COOKING UP A FOOD STARTUP

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By Athena Thompson

What else is there to do over lockdown but eat awesome food? Turns out you can start a food business instead. Speaking to Jane Del Rosso from The Business of Food there is a program in the inner west all about helping people build businesses and get their food into the mouths of people. Jane introduced me to the Brimbank Council’s Ignite Food Passions Program, the businesses who are getting ready to launch and she talked about some of the trends she was seeing in the industry in the western suburbs.

On what’s unique to the west, she sees a strong sense of community, with people looking to add value by bringing their culture and exceptional types of products. With food startups like Jacqueline from Mercado de Medilo, a Filipino retail store with grazing platter made to order and David from Kravin’ Korean, with different take on catering, delivering a very niche high end and straight to your door experience. In addition, trends such as the use of native ingredients, with several people interested in sourcing indigenous spices to promote a distinctive point of difference and exceptional quality. One example is Native Soda, that makes cocktails and soft drinks using a blend of Australian native botanicals.

Another big trend is sustainable packaging, whilst over the 12 years in the business of food she has seen a sudden change with manufacturers making this type of packing in smaller batches. Previously, businesses had to make compromises until they scaled to be a bigger size business. Many westside businesses are taking this approach like; San Elk (stocks), BusterBoo with biodegradable poo bags, Pasta Journey, Kravin’ Korean and Noodie Noods.

The Ignite Food Passions program started only earlier this year, and demonstrates this diversity of food and cultures over the two intakes that saw 20 people through. With covid hitting just as the program started, the program went online. It covers the most challenging aspects of a food business and topics relevant to get on top of a growing food business. Participants attended two hour sessions each week plus a one to one mentoring time with Jane on how to apply their newly learnt knowledge. With a jam packed program, they also had homework to complete. Sharing information like where to find glass jars, how to approach retailers and what they are looking for that would normally form part of the chit chat during a workshop held in person, still persisted despite covid. The discussion occurred through groups on WhatsApp, and even now, still keeps these businesses supported and connected.

Jane was challenged to tell me what the tastiest business was, saying it was like asking her to pick her favourite child. However, in saying that, it’s not always the tastiest food that succeeds, some of the worst ideas succeed and the best fail. In Jane’s view here are three key ingredients to a successful food business. Resilience, as a food business is constantly faced with change and in the beginning there are a lot of unknowns. Financial backing, as it is three times more money then you would expect, as your product is only really validated once it hits the shelves and by then you have already invested in packaging, compliance and the rest. Lastly you need a realistic view of the time-line, its going to be longer than three to six months unless you have all the elements perfectly lined up.

Whilst its early days for most of these businesses, there are quite a few raring to go and the program was a great opportunity to get their ducks lined up in row. It’s given them the chance to deal with the growing pains when starting or scaling a business, especially those associated with perishable produce. Here are a few to follow, all with production on the westside who look to have those winning ingredients. Loredana from San Elk handcrafts each batch of organic artisan stock using premium quality Certified Organic vegetables, herbs and spices. Marina with the Pasta Journey taking a ‘direct to consumer fresh’, a rather new model of business, such as making freshly handmade pasta ready to be cooked at home. Then there is Issey, founder of Vanilla Dreams, processing rare Australian organic vanilla grown on his family farm in Queensland and delivering into the hands of well-known chefs in Melbourne.

The biggest challenge coming out of restrictions for these businesses is the unknown, in that it’s hard for anyone to know what food and hospitality is going to look like. Jane suspects greater opportunity, as people will be keen to get outdoors, for businesses like Diana’s Little Cobar with her coffee cart to go. As well as The Kilted Haggis run by Elisabeth and Colin that supports football clubs in the west, operating a food truck that delivers authentic Scottish cuisine. With the summer coming up, they will be primed to be accessible in the era of dining with safe distancing.

If you’re interested in establishing your food business, the intake for Brimbank’s council’s Ignite Food Passions Program is now open and set to start in February 2021. Take note only 10 businesses are accepted for each round and only a deposit is required which get refunded to you on attendance.

More at: brimbank.vic.gov.au/business-and-tourism/ignite-food-passions-program and businessoffood.com.au

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