The Young Farmer Business Network (YFBN), aims to share personal stories and photos, events and opportunities of great things happening on farms and in your community and organisations.
We met Bec Dunlop at a recent Agriculture Victoria meeting in Horsham. Like you, Bec is passionate about agriculture and supporting local farming businesses. In this article we talk with Bec about overcoming challenges with being fifth generation farmers and the food industry, get nostalgic about her nana’s 1970’s kitchen and her vision for Rupanyup to be the next foodie venue!
Bec Dunlop from Rupanyup describes herself as a country girl at heart, but one who’s always got big ideas and loves to think outside the square. Bec doesn’t mind a challenge which she demonstrated by marrying her blind date, Greg – a fifth generation Dunlop farmer in Rupanyup. Greg, Bec and their two farming crazy boys Baxta and Max have made their home at Rupanyup continuing the farming succession of Dunlop Brothers. For Bec, moving to a small rural community brings out some of the best values in life but it equally contributes with its challenges. Her experience with these values and challenges are what has driven her vision and passion for contributing to the agricultural industry by way of paddock to plate and diversifying what has been done for five generations by creating wholesome foods in a niche market.
The problem with farmers….
From early on, Bec was interested in why cropping farmers would spend hours upon hours prepping, nurturing and harvesting grain and pulse commodities, yet there didn’t seem to be a great deal of evidence of local produce on our food plates. It astounded her that growers were satisfied with bulk selling of these commodities that take a year or more to move from a seed to a sale, instead of showcasing through eating and bringing people in to appreciate the tough rural slog in more depth.
The commodities are sold in bulk and then shipped on, yet she can take a 100 grams of any lentil variety add them to soup, salad or lasagna and sell the food to consumers as a meal and instantly her 100 grams of lentils have gone from $500 a tonne to $150,000 a tonne. To do the math, there’s 10,000 meals in a tonne of lentils if using 100 grams on average meal price of $15 sees $150,000 in gross meal sales!
Tackling fifth generation farmers to shift their mindset and to see the potential of value adding to what they do. Farms are getting bigger, more technology increases improve viability. Yet one tonne of lentils could potentially draw in a gross of $150,000. Sell her a 30 tonne truck and she’ll let you do the math ($4,500,000).
Thinking outside the square….
In July 2018, Bec launched a new catering business and concept called Healthy Impulse branded to attract people with vibrant fresh foods that taste amazing. The business uses fresh vegetables, salads and fruits along with locally grown pulse and grain produce sourced from the Wimmera Grain Store in Rupanyup and Burrum Biodynamics at Marnoo. The main commodities used are chickpeas, several lentil varieties, pearl barley, spelt farro and organic oats.
Food industry challenges….
Bec has faced two major challenges with the food industry to date.
Being a small business, she’s not recognised as a registered supplier by government bodies within the health sector; meaning she can’t supply to hospital kiosks even if the staff are begging for it. She found out through investigating that there is no audit system set up for a non registered supplier so although the health sector has spent money employing management to implement healthy changes there is no system in place to outsource the food or to re-educate their kitchen staff to actually make these changes happen long term.
Secondly consumer eating habits…
On Saturdays the word healthy is apparently not ok. It’s our day off in ‘straya’ and this was actual, consistent feedback she got. They experienced this at many events on Fridays, Saturdays or evenings or where alcohol was available or where she was placed in between things like souvlakis and hot chips. People saw the word healthy and took a hard left exit. She spent a year trying different events, different times of the day, different styles of event etc and was able to get a clear understanding of their future viability of what needed to change to continue to grow and develop the business.
Addressing the challenges with the help of her nana’s 1970’s inspired caravan….
The pop up food van was established as a disconnection from the food label Healthy Impulse. A new business name Seed n Sprout was launched in line with her paddock to plate vision, she used calm inviting colours and created a food van that resembles a modern day take on her nanas 1970’s kitchen. The pop up food van give them some flexibility to alter the menu if they want to, and can use meats, dairy and gluten.
