Carolyn Creswell

A Q&A with Carman’s

It can be extremely confusing deciding which brand of muesli to buy in the supermarket when faced with so many different varieties.

Muesli is Swiss German for a dish which is both breakfast and brunch, made up of rolled oats and other ingredients such as grains, dried fruits, seeds and nuts. Since its inception in the 1900s, muesli has evolved in many ways and we now have the choice of not only muesli itself, but also muesli bars made with a variety of ingredients catering to various consumer choices.

One brand which stands out on supermarket shelves is Carman’s – not only for its visually appealing packaging, but also for its products which are based on the belief that all food should come from the kitchen, not from the chemist.

We are really conscious of using only ingredients that we need to, and using only clean ingredients — just like you would in your own kitchen at home.

The Carman’s journey started in 1992 with its founder and inspirational leader, Carolyn Creswell, who has built Carman’s into the number-one-selling gourmet muesli brand in Australia, and now exports to 32 countries.

Carolyn talks to WellBeing about her business, her commitment to work-life balance and raising four kids aged 11 and under.

How did you start Carman’s?

I started this business when I was an 18-year-old uni student. I was working in a little bakery one day a week making muesli and they told me I was going to lose my job as the business was to be sold. So for $1000 I bought into this little business 24 years ago. That’s how Carman’s started.

Is this something you always wanted to do?

It was more about just taking an opportunity. When it passed my way I said, “Hang on! I am making the muesli — why couldn’t I be the one who bought this little business?” So it was about recognising the opportunity and giving it a go.

How did you manage to make a success of a business you bought for just $1000?

It’s been over a long time — it certainly didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow and steady plod every year to be better and to be very customer-focussed so that we can deliver products consumers want to buy. I never imagined it would be as big it is today, but you know it’s been 24 years! It’s a long, long time. I still pinch myself when I think back 24 years to when I was an 18-year-old student, personally hand-making and packing each and every single packet of Carman’s muesli. I used to make deliveries next to Linfox semi-trailers out the back of my little Daewoo hatchback.

Back then, my boyfriend at the time, Pete, would get emergency phone calls from me saying I had just received a huge order and that he was needed to come and pack muesli with me into the wee hours. With no advertising budget, my mum’s marketing tactic was to stand in a store and announce THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING MUESLI to anyone vaguely within earshot. Mum’s marketing tactics haven’t changed that much, but I have. I’m now a wife to that wonderful emergency muesli packer, a mother to four beautiful children, and a proud employer to the best team of people you could possibly wish to work with. I really do pinch myself with all that we have achieved over the years.”

Tell me about your products. How are they different from others in the market?

We have a range of different products. We started with just one type of muesli and now we have a range of mueslis, clusters, porridges and oats. And then in nutritional snacks or mueslis bars, we have ranges from traditional bars to protein bars to nut bars. We are about to launch bliss balls, which is another category of little bite-size healthy balls within a resealable bag. We have a broad range of products and we design them so that people will really enjoy them. So the products are good for you but they also taste great.

As a health food producer have you ever faced opposition to what you make and supply?

Probably more from prevailing health trends. For example, in the early days the trend was against fat so we took coconut out of the products, and now that trend has moved on and the concern is more about sugar, so we have been able to put the coconut back in. So we do products with coconut but we are very conscious of sugar levels. It’s much more about what’s happening in the market place and what people are looking for, and how we can deliver a product that the consumer wants to buy.

I understand you are highly committed to a healthy work-life balance. How do you instil that at work?

I try to treat people at work as I would like to be treated myself. When my staff come to work, they have the tools of the trade — like good computers — so they can get on and do their work. We don’t micromanage or have unnecessary meetings all the time. Our staff can still work hard and effectively and get out of the door at 5.30 or thereabouts and go home. I really think it’s about letting people get on with what they are doing. Sometimes in the corporate world you can get dragged into too many meetings, or people have too many coffees at a coffee meeting down the street, and then all of a sudden its 5 o’ clock and they think, “Oh gosh, I had better start doing my work!”

I understand you work with a small team. Did you always want to work with a small group of people?

Well it’s 25 people, so I don’t know if you would call that small. It feels like a lot of people. That’s still a quite a team to manage.

As a mum of four, you understand the importance of nourishing food. How is that incorporated in Carman’s products?

We are really conscious of using only ingredients that we need to, and using only clean ingredients — just like you would in your own kitchen at Home.

What is your favourite nutritious recipe for your family?

Lots of things. For dinner I like doing a roast chicken for my family. They seem to love that. I am always trying interesting and different things, like wholesome wraps where we lay different stuff out and everyone helps themselves. We then award prizes for being an adventure eater, so I try to get the kids to try new foods that way. I think my kids eat quite broadly because they’ve been exposed to lots of different foods at a young age. They’ll enjoy things like Brussels sprouts, avocado and tomatoes – things many kids are a bit fussy about.

You run a multi-million-dollar company and it’s growing. How do you manage your family of four and an ever-expanding business? And what do you do in your free time to take some time out for yourself?

I go for a walk at 6.30 in the morning with my girlfriend for an hour. We chat and mull over things and then I drive my kids to school. I chat with them and try being conscious of what is happening in their day. In the evenings I try to ensure I get out of work at a reasonable hour, so I’m generally home before 6pm so that we can have that fun family time at the end of the day. We may say tonight is disco night — we turn up the music loud and dance in the lounge room or play Uno or Monopoly and try to connect. Sometimes you’ve had a big day and you think, “Aah!”, but it’s how you prioritise your time. It’s not the number of hours, but the quality of hours you have together which makes a difference. For me that’s really important.

I also do two book groups – I love doing my book groups! I feel I have a very rich and varied life and I’m so blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had — and I Travel a lot, which is wonderful.

Where do you see Carman’s in the next five years?

For us it’s about growth into new product ranges. We are doing a very big push into China — a big international expansion. Basically it’s just about doing what we do and doing it better, and hopefully getting into more Australian households too.

Meena Azzollini

Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!

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