A couple of months ago I wrote about a day out with Food SA, visiting some of the winners of last year’s Food Industry Awards. I enjoyed it so much I hopped on the Food SA bus again recently to check out some more examples of South Australia’s thriving food industry. Read on to find out what I discovered about Bickford’s, Lifestyle Bakery and Macro Meats.
Chris Crago, our friendly tour director, must have put in another special weather request as the wintry clouds dispersed early to reveal a glorious sunny day, just perfect for foodie tripping. It was but a short bus ride to Bickford Australia’s streamlined facility at Salisbury. Bickford’s won last year’s Royal Agricutural & Horticultural Society Best Practice Award, and it’s not hard to see why.
Every South Australian knows Bickford’s Lime Cordial which has been a staple of kitchens across the State since 1874 when it was first produced. I can’t remember quite that far back, but I’m pretty sure I had my first taste of it very soon after graduating from baby formula. Indeed the ubiquitous long necked bottle is so well known and loved in the State, it’s been officially recognised as a South Australian heritage icon.
Founded by the Bickford family in 1839, the company is a South Australian food industry success story. From its origins as a Hindley Street apothecary, it quickly established itself as a major manufacturer and supplier of pharmaceutical and chemical products before moving on to produce a wide range of quality beverages.
Another Bickford’s product that sparks nostalgia for me is their famous Coffee and Chicory Essence, a bottle of which was always to be found in my grandmother’s farm kitchen and was my introduction to coffee drinking. Iced coffees made with Bickford’s essence and cold milk fresh from the cow were one of the delights of a visit to the farm.
Not a company to rest on its laurels, Bickford’s has gone from strength to strength and now boasts an amazing variety of beverage products from juices and cordials to their latest range of liquid superfoods (Vita Chiahh). Since 2000 the company has expanded into alcoholic beverages such as Vok Liqueurs, Black Bottle Brandy, Beenleigh Rum, Galway Pipe Port and Beresford Estate wines. With these additions to its range, the company looks set to continue to be a major player not just in South Australia’s beverage industry, but nationally.
After a very informative presentation by Hugh McIntosh and George Kotses, we were treated to a tour of the plant where we saw at first hand the state of the art methods and equipment that go into making the Bickford’s brand great. These include sterile filtration technologies, a high speed versatile filling line and a sophisticated PET facility. It’s a highly automated production system, incorporating the latest energy efficient techniques and technologies, even including robotic forklift vehicles which were fascinating to watch.
As well as being at the forefront of manufacturing technology, Bickford’s attributes their success to their guiding values of quality and purity. This is taken very seriously by every worker, whether employed on the factory floor or in senior management. As they recognise, a successful corporate culture is one that begins at the top and this was certainly reflected in the professionalism and friendliness of the staff who gave up their time to make our visit so enjoyable.
Our next port of call, Lifestyle Bakery, is a much more recent South Australian success story. Winners of both last year’s SARDI Innovation Award and also Foodland SA New Product Award, the company was established in 1998 by Michael Horrocks. Motivated by the discovery that the only gluten free bakery products on the market at the time were completely tasteless, Michael set out to rectify that situation.
In the first week of operation he made six loaves of bread. At the time, Lifestyle was one of only about three bakers in Australia making gluten free bread. The operation has grown massively since that first tentative beginning, reaping the rewards of not only the growing consumer demand for healthy lifestyle products, but Michael’s hard work in product diversification and pursuit of market segments. His success in establishing Lifestyle Bakery as a market leader in high quality, flavoursome and dietary specific breads has been in no small part due to his ability to capitalise on a burgeoning demand.
The business now employs 60 people and sells nationally across a range of markets . Their range of products now extends well beyond gluten free and includes sprouted grain, wheat alternatives and other healthy living selections in the form of bread, rolls, pizza bases, breadcrumbs and coating mixes. Sprouted grains in particular have captured the attention of the health conscious consumer and Lifestyle Bakery’s products are well positioned to attract those who are keen to take advantage of the nutritional benefits of these foods.
Notwithstanding the growing popularity of his products, Michael Horrocks decided a couple of years ago to investigate the feasibility of making a dietary alternative that was equal in taste to traditional bread. Following six months of intensive research and testing, in January 2013 the bakery launched its new range of gluten free bread, Soft ‘n’ Light. Boasting superior taste and texture, this range comes in a variety of formulations (white, soy linseed, chia & quinoa and fruit loaf) none of which contain preservatives of any kind. The popularity of the Soft ‘n’ Light range has far exceeded expectations and production has been stepped up to meet demand. In an economy where lots of businesses are struggling, it’s gratifying to hear success stories such as this.
