Bumper crop of value-adds

Enterprise: The Other Chef

What they offer: The business collaborates with local growers to provide them with extra revenue streams and minimise both financial losses and food waste.

Situated in Port Macquarie on the mid north coast of NSW, The Other Chef is a family-owned and operated makers’ and providores’ business that was founded by owners Monica and Eric Robinson. “Eric has been a chef for over 35 years, so he looks after product development and manufacturing, while I look after the sales and administrative side of the business,” Monica explains.

The Other Chef started out as a hobby business in 2005. “We had a 10-litre pot and a bucket of ripe strawberries, perfect for jam making,” Monica recalls. “We took a little stall at the local farmers market, where each month, we sold every jar.”

Influenced by the regional foods they discovered during a trip around Australia in 2004, such as in Margaret River in WA, where they discovered a growing culture around value-adding local ingredients to hand-crafted, locally made products, Monica and Eric realised the potential for The Other Chef to become a much more significant venture. Indeed, since starting out in a granny flat in 2005, they are now in their second commercial production premises in Port Macquarie’s light industrial area.

“Using our manufacturing facilities allows growers to value-add their excess or less-than-perfect produce.”

Today, Monica and Eric work with locally and regionally based small growers, many of whom are not only suppliers of ingredients to them, but also clients of their manufacturing service. “Using our manufacturing facilities allows growers to value-add their excess or less-than-perfect produce, creating a product, such as a jam or relish, which has the advantage of a much longer shelf life than the fresh raw material,” Monica explains. “These products often build business for the grower, providing another revenue stream and, most importantly, minimise financial loss and food waste.”

Having such a lush hinterland around Port Macquarie gives Monica and Eric access to growers of a great range of ingredients, including strawberries, rhubarb, grapes, tomatoes, chillies, garlic and citrus.

Monica and Eric carefully prepare all products in small batches and include a wide range, from sweet jams to hot sauce. “Our latest range of products, designed around our house-made black garlic, are quickly becoming our top sellers, both at our factory outlet and via our online store,” Monica enthuses. “Everything is allergen-free, vegan friendly and all natural, with no added preservatives.”

This adherence to choosing local ingredients and services as much as possible is designed to both support their local community and reduce the carbon footprint of their business by lowering the distance their ingredients have to travel. Acknowledging that manufacturing uses a lot of power, Monica is proud of the fact the large rooftop solar system they installed on their facility generates more electricity than they use, thanks in no small part to the sunny climate Port Macquarie enjoys. And the sustainability focus does not end there – Monica and Eric have developed a system whereby all their ‘greenwaste’ – the green tops of strawberries and tomatoes, and other trimmings – is put aside each day and collected regularly by local farmers, who use it to feed their pigs or make compost.

With events taking place again now that COVID-19 lockdowns are, hopefully, a thing of the past, the couple are looking forward to exhibiting at Fine Food Melbourne in September, giving them the opportunity to introduce their brand and products to the interstate markets.

“And our contract manufacturing services will remain an integral part of our business, working with established brands and innovative start-ups, as well as supporting primary producers with value-add and food-waste reduction projects,” Monica enthuses.

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine