THE Benson family built their artisan cheese business around a premium farm-shop experience and have been forced to roll with the punches like never before.
Never one to dwell on the negatives, Apostle Whey Cheese has tapped into new interstate markets and is forging ahead with expansion plans and job creation.
“I don’t know what it says that we’re prepared to expand in this environment, but you just have to try and be positive and know that it will turn around,” owner Julian Benson said.
While the Cooriemungle farm shop remains open on weekdays, foot traffic is a fraction of what the Bensons have come to expect from tourists along the Great Ocean Road.
Mr Benson said on top of their own sales slump, retailers who stocked their cheeses and bottled milk were in the same situation, so wholesale had also slid dramatically.
“I was watching one of my favorite shows on the ABC, Landline, and this story came on about Cheese Therapy – a business focused on helping artisan cheesemakers impacted by the virtual shutdown of much of the food industry,” he said.
“Cheese Therapy took a lot of their product, put four cheeses into ‘therapy boxes’ and distributed it around Australia. They are doing a lot of advertising.
“We got in touch and now, starting this month, we’ve got product going through a distribution centre in Geelong and it’s going direct to people’s doors all over Australia which is something we haven’t been able to effectively do ourselves before.
“It’s funny how things happen – Cheese Therapy have sent cheese as far as Kununurra so there’s great distribution throughout Australia. People who have come here from interstate and had the experience, now have an opportunity to get our cheeses and that’s just fantastic for us.”
Mr Benson said the new market was substantial, with hundreds of boxes containing four Apostle Whey Cheeses already distributed across the country.
“We’re lucky, we’ve got Job Keeper to help as well and keep our team together and now we’re lifting production again,” he said.
“Cash flow is still taking a hit, but I’m grateful for the government support. March was like dropping off a cliff and now we’ve got production going the right way again – up.”
The Bensons had just embarked on construction of a new milk bottling plant when COVID-19 hit and despite the pandemic they are determined to complete the project.
“My view is we won’t have people coming from overseas much for a couple of years, but we also won’t have Australians leaving the country much, so we have our own domestic tourists who will be out exploring our beautiful part of the world,” Mr Benson said.
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