OUR love affair with locally grown organic food and artisan food producers gains momentum with each passing year.
Whether you like to buy direct from the grower or maker at one of the ever increasing number of community farmers’ markets, or you’re a retailer and restaurateur who visits Fine Food Australia trade exhibitions to source new products, there is much to excite your eyes and tastebuds. And if you take time to inquire, there is usually an interesting story or two behind each beautifully packaged product.
Ningana Fine Foods is a small food producer based in the NSW Riverina city of Griffith. Their inspirational story is one that stretches almost 50 years since the foundation of Ningana Enterprises Inc as a disability support service in 1965.
They launched into food production in 2009 when the organisation purchased a 40 acre farm in nearby Tharbogang. The aim was to provide training and employment and further opportunities for people with a disability inline with other long-standing programs and services. The farm employs up to 27 people with a disability at any one time.
Jo Polkinghorne, the Business Development Manager for Ningana Enterprises says that being awarded a 2012 Westpac Catalyst Grant to develop the farm and establish a website gave the business the huge production and marketing boost that it needed. The farm produced its first range of preserves in 2012 and was certified organic in July this year.
In 2013 Ningana Fine Foods was one of 16 premium food manufacturers awarded a place on the NSW Trade & Investment Flavours of NSW stand at Fine Food Australia in Sydney.
“Our place on the Flavours of NSW stand in 2013 boosted outlets which stock our products by 80 per cent. It was a wonderful experience,” Polkinghorne said. “Trade and Investment NSW provide incredible support.
“We now have 40 outlets across the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Victoria including the Yarra Valley area, Richmond and Swan Hill.”
Gift packs and gift boxes are the most popular items in the range.
Having “identified government grants as a way to give the business the step up we needed to get us out there,” Polkinghorne says she then successfully applied for a place on the Flavours of NSW stand at Fine Food Australia in Melbourne this year.
A spokesperson for NSW Trade & Investment says they received 20 applications for 14 places.
“Ningana participated on the NSW Trade & Investment stand in 2013 with good results, with one of the outcomes being significant growth in the number of outlets selling their produce, from four before the event to 34 following the event,” they said.
“With Fine Food Australia in Melbourne this year, the company was keen to use the opportunity to further develop its market in Victoria.
“Apart from having a fantastic range of quality produce, Ningana takes a very progressive approach to marketing and is a strong advocate of NSW regional produce. We felt they would be a major asset to the Flavours of NSW stand at Fine Food Australia in 2014.”
Polkinghorne says her current objective is to find two distributors to help grow sales. “A distributor has to love what we do because customers are buying so much more when they buy us.”
They are showing that they value the work of the disability support service and are boosting the confidence of the people it employs.
“We call it ‘A gift that gives’. It says to someone that we know you will appreciate our story. That’s a powerful message.”
NSW Trade & Investment confirms there is a growing interest in the Riverina region’s produce both domestically and from overseas.
“The Riverina’s outstanding produce is the result of generations of hard work, investment and resilience on the part of farmers and producers,” the spokesperson said.
“Previous drought conditions have, however, driven greater diversification and this, combined with significant growth in demand for high quality produce – for instance from Asian markets – has helped build a greater profile for the region’s food and wine.
“Over the next 12 to 24 months we are expecting average domestic sales to increase by around $30,000 and average export sales to increase by $5,500 per participant, plus there’s a strong likelihood of additional jobs being created over the same period.”
From a small agricultural start-up that was so good at growing strawberries they decided to make jam, Polkinghorne says, “We are now trying to develop and stand up on our own without government support.”