A Q&A with the maker of five:am organic yogurt
David Prior, the founder of the delicious organic yoghurt five:am, takes us through his company’s success.
Tell us about your background.
I did my MBA at Melbourne University and when I finished my father and I started a food-packaging business. We started Baroda in 1997, ran it for 10 years, built it up and sold it to (packaging giant) Visy at the end of ‘07. We had a real focus on sustainable packaging. We were quite innovative.
How did you get into producing organic foods, specifically organic dairy?
After we sold the business I took most of 2008 off. I went surfing a lot and thought about what I wanted to do next. I’d done pretty well out of the sale — I definitely could have chosen to have not worked again. I seriously considered becoming a yoga teacher. I’ve been heavily into yoga since my mid-20s. I’m Anglo-Indian — that’s my culture. But I was also 36 and felt I had one more business in me. I wanted to pick something that, if it was going to be a money-making thing, covered my ethical beliefs, and food was a great choice.
How did you create your five:am range?
Our first port of call was Woolworths. We were lucky enough to see the CEO and asked him to support the idea. He said yes and that was enough. I knew they were going down the “better for you” space and I was confident if I gave them a good product at the right price they would support it.
I went on a big trip to Europe and the States and saw who was doing what with packaging and branding. I got access to Martin Houben, a 73-year-old ex-National Foods guy who did all the King Island recipes. It was pure serendipity: he’d finished up at NF and we grabbed him. He worked with us for two years, coming up with our recipes and perfecting them.
My little girl (who’s now four-and-a-half) used to eat the yoghurts and she was my number one judge. The big companies go through massive evaluations; we just tried everything ourselves. We really wanted five:am to be a great tasting product.
What have yoga, meditation and surfing brought to your life?
In those early days, five:am turned into a bigger project than I’d ever imagined in terms of time and financial commitments; it became all-consuming. I was sleeping at the factory, having an hour’s sleep and getting up and going again, to hit those launch deadlines. My yoga and meditation sustained me; I would have crashed into a heap without it.
I still get up at 5am every day to meditate or do yoga; if I get a surf in, that’s great. Sometimes people think you have to choose between a “spiritual” life and a business life. I think they’re complementary.
What are the main beliefs that guide your professional choices?
You need to have a strong work culture. We’re always talking about ethics and values and respecting our customers; we live our vision values. Environment is a cornerstone of our business. We try to minimise our impact on the environment and being organic is the number one thing you can do, restoring the environment by not using chemicals and pesticides.
I have a strong belief that if you conduct yourself in business in an open and upfront way with high levels of integrity, suppliers and customers and everyone around you respond to that and it breeds more success.
Where to from here for five:am?
We work with half a dozen stockists and supply into 800 Woolworths stores in Australia. We launched with four products in Woolworths and we’re now up to 21 — the business has been successful beyond our wildest dreams.
We’re in advanced discussions with a large retailer in China. They have an appreciation of Australian organic food. We’re lucky to have such good-quality food and the consumers in the Asian market who can afford it, who are many, want the best for their families and are willing to pay for it. I see Australian organic dairy foods as a luxury item for them.
But there have been big changes for the company, so we need to have a period of consolidation. Then we’ll focus on export and see how 2013 shapes up.
For more details, visit fiveam.com.au
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