Over the past few years, Maria and Wayne Varkevisser have launched three brands that centre around health and well being. Each one offers a consumable supplement – totally natural, packed with protein, collagen, amino acids and where possible are organic. They are Australian Bone Broth, Naturally Enrich and Nourisharvest.
The business has grown beyond expectations due to Maria and Waynes savvy business approach, hard work and background in international distribution. Initially the primary markets were in the United Kingdom, now products regularly arrive in Europe and the United States. They are very pleased to have new customers in Japan and the UAE who placing pallet sized orders – regularly. Currently they’re with working Trade Queensland to develop new markets in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
I’ve had the great pleasure of being involved in each brand from the beginning. So I asked Maria how she and Wayne have built their empire…
Me: Why did you start Australian Bone Broth? What was your reason for embarking on manufacturing a food product?
Maria: Wayne and I started the business together. Initially I started using bone broth personally on a healing journey of my own. Then I added it to my grandsons diet, he has a weak immune system and he also responded well.
I realised it would go well in the market, so we tweaked and modernised the recipes to better suit today’s consumers. In particular we introduced two lines – powder and concentrate. We have enhanced the original recipe, adding extra nourishment with grass fed collagen in some products and refining flavour profiles – Asian Fusion, Turmeric and 5 herbs. These have been received very well.
Me: What has been the best business decision you made for Australian Bone Broth as a whole?
Maria: That has to be the distribution model we started with. I saw many brands were being devalued by people reselling products they had purchased online, super cheap. As a brand owner we decided to control the distribution model and in doing so we control access to the products. This way we can also control the pricing. In the long run this has been brilliant decision.
Me: What’s the best opportunity Australian Bone Broth has had for growth to date?
Maria: Going direct to customer with e-commerce. We know we have a limited market. We started with Amazon, selling direct to our customers and that has proved to be a really good strategy.
Now we have about five influencers on Instagram, who started using our products (we didn’t ask anyone – they came to us). Now when some of the them post about out products our sales rise by 20% with just one post.
Me: How have you been able keep your manufacturing in Australia?
Maria: It’s not a problem. I trust our manufactures. They are close enough we can visit them, check out production and discuss any issues that arise. Our suppliers are trustworthy and reliable. We feel it is really important to us to build strong relationships with all our suppliers and keep the supply chain running smoothly. We are delighted to be creating jobs in Queensland too!
Me: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in growing the various brands in the Retail Fusion family?
Maria: Our biggest challenge has been finding the food trends of the future. We look ahead and watch the global events then choose products that solve problems.
For example, a while back we noticed people complaining about the cost and storage challenges for vegetables so we have a launched Nourisharvest – Australian farmed produce, slow dried and transformed into pure vegetable powders. They exponentially boost the nutrient content when incorporated into smoothies, muffins, soups, casseroles, even sprinkled on chips. Globally, it’s an economical and convenient solution.
We are always looking ahead for business partners and supplier partners to enable our new product development. Having the right people around us makes a big difference.
Ideally, we like to be supplying starving children with our food supplements to compliment the sacks of rice and grain they receive. We feel there is huge scope for enhancing the nutrient value of many foods.
Me: In marketing your three brands what has been the biggest lesson?
Maria: Creating a story for the brand.
I struggled with Naturally Enrich and as a consequence haven’t grown it much as much as the other two.
With Nourisharvest finding farmers growing organic produce was easy AND it’s a great story. The farmers aren’t good at marketing their products, but we are. I’ve learned that people look for stories. So we’ve had to craft a really good story for each brand, so people can understand where we are coming from and what we are doing.
We’ve found having a clear and compelling story particularly important dealing with new market, Hong Kong.
Me: What is your best cost saving tip for an emerging business?
Maria: We wish we could do everything once and do it right. So my be advice is to collect as much information as you can and bounce ideas off industry peers. Things pop up all the time and sometimes it feels like a never ending journey with huge gaps.
A mentor would have been great in the beginning. We have not found a mentor with enough business experience. So, I spend a lot of time learning on audio books and doing my own research on the internet. Even Trade Queensland have not been able to help with a mentor that suits our needs, often they can’t even answer the questions I have. There are huge gaps in the Australian food manufacturing industry – unfortunately.
Me: What do you think will help you grow Retail Fusion in the years ahead?
Maria: There are three main things:
1.Customer loyalty. The loyalty program we run does a lot to encourage repeat purchase patterns with our existing customer base. We engage with customers on our QR app for Australian Bone Broth. We developed it so our customers can leave a video or audio review on the app and in return, we send them a free bottle or pouch with their next order. That type of customer engagement has been brilliant and will be important in the future.
2. Keep supplying a premium product and the customers see the value of buying the product – high quality is paramount.
3. Launching new products at the right time. We are constantly researching global trends and finding creating products. Once we land on something really good we decide whether to incorporate the product into an existing brand or start a new one. Either way, we focus on the world wide trends (social and economic) and develop for the market demand.
Me: Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting now?
Maria: Problems and obstacles as the arise all the time. I would accept that I can’t eliminate all problems at once. That would have alleviated my anxiety a lot in the beginning. It’s taken me a long time to learn that. It’s hard to not give up but important to understand to address the issue best I can and move along.
Me: Why do you choose to work with, me, Evolve Brand Design?
Maria: You always deliver beyond my expectations. When you present designs you also open my mind to new business opportunities. I love that you have a lot of knowledge which you share willingly.
When we first engaged you, we were so happy to find you could guide us with your legal knowledge as well as the designs. We are so proud of our all our product labels. Whatever comes up you always help us out and are so creative.
Me: What is your favourite part of your business?
Maria: Looking at what my products can be instead of what they are. Planning ahead and looking at future.
To learn more about the brands Maria and Wayne have developed check out their website www.australianbonebrothco.com.au and www.australianbonebrothco.com.au/collections/organic-vegetable-powders.