Page 11 - Food & Drink Business Jan-Feb 2020
P. 11

THE hustle at Canberra’s local markets each weekend was not an uncommon practice for the Barbell Foods team in 2017.
Not only were they carpooling to the markets, they were also living in a share house, and manufacturing their own snack products in a small, 80-square metre commercial kitchen space together.
Brothers Luke and Rory Rathbone and their friends Matt Laing and Tom Hutchison are four young men in the
business of biltong – an air dried steak snack, made from organic beef.
Now, the Barbell Foods team has upgraded to a 450-square metre factory in the Canberra suburb of Hume, and is set to expand its distribution around the country.
Co-founder Tom Hutchison told Food & Drink Business about Barbell’s evolution from idea to business.
“Biltong is a South African staple and when Rory and Luke migrated from South Africa to Australia in their teens, they noticed a lot of culture, climate and sport were similar but biltong consumption wasn’t.”
Rory’s work as a personal trainer showed him how his time-poor clients needed a healthy, refuelling snack.
Seeing a gap in the market, he started making biltong for clients and friends.
“From the guilt-free desktop snack for the white collar professional, to the savoury lunchbox snack for the kids, you don’t necessarily need to be a fitness fanatic for our biltong to benefit you,” Hutchison says.
In its first year, the production of Barbell Foods was a manual mission for the men.
Cutting, hanging and packing the steaks was a massive undertaking as it was all done by hand. Hutchison says the team looked to outsource the process but realised they did not want a contract manufacturer to look after the production.
Instead they turned to the idea of a food factory with machinery to meet rising demand, as well as pass on steak cutting to the robots.
Hutchison says: “We decided to bite the bullet and invest in a facility and came across Peter Taitoko from RMR Process, a Melbourne-based company specialising in helping small-to-medium food businesses scale up.
“We worked closely with RMR on our process flows, food safety compliance, red tape, and the procurement and
management of the numerous tradesmen required to build the factory. It was a big learning curve for us and without RMR, we would’ve made mistakes and had an inferior factory.
“Peter and the team really went the extra mile to understand our growth plans and develop a staged approach to our fitout that would allow us to scale up without overcapitalising. Without them we would have been screwed.”
Barbell Foods invested in a purpose-built drying room and machinery at its new facility, which has led to an eight-fold increase in its production capacity and a 60 per cent reduction in labour costs.
It has also assured the production of a more consistent and purer product, Hutchison told F&DB.
of livestock not only produces beef that is superior in
taste and nutrition, but
also can help regenerate
soil, something which has myriad positive flow-on effects to our environment,” says Hutchison.
There is also opportunity
to make biltong using other types of sustainable meats,
he adds, as well as bringing
to market other meat snacks that offer an alternative macronutrient profile. The next 12 months for Barbell Foods, however, will be focused more on the domestic distribution
of its flagship product.
“We started selling our biltong at Canberra’s local farmers markets and on our website, and barely missed a Saturday or Sunday market for the first two years we were in operation,” Hutchison says.
“ We are striving to become a business leader of the regenerative agriculture movement in Australia by educating consumers about the holistic management of livestock.”
“It has allowed us the opportunity to explore other products now that we have the space,” he says.
The beef used to create Barbell’s biltong is sourced from OBE Organic, which raises its cattle on remote properties in the heartland of Australia, Hutchison says.
The cattle have minimal human interaction and roam millions of hectares of land, feeding on a range of grasses and herbs.
“Three years ago, we chose to use certified organic, grass-fed beef because it was the most sustainable and ethically sourced beef we could find.
“We are striving to become a business leader of the regenerative agriculture movement in Australia by educating consumers about how the holistic management
“Over time, we began to stock directly to more and more grocers, gyms and health food stores around Canberra until we needed to put a halt on our growth as we had reached our production capacity at our old facility.
“Last month, we launched with health food distributors in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, and will begin distribution in Western Australia and Tasmania in the new year. We will be focusing our efforts on stocking independent grocers, health food stores and gyms – stockists where our biltong has performed strongly already.”
Barbell Foods is also stocked in Harris Farms stores, but
the team is looking to tap into the petrol and convenience market in the near future.
“People here are generally on the go and looking for a low carb, high protein snack | January-February 2020 | Food&Drink business | 11

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