The world’s largest Indian sandalwood producer has struck a deal that will see Santalum album exported from Western Australia’s Ord Valley and developed into new products for the booming Chinese traditional medicine market.

Key points:

  • Sandalwood giant Quintis has signed an MOU with Lanzhou Foci Pharmaceuticals
  • The traditional Chinese medicine market has been identified as a major growth industry for Indian sandalwood producers
  • Quintis plans to expand its harvest operations across WA’s Ord Irrigation Scheme

Yesterday Quintis signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s largest manufacturer of traditional medicines, Lanzhou Foci Pharmaceuticals, a state-owned company listed on the ShenZhen Stock Exchange.

The collaboration is thought to be the first of its kind for the sector, which accounts for more than a third of all pharmaceutical sales in China and has experienced significant growth during the coronavirus pandemic.

Quintis chief executive officer Richard Henfrey said the milestone came at a challenging time for some of its other key markets, which had seen the sandalwood producer pivot and diversify.

“We sell products into nine different customer segments,” he said.

“Some of those have been quite hard hit by COVID, like the fragrance industry … but aromatherapy, for example, is doing very well.

“We’re increasingly selling wood products into the handicraft markets, the incense market, and the Chinese traditional medicine market as well.”

A middle-aged man white man with grey hair standing in front of a tree.

Richard Henfrey has been the head of Quintis for 12 months.(

Supplied: Quintis

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A shift in markets

Mr Henfrey, who brings with him more than a decade of experience heading up popular vitamin company Blackmores, says he believes the traditional medicine, pharmaceutical and cosmetic markets will be the biggest growth industries for sandalwood over the next five years.

“The traditional Chinese medicine market is getting a lot of support politically in China — it’s seen as a very important part of the healthcare system,” he said.

“I believe there’s also a strong opportunity for sandalwood as an active ingredient in over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and therapeutic skincare products, as well cosmetics.

“The latter are industries where sandalwood doesn’t have a position in the market at all today.

A lab where sandalwood oil is being tested.

The Chinese medicine market is a major growth industry for Indian sandalwood producers.(

Supplied: Quintis

)

A new leaf

Mr Henfrey said it was a new era for Quintis, more than three years since the sandalwood giant had major contracts cancelled, entered a trading halt and fell into administration.

In October 2018 it recapitalised as a private company, resumed harvest operations and completed a product rebrand and leadership shuffle, all while defending multiple lawsuits and the attempted takeover of several Quintis-managed sandalwood plantations.

One year into the job Mr Henfrey is convinced there is a bright future ahead for Indian Sandalwood in northern Australia.

“There’s no doubt its been quite a rough ride,” he said.

“The business was recapitalised at the end of 2018 and we haven’t looked back since then.

“We’re now at the point where we get to reap the rewards … I feel very lucky to be in a position to deliver on the great vision that Quintis was founded with.”

A large stack of logs inside a shed.

Quintis recorded its largest commercial harvest on record last which year, which is expected to double in 2021.(

Supplied: Quintis

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Record harvest

The deal with Lanzhou Foci Pharmaceuticals comes off the back of Quintis’ biggest ever commercial harvest in 2020, which saw more than 100 hectares go through their processing shed in Kununurra.

The harvest was across its 2004 Managed Investment Scheme plantation and trees owned by Quintis, although much of the MIS wood was bought back from growers by the sandalwood giant earlier this year.

From the storage shed in Kununurra, the exotic wood is trucked more than 3,500 kilometres south to the company’s facility at Mount Romance near Albany, which is home to world’s largest Sandalwood oil distillery.

“The quality of the wood is actually quite a bit higher than we’ve had in previous years [and] we’re getting some really good oil yields from that wood,” Mr Henfrey said.

Meanwhile major competitor Santanol, owned by global forestry giant Mercer International, is expected to produce up to ten thousand kilos of Indian sandalwood oil this year, after experiencing a record harvest in the Ord.

Often described as “liquid gold”, nearly half of all perfumes contain sandalwood oil, which has been fetching as much as $250,000 a tonne on the global market this year.

In 2019, more than 100 tonnes of heartwood from the 2003 MIS plantation was sold for a total of $8.4 million dollars, valued at an average price of $78,000 per tonne.

An aerial photo of a sandalwood plantation next to an irrigation channel.

Vast Indian sandalwood plantations are grown in Western Australia’s Ord Irrigation Scheme.(

Supplied: Quintis

)

Rapid growth ahead

Quintis has more than 12 thousand hectares of plantations across Northern Australia and employs more than 150 staff in its forestry operations in WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Since the company’s first harvest in 2013, more than 500 hectares of Indian sandalwood has been harvested and that number is set to grow significantly as the company looks towards expanding its harvest operations in the coming years.

“The work we’re doing now is to grow and build a new harvesting process, the time is now to scale that up and make that more robust, safe and scalable,” Mr Henfrey said.

“Probably the biggest change to come is improved genetics, from next year onwards we’ve got plantings of our own genetics that have been developed through cross-breeding trees.

“Over the next 10 years you’ll start to see a lot more improvements in the quantity and quality of heartwood coming through in future harvests, which we’re really excited about.”

China’s traditional medicine market leader backs WA sandalwood producer Quintis
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