Gold Coast business Dairy Free Down Under is a classic case of a couple seeking to diversify away from a commodity-price driven “unstable” industry into one with more value-added income potential.
Kevin and Jenny Flanagan took over ready-to-eat fresh fruit snack supplier Family Fresh in 1995.
The pair built it into a sizeable operation, which in 2007 supplied major supermarket chain Woolworths from a massive 3000sq m factory in Yatala.
But then just as their business reached a peak, the GFC hit and they were forced to downsize to a 900sq m factory in Carrara.
The fluctuations in prices for different fruits meant they absorbed losses (rather than pass them on to the consumer) and food-safety incidents (the strawberry needle contamination case is an example) could also shake up the industry.
Mr Flanagan said that, after battling through the GFC and coming out the other side, the pair realised they needed another income stream.
“We wanted something we could export that came with a shelf life,” he said. “We had no idea where we were going, but we knew we had to do something.”
The first concrete step involved buying The Primal Kitchen three years ago.
The business made protein balls to supply to health food shops, however it didn’t last long.
“Everyone seemed to be doing the same thing,” Mr Flanagan said. “We hit the market too late.”
However, the pair gained an understanding of the size and popularity of vegan-friendly products. They also launched almond and soy-based cheese products at a trade show in Sydney in March, 2017.
Although no distributors came out of the show, they did realise the packaging and marketing
They rebranded as Dairy Free Down Under for the same trade show the following year, with very different results.
“We got smashed. We had five people on the stand for two days and we could not leave,” he said. “It was hectic.”
This time they gained distributors for their products, including mozzarella-style shreds, and were on their way to creating a successful venture.
Mr Flanagan said a key to their success was catering to all tastes through a range of products made from different milk types such as coconut, almond and soy.
“People do not want an oil-based dairy-free cheese. They want a dairy-free milk base,” he said. “If someone does not like soy, they might like almond. A lot of companies will do only one type.”
Dairy Free Down Under now has between 900 and 1000 stockists throughout Australia, including many independent supermarkets and health food shops as well as industry giant Costco.
The company plans to begin exports in the near future.