Business IQ

War stories: Maggie Beer's perfect recipe to small business success

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

It only took Maggie Beer 20 years to become an overnight success. Maggie Beer has been a staple in Australian households for many years, but it took a lot of work to get there.

Maggie Beer has been a staple in Australian households for many years, but it took a lot of work to get there.

The inspiration for thousands of Aussie home cooks and the brains behind a thriving gourmet food business, Beer tells Smarter Business Ideas that a pressing need to shift unsold stocks of farm fresh food led to a retail revolution.

maggie beer holding box of peaches in food store

1. Creating opportunity from adversity is the beginning for many small businesses

In 1997 Maggie Beer and her husband, Colin, were having difficulty selling produce from their Barossa Valley farm, so as a way of using what they were growing she started cooking.

“I created my first opportunity from the fact we were farming and couldn’t sell our produce. So I created recipes, cooked the produce and sold it direct to market. It was the most obvious way of using what we were growing. I just wanted to be a great cook using the produce from the farm. And that’s what I still do now. It’s all about my ideas of how to use the food from my region in South Australia that keeps the business fresh. I’ve never changed.

I still specialise in utilising the produce we grow on the farm and I’ve never followed anyone else. I still cook every day, and I just keep on doing what I do and over time we have developed a wider audience.”

2. Staying relevant In a crowded marketplace comes down to ideas

Maggie’s reputation grew with the popular television show The Cook and the Chef, (screening on the ABC from 2006 to 2009), and she regularly appears on MasterChef.

“I do admire all these new chefs from reality competitions for having a go, and for being out of their comfort zone and learning. They’re just at the beginning of having a taste of something they want. The learning has got to continue though, as the path has a lot of twists and turns.

I have been in business for 30 years now. I have 100 employees including three quality assurance people. One is a microbiologist, but you have to get to be a certain size before you can afford that. These days, my husband is totally involved with what happens on the farm. I’m totally involved in productivity and I drive all product development. Coming up with new ideas is what I love the most, and making sure everything is right.”

3. Development and passion are staple ingredients for a successful business

Maggie believes you can cook a beautiful meal in less time than driving to pick up takeaway.

“For busy people, cooking fresh food is all about planning, having a wonderful pantry and buying things in season that you have to do little to. It’s about confidence and knowledge as well. The best thing for me is my garden; being able to pick whatever is in season. If you don’t have a garden though, just have pots of herbs, the difference is extraordinary.

No one can tell me they can’t put out a meal in 15-20 minutes when it would take that long to get in the car and pick up something someone else has made. In winter, I’ll make a big pot of soup that’s a meal in itself that will do for two nights. And slow cookers are wonderful. I put things in the slow cooker in the morning and come back 10 hours later and it’s perfect.”

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