Page 15 - Food & Drink Business Magazine March 2019
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Dairy-free vegan products ring bells ‘down under’
Dairy-Free Down Under is the classic overnight success story that was years of trial and error in the making. Samantha Schelling reports on this vegan dairy operation.
FOR Jenny and Kevin Flanagan it was simple: any new products and business had to reflect their ideals, and they wanted to work with people who shared the same principles.
Having run their value-added fresh-produce business since the mid 1980s, the Brisbane couple have spent the past few years investigating different avenues to diversify.
Kevin said, “Our Family Fresh business supplies fresh cut fruit to Woolworths, but there can be challenges with seasonality in that, so we kept trying different things for a few years, experimenting to see what worked.”
Five years ago they found “what worked”. After more meticulous R&D and endless knocking on doors, they launched their new dairy-free vegan products in March 2018. Six months later the business had grown ten-fold. And in November 2018, they won the Gold Coast Business Excellence Award for Emerging Business.
“After one lot of research I was talking to a distributor who asked if we could do cheese. I thought ‘no’, but did a bit more research, and then went and talked to our staff. I said in a team meeting that we were going to make dairy-free cheese. Well, they thought I was going nuts!”
With their years of food experience behind them, the Flanagans developed a vegan cheese, finally testing the market at the 2017 Naturally Good trade show in Sydney.
“We were blown away by the interest we received in the products, but people really didn’t like the packaging. However, it looked like we were
onto something, so we came back and rethought how to go ahead with the name, the packaging, and so on.”
After a year of reworking, they hit 2018’s Naturally Good with an organic-looking package under the new label of Dairy-Free Down Under for their initial vegan cheese.
“We got absolutely smashed! We had five people on the stand for two days and didn’t even have a chance to go and get a water. It was just crazy. We got interest even from people overseas wanting to know about us, yet before that, we were struggling to get distributors; no-one really wanted to talk to us. That show
would like us to be in Coles and Woolworths as well, and then we could compete directly with imported vegan-dairy products stocked there. We’re working on that, but in the meantime we’re really happy with the relationships we’ve built with independent supermarkets and health food stores nationwide.”
On top of that, the interest in Dairy-Free Down Under’s expanding range is growing quickly in hospitality.
Kevin said, “We’ve picked up Zambero’s Mexican chain, which has been really exciting.
Dairy-Free Down Under now has more than a dozen SKUs, and Kevin is “constantly coming up with more”.
As well as soy-based cheddar and mozzarella styles, the Flanagans have created almond- based cheeses and coconut-based cheeses “because some people don’t like soy, and we want to fill the gap that’s there and hopefully make lots of people happy”.
Cheeses come in blocks, slices and spreads, and products also include ready-to-eat cheese-and- cracker combinations.
There are also a sour cream, mayonnaise and aioli-style products, and earlier this year they launched a coconut cheese.
“ We were blown away by the interest we received in the products, but people really didn’t like the packaging.”
was a turning point.”
It was also a relief, as the large
investment for the family business showed signs it would pay off.
“It’s a big risk, but we always believed in the product and we did our research. It was still a relief, though.”
Since then, Dairy-Free Down Under has been picked up by a range of independents across Australia – including Drakes Supermarkets, Cornetts Supermarkets, Chapleys, Farmer Joe’s Market, and more than a thousand IGAs
– and, in the latter half of last year, Costco.
Jenny said, “I think they’ve all really taken it on board because the products are Australian, and they really like the idea that it’s Australian made.
“We know our customers
Around October, Dairy-Free Down Under received its first export order.
“We’d been dealing with Austrade who said it’d take a minimum of probably three years before we’d be able to export, so we weren’t getting too excited about it. Then, when the Invictus Games were on here on the Gold Coast, we went to a couple of events. One guy spotted the products. At a meeting three months after that first interaction, the proposal came in. I never thought we’d be exporting already.”
The initial countries are in the Middle East and Asia. With many people in those regions being lactose intolerant, the Dairy-Free Down Under cheeses, sour cream-style and mayonnaise-styles hold appeal | March 2019 | Food&Drink business | 15

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