Dairy Free Down Under | Celebrating Australian Food and Agribusiness Innovations 2021
Kevin Flanagan has been in the food industry for 35 years. Supplying mostly fresh cut fruits with a limited shelf life, Kevin was keen to explore other avenues and develop an offering that would see his potential available market expand.
When sales dropped by around 70% courtesy of COVID-19, the deal was sealed. Kevin knew he had to spread his risk against future losses.
After plenty of research — and a couple of false starts — he found a gap in the market inspired in part by a family member. He knew from experience that serving two or three different meals at dinnertime to accommodate dietary restrictions was inconvenient. He could also see that consumers had a range of drivers beyond health to opt for vegan-friendly and gluten-, GMO- and palm oil-free food choices.
Dairy Free Down Under (DFDU) is about as far from fresh cut fruit as you can get. The brand produces dairy-free cheese blocks, shreds and slices, along with snack packs, condiments and a range of dips.
Kevin says without experience in the food industry, the brand may never have seen the light of day. He also credits support from FIAL as a major contributor. “Everyone thought we were mad. The product was so far removed from the current offering, people just couldn’t see the logic, but we knew we needed to steer into a completely new direction. The FIAL grant fast-tracked everything and gave us a huge jump,” he said.
FIAL’s ‘Meet the Buyer’ events were key to the brand’s international market entry, though obviously confined to Zoom while the pandemic raged. “I think it actually works better than travelling. The events are a great door opener and conversation starter, but it’s really up to you to take it from there. You have to be proactive,” he said. Those meetings have been fruitful, leading to distribution deals in Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia.
A focus on customer need has been a driver for product and packing improvements, designed to increase shelf appeal and deliver the results that customers are looking for. A flexible attitude helps, with Kevin open to product modifications to alter meltability or flavour, for example.
DFDU launched successfully into the QSR, foodservice, independent grocer and health food channels, and Kevin says the support has been incredible. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we need to look after each other. Australians need to support Australian businesses and, as producers, we all need to look out for each other and help come up with new ideas. Everyone is struggling.
“FIAL, Trade & Investment Queensland and AusIndustry have all been fantastic in that regard. It’s exactly the support we need to create Australian product, made by Australian workers and ensuring our industry thrives,” he said.