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A lamb brand on a roll

14 May 2020

Key points:

  • Expanding vertically can open up new opportunities.
  • Knowing what you don’t want to do can be as important as knowing what you do want to do.
  • Making the most of opportunities leads to further opportunities.

Reinventing a business is a daunting task, but NSW sheep producers Fiona and Bill Aveyard took the challenge headon for their family and their community.

Fiona and Bill both came from traditional mixed farming families and were running a traditional cropping/livestock enterprise at Tullamore until succession planning discussions inspired a shift in how they approached their business.

“Bill’s family had just gone through a successful generational shift in the farming business and, even though they’d done it well, I suddenly realised that with our four kids, we couldn’t just keep on doing things the old way,” Fiona said.

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Bill and Fiona Aveyard with three of their children – Evie, Archie and Jim. Their daughter Lily was at boarding school. Image: Georgie Newton Photography.

In the face of tight margins, their strategy to stay viable was to expand horizontally to increase productivity: more land, bigger machinery and more technology.

However, this wasn’t changing their margins and Fiona was conscious that bigger farms can lead to smaller communities.

Faced with these dilemmas, Fiona took a new approach and asked a new question: ‘What if we expanded vertically instead of horizontally?’

From this vision, Outback Lamb was born, creating a value-added pathway for their business which flows through their small community.

Starting a lamb brand was daunting, but Fiona set out with a clear list of what she wanted to do, as well as what she did not want to do.

“We wanted to provide opportunities for our kids so they could one day work in the business if they wanted to and at the same time provide business opportunities in the community.

“We didn’t want to do farmers’ markets because we’re pretty remote here and I didn’t want to create too many extra jobs for us to do.”

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Fiona and Bill work directly with butchers to sell their Outback Lamb products. Image: Georgie Newton Photography.

Business development

Outback Lamb kicked off in in 2017, when Fiona approached some local butchers and a nearby micro-abattoir to process some lambs. She used social media and a simple website to sell boxed lamb directly to consumers.

As business grew, the Aveyards adjusted their supply chain and now work directly through butchers.

“A lot of butchers are keen to have a direct relationship with farmers, so we redirect any customers who come to us back to the butchers.”

The Aveyards have overcome the geographical barriers of their remote location by simple collaboration, teaming up with two other local producers – the Gourmet Goat Lady and Farmer Brown’s Pastured Eggs – to buy a refrigerated truck. They share the weekly 10-hour round trip to take their product to artisanal butchers in Sydney and Wollongong.

Outback Lamb also collaborated with MLA’s CoMarketing program to assist with marketing their product by co-funding branding on their truck.

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Archie, Evie and Jim Aveyard enjoying some Outback Lamb sausage rolls. Image: Georgie Newton Photography.

Value adding

Fiona, who was a 2019 Farmer of the Year finalist, is certainly not one to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Her quest for new ideas led to value adding their product.

“We’re proudly local and we hang our shingle out there at community events whenever we can,” she said.

At one such community event, Beers to the Bush Festival in Dubbo, the Aveyards served up Outback Lamb sausage rolls.

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Outback Lamb sausage rolls. Image: Georgie Newton Photography.

As well as “going down a treat” with boutique beers, Fiona said it gave them the idea of doing more with their lamb than standard cuts.

She took the idea of a gourmet lamb sausage roll to Farmers2Founders, an ideas accelerator program supported by MLA.

She said the opportunity to meet otheAveyard 5 - Featured.jpgr innovators through Farmers2Founders was an eye-opener.

“It was tough to look at our business with fresh eyes but we were able to really scrutinise where we were going.

“We talked to a lot of people in the food industry and looked at megatrends, which made me realise the preservative-free trend was a good fit for our artisanal range, so that’s what we’ve done with the sausage rolls.

“We also looked at compostable packaging and, as a direct result of the work we’ve done with Farmers2Founders, we’ve changed to using preservative-free and green packaging.”

The Aveyards have now finalised their sausage roll recipe, completed product development and testing, and are taking orders.

“We want to maximise the return on the animal and utilise all the animal, which is our ethos,” Fiona said.

“We also want to grow businesses and opportunities in the local communities, so we’re working with a baker in Condobolin to create the sausage rolls.”