FROM the food service industry to the fashion industry, not even proprietors John and Katrina Kelly predicted the path of Lenah Game Meats when it started 30 years ago.
At a time wallaby meat sales are reaching an all-time high, people are also falling in love with their new footwear line, Wuggs.
Yes, like Uggs but made from wallaby skin – a by-product of the game meat industry that until recently went into landfill except for a small amount used for homewear
and Aboriginal cultural purposes. First Nations people have long known about the qualities of wallaby fur, but it took the manufacture of warm, fluffy slippers for today’s Tasmanians to get on board. The Wuggs are sold at a handful of retail outlets around the state.
And it probably won’t stop at Wuggs. If Mr Kelly had his way, the slip-on boot range would include Puggs, (possum), Duggs (deer) and Ruggs (rabbit).
There is even scope to produce a wallaby yarn, blended with 18-micron Merino wool.
“The whole world has changed since Covid and Lenah Game Meats has changed too,” Mr Kelly said.
He said the business was about to move from its factory at Rocherlea to new premises in the old Peters Ice Cream site in South Launceston, which should allow it to expand and add more retail lines.
“Our Wuggs are not only a great way to use up the skins, we’ve had them scientifically tested and what we suspected it true, they’re not only warm and durable but they offer superior airflow to wool. People who wear them don’t experience hot,
sweaty feet, plus the fur comes in beautiful colours.”
The upturn for Lenah Game Meats came in the nick of time as during the pandemic restaurants closed and the Kellys lost their biggest market.
Prime cuts that normally sold for $25kg were being minced or diced and sold for $10kg.
The Kellys were putting in 15- hour days on the processing floor and then doing their usual admin and management duties – an effort not lost on employees who personally thanked them for keeping going.
He said the business was healthy, producing double the volume prior to Covid and the profit margin up 40 per cent on each animal.
Key to the upturn has been tapping into the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements (BAC) wage subsidy for trainees.
“Our employees are getting upskilled, and the productivity has improved dramatically,” he said.
“We’ve also worked hard to develop our retail market to take more prime product and we are value-adding a lot more with specialist ranges of meat.”
Lenah Game Meats processes wild-harvested wallaby, deer, rabbit, hare and possum and sells to every state and territory in Australia.
Tasmania is the only place where wallaby and possum is legally harvested in Australia.
Wallaby meat is much milder and sweeter than mainland kangaroo. It has featured on famous menus, in recipes in Delicious and Gourmet Traveller magazines and on TV cooking shows.
Products and cuts from Lenah Game Meats include wallaby fillet (plain and marinated in lemon myrtle and pepperberry), wallaby mince, sausages, shanks and smoked wallaby and wallaby salami.
The wallaby is hunted by licenced, accredited game meat harvesters who have to take a TAFE course and get assessed and accredited by two different government inspectors.
“We have 12 suppliers who work largely in the Northern Midlands, Fingal Valley, North-East, southern Tasmania and Miena area.”
He said the animals were humanely killed, put straight into chillers and bought into the factory for processing and grading.
“In April we also started processing wild deer which is a big win after bashing our head against a brick wall for the past 10 years.
“It’s hard to believe that deer that have been culled have been going into log heaps to burn when they could have been coming to us.
“This is just wrong and we have geared up ready to produce a healthy, hygienic, animal-welfare friendly product. Chefs in Melbourne can’t wait to get their hands on aged wild fallow venison.”
Around 1000 wallaby and possibly 200 deer will be processed every week at the factory.
“We’re still a micro business, we’re still trying to convince consumers that it’s not just good for pet meat and patties,” Mr Kelly said.
“Every fine food fair, every farmers’ market, the people who taste it say it’s gorgeous – we just have to change the mindset, that it’s not too gamey and it’s a healthy choice.
“For 40,000 years it’s been the meat of choice by Aborigines and it’s only the last 100 years where the marketing has hit a snag.
“I’ve no doubt if we’d been settled by the French it would be our national dish!”