September 2, 2019, Ruth Hogan
Commodity prices and cold-chain distribution were among the key struggles for Tasmanian dairy producer Ashgrove Cheese, but those challenges acted as inspiration for a cheese product, which the company launched last year.
Following extensive competitor research in the international market, Ashgrove marketing manager Anne Bennett uncovered a solution to the challenges they faced that would also drive growth for the family business.
With protein becoming a key factor in snacking and nutrition choices around the world, Ashgrove thought cheese was an ideal fit to break into this category.
“I’d identified a technology in 2014 which allows you to “pop” the cheese into a crisp, air-dried snack. This creates a convenient and appealing crunchy result, in a similar form factor to other packaged snacks, and also provides a shelf stable product that requires no refrigeration, which is a really unique selling point for cheese,” she said.
Managing cold chain distribution is a daily challenge for dairy companies that distribute milk and cheese. Many solve this by converting milk into milk powder; however the scale required to make this cost-effective is very large. Amazeballs, a cheese product which requires no refrigeration, was an innovative solution to the problem.
“As an SME, product innovation is essential to our longevity we are always tabling and knocking out ideas. The explosion of natural ambient snacks combined with technology to pop our core product Cheese was a value proposition. The attraction of this is two-fold: One – utilise cheese our core product; Two – Produce an ambient product that opens new channels to market.”
They need to produce as much as possible high-value products and services from farm to factory and through distribution without wasting precious resources. Bennett said that market conditions need to be constantly monitored to meet customer’s needs and business targets.
“The dairy industry is exposed to the global commodity market and to seasonal conditions, we have to remember that the cost of production and end consumer price is interlinked with these,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges for the business is managing digital information.
“Our challenge as an SME is meeting our consumer’s expectations to be responsive, engaged, transparent, more open to suggestions and willing to solve problems 24/7. Consumers expect companies to be responsive, engaged, transparent, more open to suggestions and willing to solve problems,” she said.
“The capabilities of a business such as Ashgrove to co-create solutions or trust in markets have shifted to a two-axis framework whereby managers can now use data metrics and connectivity to understand the consumer’s mindset. By analysing consumer input and applying strategic processes while innovating and inventing new products, services or solutions.”
With the increase of plant-based and or nut kind of milk and cheese Bennett said it’s important not to fear the increasing consumption of plant-based.
“Instead as vertically integrated business its how well and fast we can communicate our unique attributes of traceability, transparency and quality to consumers who are actively cutting back on consumption on animal products. So when these consumers choose dairy they are picking up our products the shelf – Quality and Sustainability over quantity — commodity.”
Ashgrove Cheese has been successful with exports to Asia and was featured recently in the ANZ Opportunity Asia report.
“The pursuit of new markets and the successful exchange of goods and services I believe is one, which demands continuous progress throughout our supply chain,” Bennett said.
“Our family has been connected with China since the late ’70s and 80s. My father John AM and ABC National Rural Living legend in 2017 was on the first Australian Dairy delegation to China into the 80’s this laid a foundation respecting the enigma surrounding China. We have also worked closely with Government advisories and ANZ Growth Experts.”
Bennett believes that finding a product that solves a problem gives businesses the best chance for success.
“Be open to learning and listening to advice. Seek differentiation while staying focused on core attributes, understand limitations, capabilities and where your capacity is. Match these with a product that solves a need and you will give yourself the very best chance of success.”