Having tried the bread myself, I can vouch for its flavour and softness. You wouldn’t know you were eating something healthy (always a good sign!). The other benefit is the packaging. The bread is packed in a modified atmosphere inner pack, inside a resealable poly bag outer, which offers a 14 day shelf life, always a bonus for small families or single people who take a bit longer to get through a loaf of bread and hate throwing food away. If you haven’t tried it yet, the range of breads can be found at your local IGA, Foodland, Coles or Woolworths supermarkets, as well as specialty health food stores or online.
After a delicious lunch at Good Life Organic Pizza at North Adelaide, our next visit was to Macro Meats Gourmet Game at Athol Park. Winner of last year’s DMITRE Export Award, the company was founded in 1987 by Ray Borda. Ray welcomed us in ebullient style and treated us to a fascinating talk about his company and products, as well as a tasting of some specially prepared gourmet game delicacies.
There’s quite a story behind the emergence of gourmet game food products. Originally sold as pet food, kangaroo meat was banned from sale for human consumption for many years. Ray Borda however recognised the superior qualities of the meat and its potential health benefits and set out to change public perception, always a challenging task. He began by finding a loophole in the regulations which allowed him to place kangaroo mince in South Australian stores. Expecting that people would only buy it for their pets, he was surprised to begin receiving calls from customers saying how much they’d enjoyed eating it themselves.
He continued to work closely with government and industry regulators for a number of years to ensure this early foothold in the market could be developed into a stronger presence. His persistence and commitment paid off and not only did kangaroo meat begin to be seen on the shelves of supermarkets, but once people tried it for themselves, quickly attracted an enthusiastic following. Consumers have embraced the nutritional and environmental benefits, as well as the taste and versatility of the product to the extent that eating kangaroo meat has now become widely accepted, not just in Australia but around the world. Macro Meats is now the world’s largest distributor of wild game kangaroo meat. As well as exporting to 50 countries, it is the exclusive supplier to 3,200 Australian supermarkets.
In harvesting the meat, the company adheres to very strict ethical and animal welfare criteria. Kangaroos are not farmed or treated with hormones or antibiotics, and they are harvested in their own natural environment in a number of regions across outback Australia. The fact that the animals are highly active and graze only on natural foliage contributes to the lean, high quality nature of the meat. It’s another example of the paddock to plate food philosophy becoming widely embraced today. Ray emphasised that to help maintain the species, the company has adopted a policy of culling only male kangaroos.
Chefs such as Cheong Liew have long recognised kangaroo meat as a gourmet product, and this was further acknowledged when the company received the Outstanding Innovation award at the prestigious ABC Delicious Produce Awards in Sydney recently. Highlighting the superior quality of the Paroo Premium Kangaroo range, this award is a significant achievement for the company and a well deserved recognition of the its commitment to developing a premium quality product.
Ray is also excited about the opportunities offered by the Chinese market, where the meat is not only recognised as highly nutritious but the kangaroo itself is seen as a mystical and exotic animal. Kangaroos have a reputation for virility (each male kangaroo mating with around 30 females), a fact which has captured the Chinese imagination to the extent that they are not only enthusiastic consumers of kangaroo meat, but they’ve also embraced kangaroo essence. If it takes off, we may expect to see an unprecedented explosion in China’s already booming population.
Promoted as a tasty and affordable family meal option, the Macro Meats kangaroo product is free from antibiotics, chemicals, growth hormones or any artificial additives whatsoever, making it an organically sound and very nutritious food. As well, it has antioxidant properties, is very low in fat, and is a source of omega-3’s, iron and zinc. The meat comes in a range of products including sausages, mince, steak, burgers, fillets, cuts for roasting and kebabs.
After a very interesting and informative presentation and tour of the operation, we were presented with a sample pack of kangaroo fillet and “kanga bangas”, perfect for the next barbeque, together with a recipe book containing some luscious looking meal ideas.
It was great to get an insider’s view of these South Australian food companies and to gain an appreciation of what makes a food industry award winner. This year’s food industry awards are still in progress, with second round voting open until Tuesday 30 September. There are 20 companies that have made it to the second round and you can influence the outcome by casting a vote for a favourite product on the awards website.
by Anne Green