From inception up until the setting up process, how did you start your business?
When I first began researching agri-business in Australia, I found that there was no major producer of garlic. Around 95 per cent of garlic sold in Australia was being imported from China. I tried to find out why this was the case.
It was hard to find Australian grown garlic and it was difficult to grow, because there was no disease resistant garlic varieties in Australia and this had to be developed with Intellectual Property from Europe. I was lucky enough to attend university back in the 1980s when it was free of charge, graduating in Science.
I worked for several years as an industrial chemist but always had a passion for working on the land. My garlic started off as a hobby, something I did in my spare time and funded with my own resources. It took me about 10 years before the operation actually became profitable.
I didn’t have children back then, so I felt that I was able to take more risks. I made a lot of mistakes that were all very valuable lessons that have helped me to make better decisions now. I was lucky to have a supportive partner and family who encouraged me to follow my dream and to do what makes me happy.
Did your Greek Australian background help you or impede you during your early days?
My background did not impede me, in fact many associates in the fresh food (agribusiness) sector are of ethnic background.
My work involves a lot of travel to many places around the world. My Greek background helps me to appreciate and understand other cultures.
What would you say stands out as the comparative advantage of your business over the competition?
There is no other competitor. Other garlic growers produce garlic on a small market garden scale. Australian Garlic Producers (AGP) Pty Ltd has mechanised planting, harvest, processing and packing.
We are the only large scale producers of garlic that supply major Australian supermarkets nationally. Garlic is one of the hardest agricultural products to grow on a broad acre scale. AGP was able to establish supply agreements with major supermarkets. Australian grown garlic is among the healthiest and tastiest garlic in the world.
Imported garlic is not always grown to the same stringent standards as our local garlic. It is believed that in some of the low labour cost countries, chemicals that are banned in Australia are still being used for the production of garlic.
How is business currently?
Thankfully good! The current economic crisis has not affected our sales. I suppose people still have to eat. The drought in Victoria meant that we had to develop a growing operation in a viable area, so at the moment we are growing garlic in Tasmania. Contingency planning is critical but it is also important to be adaptable and innovative wherever possible. In fact during difficult times, people probably cook more at home and really enjoy using garlic when preparing healthy home cooked meals.
What is your vision for the future of your business?
My vision is to replace most of the imported garlic with safe and healthy Australian grown garlic. Furthermore, Australia produces garlic at a time of the year when there is a global shortage of fresh garlic so there exists a good opportunity to export garlic into the Northern Hemisphere. We have a minced garlic paste that we supply to Woolworths and Coles and we hope to expand into more value added products in the future.
Do you have any tips for young entrepreneurs?
Ensure your product is unique and do your market research – The business must be market driven and not production driven. Make sure you have sound contracts in place with your customers.
You must enjoy your work because generally you will spend many hours developing any new venture. Understand what drives you and stay focused on your goal. Challenges will always present themselves within your business – it’s how well you manage them that will determine your success. This is no different to everyday life. It is not just about the money you make but also about the contribution you make to society. Never become complacent – ongoing improvement is vital.
Most importantly try to have a healthy balance between work, family and friends.