Story and photo by Vivienne Pearson
These days, there’s an expo for everything. The big one for food is Fine Foods Australia, which is held annually, alternating between Sydney and Melbourne. This week, with more than 1,000 exhibitors, it’s in Melbourne.
This is no ‘wander in off the street for a squizz and a bite to eat’ style food expo. Fine Foods Australia is all about business, so admission is open only to those in food and hospitality industries. Exhibiting is no minor undertaking – it costs big bucks (there is a whole industry based around creating stands for these expos).
Brookfarm is one local company that is in Melbourne this week. Martin Brook, chairman and co-founder, sees attendance as an investment. ‘People come from all over the world to see what Australia has to offer,’ he says of the expo. Brookfarm products are currently sold in 17 countries and aims to increase this over the coming years.
Martin attends along with CEO Pam Brook and a couple of key staff. Attendance meets multiple goals: solidifying existing customer relations, catching up with distributors who are based in other states, and finding new corporate customers. It is an opportunity to showcase new products – for Brookfarm this year this is a baked Florentine bar and two flavours of granola (‘a more heavily baked product than muesli,’ Martin describes). As a bonus, Martin says he enjoys Fine Foods as a chance to catch up with friends who are in the food business in other parts of Australia.
While Martin enjoys visiting Melbourne or Sydney for such events, he has no interest in moving permanently, no matter how much Brookfarm grows. ‘Companies of our size drift to cities but we don’t want to,’ he says. ‘Bangalow is where we started from – our first customer was the Bangalow Post Office – and we are passionate in supporting local employees.’
Plans for larger production premises just outside Bangalow are currently with the state government. Martin is genuinely excited about the possibilities this site would provide – including custom-designed spaces (‘beautiful and sustainable’), solar panels (‘that could power a huge chunk of Bangalow’), and planting up to 3,000 trees for ingredients and beauty (‘rainforest regeneration is my hobby’). ‘Byron Shire can lead the way on this – no-one else has done dedicated and sustainable food businesses in a way that encapsulates all these things,’ Martin says.
It would also mean that Brookfarm could remain in the region. Martin won’t be drawn on what the alternative would be – simply repeating that he has no interest in leaving the region.
Except for short visits, that is. Brookfarm are not the only locals visiting Melbourne to exhibit at the Fine Food Festival. Baraka Foods (makers of dips, based in Bilinudgel) are making their third visit, and The Byron Bay Cookie Company have been more than 20 times – all promoting this area’s food wares to the wider world.
Martin Brook makes sure he has a good breakfast before heading to Melbourne