TWELVE months ago, Tully banana growers, Linda and Kelvin Abell, decided they wanted to make good use of the fruit that didn't make it to market because of slight blemishes.

A year later, Linda has her own food label, "Tropical Harvest", and a fully-approved commercial kitchen stands in one corner of her converted packing shed.

"Tropical Harvest" specialises in dried fruit - banana, pineapple, watermelon, papaya, mango, limes and delicious blends of these tropical fruits.

Packets of her fruit - available in 50 gram, 100 gram and 200 gram packages - are now on sale in Cairns, Innisfail and Townsville. Linda has plans to expand her business by targeting markets including charity fund-raising (which would be a welcome change from chocolate for many families) and school tuckshops.

When the idea of a dried fruit business was first conceived by Linda, she set about a 'trial and error' process of drying various types of fruit in her home kitchen. Her family were the main taste testers - giving feedback about the texture and taste of the dried fruit.

With some positive feedback from her husband and children, Linda decided to get serious about the business and within three months had the kitchen up and operating, and fully licensed by the Cardwell Shire Council.

The next step was coming up with a name that would capture the eye of consumers, particularly the tourists who are always on the look out for locally-produced goods.

"We wanted a name that would be instantly recognised as coming from the north, and because we are mostly dealing with fruit, harvest seemed to include everything we're doing - dried fruit, jams and dried breads, " Linda says.

One of the biggest challenges for the fledgling business, Linda says, was not the product, but the packaging.

"It was a very steep learning curve because I was learning a totally new business, and how to package and label the fruit turned out to the biggest challenge - and something we're still developing."

Expanding markets is also something that is ongoing for Linda and Tropical Harvest.

She praises the Department of Primary Industries' Future Profit and Women in Business networks for the support she has been able to access while growing her business.

"It's so handy to know people who are going through similar experiences, and it develops your network and puts you in contact with people who can give you some assistance or advice," she says.

Linda has expanded the Tropical Harvest range into jams and relishes and almond and banana bread. She also has plans to expand the range even more.

Twelve months on, Linda retains the enthusiasm she had when she started her first batch of dried fruit. She's optimistic about the possibilities of the business - and with a quality and well-presented product, she's well on her way.

DATE: August 2001

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