Q&A: Forbidden Foods

This week’s Q&A participant is Marcus Brown, co-founder alongside Jarrod Milani, of the food solutions start-up Forbidden Foods. Having launched in 2010, Forbidden Foods has grown to a leading supplier of rice-based foods such as organic rice, conventional rice and rice flour.

Inside Small Business talked to Marcus about Forbidden Foods’ journey and how it managed to find success in an industry that was long dominated by a monopoly.

ISB: How did the idea of Forbidden Foods came about?

MB: While living in the US, I started eating a range of healthy grains that weren’t well known or widely available in Australia. One of them was black rice, which was a more approachable, affordable, easy-to-cook and tastier grain that had the same, if not more, health benefits than existing superfood grains on the market.

After returning back to Australia, Jarrod and I developed a new organic rice brand and released the first easy-to-cook black rice product into Australia. From there, our range of rice-based products continued to expand.

ISB: Was there any apprehension on your part in starting this business and taking on a monopoly in the process? If so, how did you manage to address it?

MB: It was daunting. But we were young, full of new food ideas and thought this industry needs to change so why not give it a crack? We saw rice as fundamental in so many cuisines, and the main ingredient for gluten free products which is an exploding food sector. The opportunity to introduce unique, organic and healthy rice varieties to the market was massive. Monopolies tend not to offer innovate products as they often only stay with what’s worked for them over the decades.

ISB: How has the business managed to thrive despite the presence of a large competitor?

MB: It was a lot of effort to grow successfully in such a controlled market. However, the way we work with the customer and focus on their needs significantly differentiates us from the competition. We are reinventing rice and, so far, we’ve had great success providing high quality services and working on bespoke rice products for customers that want something unique. This meant introducing new manufacturing techniques and adapting rice in ways it hadn’t been before.

ISB: What valuable insights or innovations have you managed to pick up along the way that have been helpful in running the business?

MB: Ensuring the right partners are involved straightaway, from legal to accounting, is crucial. Having the right advice and thinking long term helped us to structure the business to be ready for $100m+ revenue even if it’s a little more up-front cost.

We have always strived to ensure our business operations are highly automated. Businesses in this day and age need to think longer term and radically improve their decision-making time, financial day-to-day management, and fulfillment processes to accommodate the fast-paced demands of today’s trend-focused customers.

ISB: What’s the most important lesson you have learned on this journey that you could pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?

MB: Persistence is key when entering a challenging or highly competitive industry. We’ve seen so many businesses and founders with fantastic products that could be successful against the status quo give up two top three years in, even though they’re seeing growth. It takes time to enter a market so use the initial years to build a solid reputation, achieve healthy financial results and plan your supply chain to be ready for large volumes.

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