THE Jackmans at Red Cow Organics in Oldina in the North West are about to see a selection of their dairy products on the shelves in all Tasmanian Woolworths stores, before expanding into NSW and Victorian premium stores by January.
The deal marks Red Cow Organics’ first supply agreement with a major retailer– there are about 36 premium stores in each state – and is a direct outcome from being involved in Seedlab.
The product range in the deal includes their certified Organic Persian Feta (Chilli & Garlic, Herb & Garlic), Farm House Jack Cheddar, Gruyere & Cream Cream Brie.
For cheesemakers Matt and Andy Jackman of Red Cow Organics it has meant some paring down, refining their offering.
“Thanks to the Seedlab program, we now have the vision and direction we needed to be able to grow, foster our strengths and continue to build a successful business,” Andy said.
“It’s allowed us to scale what we do to partner with Woolworths for the first time and we’re excited about seeing our organic cheese in-store and in customers’ shopping baskets later this year.”
They make farmhouse cheeses – that is all the milk comes from their own herd grazing in rugged hills behind Wynyard.
The Red Cow name for the business is plucked not from the air but from the breed of their cattle, Aussie Red.
Matt is a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and they hope their son Harvey is a fifth.
When drought in Victoria in 2002 made Tasmania a more attractive prospect, the couple brought Aussie Red and some Holstein Friesians with them when they moved here.
The Friesians are the big milk producers of the dairy industry, the smaller Reds, not so much.
But on the 120ha the Jackmans bought at Oldina the only flat land is occupied by the dairy factory and its carpark and the robust, nuggety little Reds did much better on the hills than the Friesians.
And while the quantity of the milk they produce is not as great, it is really rich milk with a better taste.
“We do not standardise our milk,” said Andy.
“We do not take any goodness out of it, we do not add anything to it, so the cheese we make this morning is today’s milk, yesterday’s grass.”
It’s artisanal cheese – made by hand and the cheesemaker’s skill rather than a cleverly engineered production line.
There are three parts to their enterprise.
First they are grass farmers and managers of livestock, then cheesemakers and then they have to get that cheese to market.
They wanted help from Seedlab to shift their enterprise from a lifestyle to a money-making business, but soon came to appreciate that less can be more.
Several of the lines they usedto make were dropped, including camembert, quark and mozzarella.
“They were all beautiful and unusual, but difficult to do at an artisan level,” Andy said.
“They are time-consuming and expensive to make.
“Seedlab taught us that you can’t do everything, you have only so many resources and you have to focus on the things that are going to do best for you – and not get distracted.”
“We were taking orders and making as the orders came in. We were busy, but you can be busy but ineffective.”
“Now we have a planned pathway; there is a structure.”
Making fewer products also meant being able to implement lessons on improving process and flow systems.
The start of the Covid crisis and the Cultivate part of the Seedlab program – six months of intensive work on building knowledge, resources and networks – arrived practically hand-in-hand.
For Andy and Matt it meant a 180-degree pivot, taking their focus from the food service sector to retailing.
Restaurants and cafes had accounted for 70 per cent of their sales.
As the hospitality sector suddenly shut down Andy and Matt’s focus had to switch to retail – a place they had been reluctant to visit.
“We did a little bit of retail but not very well,” said Andy.
“Seedlab helped us learn how to get the capability of fulfilling a retail contract – being able to supply the product of consistent quality every week, with no hold-ups.”
“As much as the quality of the product that we produce, it is important to get those relationships with distributors and retailers right.”
“Now we are initiating orders, working on promos, being forward in the management of it and really trying to get known.”
The ratio of retail to food service has turned right around – now 70 per cent of production goes to retailers, including the IGA chain and high-end delis.
And they do some of their own retailing.
Red Cow Organics is a regular at Harvest Market in Launceston, an opportunity for face-to-face contact with customers and direct feedback.
Their year-round signature product is Persian Feta which was a Tasmanian winner in the delicious Produce Awards and was named best feta by the Dairy Industry Association of Australia in 2019.
Producers and manufacturers looking to develop their products for retail distribution can register their interest with Seedlab Australia online and find more information at seedlabaustralia.com.au