The idea behind the food van concept as opposed to a shop front was to allow for flexibility with transporting the business. Foot traffic alone in Rupanyup is approx 300 people, of those 300 stats would show many are retired pensioners. Transporting the van will help grow depth in popularity and create interest in future business. Reality is transporting the van will be what initially keeps the business financially viable.
Did we mention the coffee?…
When she is not towing the van around, they reside at the old shire office building in the centre of Rupanyup, have outdoor gardens, grass and seating as well as indoor seating and a kids play space, keeping kids and pets happy! The coffee is sourced from Nine Creeks Roasting Co, a new business run by a young farming family at Blackheath just out of Horsham. They are looking to diversify themselves too and their coffee is amazing!
Rupanyup the new foodie venue…
Bec plans to redevelop the external space to create a beer garden type atmosphere. Internally, planning to renovate a loft apartment and apply to LLV and council for a liquor license. The addition will allow them to showcase local wineries and breweries in line with the paddock to plate vision.
Ultimately, Bec wants to be considered in close company with the successful wine regions and the peninsulas that truly value and add to their local produce and where we all want to visit their space to appreciate their authenticity.
Bec’s biggest pieces of advice for others starting out in business?
A key piece of advice is to do your research and experiment and analyse everything including what you believe your prospective market is.
A target market based on your vision is a big player in your success, just because Bec makes good food doesn’t mean people will stop and buy it. Analyse what your prospective customer does on a regular daily basis and don’t go by the verbal support or social media. Actually see what the trends are. For Bec, the skilled labour interested in her product all travel out of town for work five days a week. Always be prepared to shift your focus from your initial goals in order to find some success, they altered the Friday menu because they were mainly seeing blokes. Stay true to your goals but be prepared to redefine some things that will help you back to your initial goals long term.
How often do you do budgets?
Everything Bec does has some sort of budgeting attached to it. They haven’t borrowed a cent. So if the business isn’t profiting, they aren’t moving forward and without an overdraft she knows straight away what isn’t working. She costs out everything as it occurs and pre orders in advance ensures pricing for upcoming orders.
Sometimes the word budgeting for her can also reflect more a process of asking herself “what am I prepared to lose financially in this situation” or “what’s my break even as the event or job may be more beneficial as promotion or advertising”. Another side note is not having all your eggs in one basket and looking for multiple income streams.
Where do you get advice/help?
Bec has seven years experience in the banking industry and through this she dealt with a lot of accounting as well as consumer and small business customers. She credits this experience for some of her knowledge and ability to nut things out. Throwing yourself into different opportunities and having life experience is a true asset, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but with everything you encounter you can stand back up wiser and more determined to succeed.
Work / life balance…
Bec struggles with this area and what she believes it should be, as a mum to two boys, a wife, a farmer’s wife, a personal trainer by early morning and by evening and now a food business owner spending the days planning, prepping, cooking it’s a challenge to be able to just stop.
Her task is to recognise the implications of trying to run a food business where the closest fresh supplies are a 100km round trip and to balance this by sometimes saying no.
Her aim in the short term is to be sustainable enough to avoid repetitive short ordering of stock, this will free up her computer time so she can be with their boys more at night. Stock that has to be couriered needs at least one weeks lead time to ensure it hits the distributors truck to Rupanyup. It’s a massive challenge of organisation, pre planning, prepping, emailing and monitoring and extremely time consuming.
Her final thoughts would be “buy from the bush” small businesses often pop up in rural communities as there is a need or there is a demand for a service but overall the reality is that the business is someone’s passion, livelihood and personal drive to provide a better community for their family, their neighbors and their kids. We can’t shift the farm, this is where the farm is. Please stop in our towns and find the little pop up food vans having a red hot crack building a bright future for our country areas.
A massive thanks to Bec for sharing her story with us. The themes from Bec’s story are relevant for many involved in the Young Farmer Business Network. From the importance of having a vision, setting goals, overcoming challenges by developing new approaches to having a business plan and working on her budgets. Connect with Bec on social media, and be sure to catch her for a coffee sometime soon!