Popping dairy on the shelf
Pic: Ashgrove Cheese products being prepared
Triggering a growth phase can be the biggest challenge faced by some companies. For Tasmanian dairy company Ashgrove Cheese, run by the Bennett families, the development of an innovative new product has been an important project to help drive this growth.
Based in Elizabeth Town, Ashgrove Cheese, has been operating since the 1880s. With around 1,500 dairy cows spread across 3,000 acres of grazing land, the farm is one of only a handful of Tasmanian dairy producers to hold an organic certification.
Marketing Manager, Anne Bennett is one of several family members helping to run the company and was tasked with looking for ways to tackle key challenges when producing dairy: commodity prices and cold-chain distribution.
“The dairy market is very competitive; we seek systems or market benefits to help build resilience against global swings in commodity prices for dairy,” Anne says. “Developing a new product with innovative features would allow us to set the price in the market, rather than just being price takers.”
Anne conducted extensive competitor research in the international market to learn more about innovative products and production methods. She discovered protein has emerged as a key macronutrient in snacking and nutrition choices around the world in recent years, so cheese was an ideal fit to help break into this category.
In 2014, Anne identified a technology which "pops" cheese into a crisp, air-dried snack. “This created a product which is more shelf-stable and requires no refrigeration, a really unique selling point for cheese,” Anne says.” It’s been a long journey to bring it to the market.”
Managing cold chain distribution is a daily challenge for dairy companies that distribute milk and cheese. Many solve this by converting milk into milk powder; however the scale required to make this cost-effective is very large. Development of an ambient cheese product which requires no refrigeration was an innovative solution to this problem.
Pic: Anne Bennett (left) and team launching their new product at the Melbourne Trade Show
From sceptics to champions
The purchase of technology and the license to use it exclusively in the Australian market was a significant investment for Ashgrove, and Anne had to convince stakeholders including external sales teams to support the vision inside the company.
"One of the big challenges for marketing and product development is that you're proposing a totally new direction for the business, and that usually comes from the top-down, so you have to influence people initially at the top about your ideas,” she says.
Anne used insights gained from the ANZ Business Growth Program to help her communicate her vision and potential outcomes to Ashgrove’s business partners. “We had to get them on board and then influence the team to become champions of it.”
Every year, ANZ surveys more than 1,000 Australian businesses, from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to large corporates, to get their view on doing business in Asia.
Over the past five years, the Opportunity Asia report has provided businesses with insights into how they can successfully scale their operations and explore different trading possibilities in Asia.
The 2019 ANZ Opportunity Asia report is available to download on the ANZ Be Trade Ready website.
Once the new technology was integrated into the factory, testing and development for taste, texture, packaging and branding was completed to bring the new "Amaze Balls" snack to life. The product was launched in late 2018 throughout supermarkets in Australia and now Ashgrove is pursuing opportunities to export the product to other markets, which is not without its challenges.
“There are some differences required for international packaging, symbols and numbers and definitions, but integrating those elements was easy compared to convincing the business partners to think globally about where our products can go,” Anne says. “It's been a satisfying process for me to find an innovative solution, and drive it until we picked up enough momentum in the business for us to bring it to market."
"As a family business we have been through a strong growth phase over the last decade to go from simply dairy farming, to product development and managing our own exports to China,” she says. “It is not easy, but if you can't be the biggest kid on the block, you've got to try to be the smartest."
Guy Thompson is part of the International Business Development team at ANZ.
For more information on Ashgrove Cheese, you can visit their website.
Small scale, big impact