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Yarra Valley Gourmet Foods

Jacqui tastes success                         

After mentoring other businesses, Jacqui Harvey found herself in their shoes when she took the plunge and bought her own gourmet food company. 

Jacqui, who helped steer Fyna Foods to triple its business over 10 years, decided she wanted to own her own. She had also worked as a computer programmer, sales representative and sales and marketing manager before becoming Fyna’s Managing Director. 

In October 2008 Jacqui left the corporate world and in 2009 purchased the 20-year-old Yarra Valley Preserves. She renamed it Yarra Valley Gourmet Foods, keeping Yarra Valley Preserves as a brand and adding the Yarra Valley Larder and the Mad Dog chilli brands over the next 18 months.

Yarra Valley Gourmet Foods

For two years after leaving Fyna, Jacqui was also an SBMS mentor, helping small businesses to start, fix problems or take the next step. She mentored a range of operators, including a young brother and sister team who successfully had their frozen Asian packaged products placed in Costco. 

“I just took them through the requirements of giving a formal presentation to buyers,” Jacqui says. “I really enjoyed it. It was great to give advice to people.” When she purchased her business Jacqui was confident she could make it work, thanks partly to what she had learned working for others. But her SBMS experience also proved invaluable. 

“It draws you back to remembering the basics,” she says. “It was definitely ‘go back to basics, have a plan’. There’s no point in moving forward and not knowing what you’re doing. You’ve got to have a business plan, a marketing plan and a budget.”

Jacqui used resources on www.sbms.org.au, such as its marketing and PR tips. The site has business planning, financial, marketing, manufacturing and industry-specific tools as well as GST and tax e-books.

Business planning tools cover areas such as basic business planning, business and marketing plans, SWOT and competition analysis, risk analysis, action plans and establishment costs. Jacqui found the site helpful and says it is a great resource for all small businesses. 

SBMS is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it. 

Jacqui already had strong sales, marketing, product development and food management skills, but to ensure she knew how the business ran and what it needed, she went through every product to ensure it was costed accurately. She also used a mentor she trusted to ensure she was doing things correctly, just as others would use an SBMS mentor. “Sometimes you just need to draw breath, get it all out of your head and download … someone to confirm ‘you’re on the right path’,” she says. 

In two and a half years Jacqui has more than doubled the size of Yarra Valley Gourmet Foods. The recently released Mad Dog brand, which includes seriously hot chilli products, has been a huge hit. “I couldn’t believe this whole phenomenon of a love for chilli and hot spicy food, learned from the feedback of young children and adults alike at markets that I attend,” she says.

 Mad dog chilli jamJacqui and team YVGF Jams

In 2010 Mad Dog and a new online store were launched, showcasing the range of delicious preserves, gourmet foods and hampers for every budget. The Yarra Valley Larder range of infused oils was launched in March 2011. 

Buying her own business after a career of working for others has been life-changing for Jacqui, who purchased the business when the original owners retired after 20 years. She continues to honour the company’s proud hand-made tradition and uses as much fresh local produce as possible to create beautifully packaged, quality products using innovative flavour combinations. 

The business is based in the Yarra Valley in the basement under the Wild Cattle Creek Winery in Seville, and due to her remarkable success Jacqui hopes to move into her own factory in 2012. 

She urges everyone planning to start or take over a business to do their homework and not be afraid to use the experience of others. “They need the basics as well in terms of business plans and marketing plans,” she says. “As much as you can, find a mentor that’s experienced … they tend to have an overall general picture of business. You can find a mentor that’s got the things that you need to know.” 

Most of all, Jacqui says it is important to have a go if you have the passion. “It’s about taking the plunge,” she said. “I took over a high end gourmet food business at the height of the GFC in the Yarra Valley after the bushfires. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life.” 

To download a copy of this story, click here.YVGF helped by SBMS