Rob and Krista Watkins, from Walkamin in Far North Queensland, founded food startup Natural Evolution in 2012 – the world’s first company to commercially produce green banana flour, alongside other banana products such as ointment, soap and equine supplements.
Frustrated at seeing 500 tonnes plus of bananas wasted in North Queensland every week after they were rejected by supermarkets, Rob designed the innovative NutroLock technology in 2015, which turns green bananas into flour-like starch while locking in nutrients all mechanically and automatically.
Discovering startup ‘magic dust’ by chance
The discovery of powerful flour-like ‘resistant starch’ made from bananas came by chance. After driving over a hand of green Lady Finger bananas on the farm one day, Rob noticed a puff of white ‘magic’ dust.
“As someone with a gluten intolerance, I’m always interested in gluten-free alternatives. When I saw the dust I had to wonder whether banana flour could be an option,” Rob says.
“I did some research, which revealed powerful ‘resistant starch’ and seratonin-producing qualities of green banana flour.”
Further independently conducted research revealed green Lady Finger bananas contain 5HTP – Hydroxytryptophan, a precursor for serotonin. Lady Finger bananas are scientifically proven to contain higher 5HTP qualities than other banana varieties.
“NutroLock is an energy-efficient, raw, low-speed, 100% natural food processing technique that can turn a green banana into powder in less than 25 minutes by gently removing water content.”
An international market and US accolades
Less than two years since inception, NutroLock banana flour is used as a fibre supplement, and added to muesli, smoothies and baby foods by customers in the US, the UK, Canada, South Korea, Japan and soon Hong Kong.
NutroLock was awarded the Gold Edison Award in April 2017 at a ceremony in New York for innovation and excellence in the food and beverage category. The startup also received high praise from Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Julie Bishop as one of Queensland’s superb exports.
Queensland’s ripe regional entrepreneur sector
Rob attributes some of his success in innovation to identifying opportunities in the challenges of running a business in regional Queensland.
Rob was Australia’s 2010 young farmer of the year for his ‘Banana Blankey’ invention, a polypropylene carton that helped bananas travel to supermarkets around the country without bruising, avoiding waste.
“NutroLock was designed to reduce waste and maximise nutrition. Banana Blankey also cut down on waste, making sure our bananas get to stockists thousands of kilometres away in good condition.
“Natural Evolution’s banana ointment was created after our three blue heelers kept getting “hot spots”, a bacterial infection related to staph that surges in the tropical months up here. The ointment is now used in North America to soothe everything from arthritis to nappy rash.
“My motto is if you can’t find the answer to a question, create one. Natural Evolution products have been created out of need.”