Follow along as we discover how startup founders transformed their idea 'seeds' and built them into successful businesses from the ground up.
In this series, we're joined by a range of extraordinary founders to retrace their steps from the thought that first sparked the idea for their business, through to commercialisation and running a startup. Each startup had a different blueprint for building their business, with fascinating stories to read about their wins, setbacks and plans to shape the future of food - and if you're an aspiring entrepreneur, you might find some helpful info about how to grow your business and leverage your ideas.
Food Futures: Hey Tracey & Doug, how did you come up with the idea for Native Oz Bushfoods? Was there a question you were trying to answer or problem you were about to solve?
Native Oz Bushfoods: It started over a family barbecue in 2015 actually! Doug had made a salt blend and stewed quandong for a barbecue sauce and everyone loved it and said that we needed to commercialise it. We wrote down the recipe but weren't ready to start a business yet, and we thought about it for three to four years. We actually ended up creating the business name over a coffee at McDonald's!
Once we started to think about commercialising it, our biggest problem initially was sourcing produce to go into the product - we didn't know where to go to find the produce without it costing us a fortune. Then the drought hit and we started planting trees and realised that we could be our own supplier for our salt blends. 12 months later, we took those products to the market because we knew we could secure part of the blend.
In 2018, we planted about 450-600 trees. In August 2019, we took three products to market (bush blend, quandong jam and Davidson Plum jam). We did that with less than 20kg of fruit in our freezers and we only had about 9kg of quandongs when we started making jam - it was a real 'this is either going to work or it's not' moment because we could only make about eight 250g jars per kilo.
Food Futures: Did the farm exist before you started the business?
Native Oz Bushfoods: The farm as we know it today didn't exist, it was a dry block and we rotated our cattle around it - and at the time the drought had hit and we were looking for the next thing to do. This arrived as a bit of a lightbulb moment - Doug's ancestry is Aboriginal and I'm from South Australia and we're both really passionate about bushfood. We've been gradually growing since then - eventually there will be about 15-20 acres of bushfood planted here. We're currently about to plant another 850 saltbush trees, we're part of the Wattleseed acceleration project so we're about to put another 800 wattle trees in.
Retracing the steps of Native Oz Bushfoods
Food Futures: If you had to plot the timeline of having the idea for Native Oz Bushfoods to launch what would that look like? And were there any programs that you participated in or actions that you took which were useful over time?
Native Oz Bushfoods: So we had the 'aha' moment at the family barbecue. After this:
We planted the trees on our farm to supply our products in October 2018
We started to develop our own supply chain and develop the farm
We put our first products to market in August 2019
In 2022, we started our ecotours on the farm
During the coffee at McDonald's that we mentioned earlier, we brainstormed the name but we also came up with a plan for the business - so it has been a step by step process from the trees, to the products, to the tours today - which were all in the original plan.
Food Futures: How long did that process take?
Native Oz Bushfoods: Around six years - we had the idea in the summer of 2015-16, planted the trees in 2018, sent the products to market in 2019 and started the ecotours in 2022.
The beginning: gaining ground, the market, ecotours
Food Futures: How did you go about working out who your market were and how did the first steps to building the business work?
Native Oz Bushfoods: We started selling every weekend at the Toowoomba Farmer's Market and if we sold $200 worth of product we'd come home excited. Without knowing about market research, we interviewed our customers and talked to them about which products they'd like us to bring out and what they'd like to see in the range. After every market, we discussed our conversations with customers and adjusted according to their feedback. Our customer segments were very different - there were a lot of health conscious customers, a lot of teachers and people working in education. We gradually brought in chilli sauce, then relishes and now we have sixteen handcrafted blends.
Food Futures: Can you tell us about the tours that you offer on the farm?
Native Oz Bushfoods: We bring people to the farm and take them for a lap of the educational garden that we've built. We teach them about being sustainable and how they can regenerate their land and replicate what we've done in their own backyard to know where their food is coming from. We also teach them about some of the cultural uses of some of the First Nations plants.
Mentorship and the future
Food Futures: Were there any workshops or accelerators that helped you to get to where you are today?
Native Oz Bushfoods: We did the Food Futures Company Ideas2Business acceleration program in 2020. I got a lot out of this program, because it gave me the confidence to basically give up my job. I had this little business running, but through learning the skills in the acceleration program, it gave me a boost of confidence to go 'hey, I can do this'. It gave me confidence that I had started something that was interesting and viable, and made that dream more realistic.
We also did the Farmers2Founders Harvest Program. Tracy is also currently doing a mentoring course through Tilma Group that focusses on feeding the mind of your customer and that's what we do - within five minutes our customers are so surprised and excited.
Food Futures: What are some of the things that people are most surprised and excited about?
Native Oz Bushfoods: The taste! We'll go to different trees in our educational garden and show them the different flavours - for example, we'll pick the smallest leaf and ask them to try it and people are wowed because they can use the leaf as a cinnamon substitute, add it to a salad etc. They don't realise that there are so many uses out there for bushfood - this blows them away.
Food Futures: Do the majority of people that visit the farm know much about bushfood?
Native Oz Bushfoods: Some of them do, but a lot of them want to learn more. The majority want to learn how to be more sustainable.
Food Futures: What has been the biggest learning curve along the way?
Native Oz Bushfoods: How to pivot and think on your feet!
Food Futures: And what are the next steps from here?
Native Oz Bushfoods: We're heading into Hipcamp so that people can camp on our property, which is part of the ecotourism. We want to put at least 15-20 acres of bushfood under. We're heading to the UK on the cinema screens - we've just done a commercial through Tourism Australia and Tourism Adventures Queensland to put our ecotours and bushfood on display in the UK. We're currently pushing all our tours through the warehouse channels - we're right across Australia on every tourism platform and we're looking at taking this to an international level.
We also want to start doing long table dinners soon - eventually the tourism will outweigh the product. Our salt blends will hopefully go international eventually, but our preserves are more for an Australian market because we can't upscale them for an international market because of supply.
Food Futures: What has been the best aspect of working in Native Oz Bushfoods and what has been the most difficult?
Native Oz Bushfoods: The most difficult is the financial aspect because we're self-funded. The best aspect is increasing Indigenous participation in the industry - if we can be the one person to encourage the next Indigenous person to do something like we're doing, then that's great. Our job is done if we encourage one person.
Food Futures: So if you had to give some advice to an entrepreneur in your space who is starting out and isn't sure where to begin, what would you say?
Native Oz Bushfoods: Jump in there and have a go. You can only try - business is about finding what you're good at, finding how you can be better at it and enjoying it. If you don't enjoy what you do, don't do it. If you don't put that foot forward, you won't go anywhere.
Food Futures: What do you believe is the importance of entrepreneurship and startups in bushfood?
Native Oz Bushfoods: We need to have more Indigenous people in the industry and encourage this. As entrepreneurs, we need to encourage our people more, make a stand and show them that we can do it and they can too - that we've done it on next to nothing. If you really set your mind to something, you can do it. If you've got an idea, just have a go -it's all you can do.