“In 2018, the Australian tea tree oil market was worth $45 million dollars a year at the farm gate,” says Tony Larkman, CEO of Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA), the tea tree industry’s peak representative organisation.
Australia produced 1,000 tonnes of tea tree oil last year, compared to 300 tonnes in 2009, says Larkman, and the price has climbed in that time from $25 to $45 per kilo. “We trebled production and doubled price,” he adds.
The Australian essential oils success story is driven by demand from overseas. Around 90 per cent of essential oils produced here are exported – 60 per cent to the US, and 30 per cent to the EU (including the UK).
Traditionally, Australian essential oils were acquired by food and beverage companies for flavouring and cosmetics companies for naturally- inspired formulations. However, growing demand by consumers for more natural-based products has expanded essential oil use and associated it with the wellness market.
In Australia, US-based essential oil manufacturer doTERRA has been a leader in taking the products to a more mainstream market. They sell direct to consumers who are attracted by the high quality of the Australian oils, says Ashley Dowell, secretary of Essential Oil Producers Association of Australia (EOPAA).
While doTERRA sources product from all over the world, some of its most popular oils, such as lemon myrtle and tea tree, are sourced from Australia.
“We have the reputation of being a clean country, and we have unique, attractive aromas from our native plants,” says Dowell. “So, it’s easier for companies like doTERRA to market these Australian oils. This has driven the growth quite significantly in the last five to 10 years.”
Sweet scent of success
Industry players and observers alike agree the Australian essential oils industry has huge growth potential. Research and development are key – and the Federal government has provided support.
EOPPA has just been approved for a grant from government-funded rural business development body AgriFutures for $405,000 over four years to develop Australian native oils. “It’s a serious commitment from the government to support an emerging industry,” says Dowell.
With deeper understanding of the plants, as well as improved regulation in the industry, more farmers will be motivated to jump on board, he believes. “If we keep improving in these areas, it gives farmers the confidence to put these plants in the ground.”
Plants like tea tree also offer an attractive, sustainable alternative to traditional crops, he adds. “Tea tree grows well on marshy soils and slopes, they’re perennial crops so you don’t have to harvest and pull them out of the ground. This improves soil quality and water retention, greater diversification, attracts wildlife… the benefits go on.”
And then there’s the vast potential of Australia’s unrivalled biodiversity, with many claiming that our vast landscape conceals endless natural treasures yet to be discovered.
“While we don’t have an Amazon rainforest, we’ve got 40,000 years of culture,” says Larkman. “We’ve got unbelievable numbers of uninvestigated potential just sitting there out in the bush.
doTERRA’s sourcing model seeks to secure the highest quality ingredients while meeting the increasing demand for essential oils. Recognised for the quality of its oils, doTERRA sources tea tree and Buddha Wood from Australia and Douglas Fir and Manuka from New Zealand. Learn more here.