve got the only product at the Canning Vale markets that’s got the same price all year round.”

However, there are relatively few sprout growers that supply WA’s demand.

“It’s a niche market and I think the total market is actually quite small in real terms, ” Herb said.

“It’s a short shelf life, so you can’t ship it interstate.

“We’re talking about a maximum of a 14-day life span.”

Herb has been at the helm since buying the business in 1998, but after growing it to its current size he says it was time to move on to new challenges.

December marked Herb’s last month as the boss at Better Sprouts. He has handed over the reins to daughter Gill and son-in-law Doug Smith.

And he says the fact that he’s passing the business on to the next generation is proof there is a future in sprouts.

“My daughter and son-in-law have been involved in the business for a number of years, ” he said.

“But we wouldn’t have let them takeover if I didn’t feel reasonably confident about the future.”

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