Innovation Lives Here

Image source: Contributed

Jennifer Swaine discovers how some tasty innovations to local flavours are literally taking flight and creating new business opportunities.

The Sunshine Coast has earned the reputation as the ‘Entrepreneurial Capital of Australia’, with over 43,600 businesses across both the Noosa and Sunshine Coast regions, and when you scratch the surface of this connected, collaborative community you soon learn that this ecosystem is agile, innovative and incredibly unique.

Each business has a special story and when big business chooses to work with small business to create opportunities that lead to innovation, that’s a story that needs to be told.

Such was the case when Bonza decided to base themselves at the Sunshine Coast Airport. They could have easily chosen to use one of the big catering companies for the in-flight services from a pre-prepared list where the hard work was already done for them.

Surprising us all, Bonza chose to support the little guy, seeking to use local suppliers with great products who also aligned with their values and commitment to sustainability.

In doing so they demonstrated a genuine commitment to each of the communities they service, taking the time to get to know the locals and the products they offered.

One company to benefit from this collaboration was award-winning distillers Sunshine & Sons. The inclusion of their gin, vodka and Nil Desperandum rum on the Bonza flights soon had them searching for innovative and sustainable packaging options that would allow for ease of transport, storage and disposal.

“We knew we couldn’t use plastic or glass bottles so we had to find a solution that would allow us to serve our products in the right quantity, that was easy to pack and ship and would WOW passengers,” Co-Founder and Chief Imagineer, Matt Hobson said.

The answer came in a small recyclable ‘eco pouch’ that is made from recycled materials and resembles a small ‘goon’ bag or wine cask bladder.

“Bonza created the opportunity for us to solve a problem and as a result we have invented a product that removes the need for single use plastic, is lightweight and stores well,” he said.

“By adding in this new product, we have been able to increase sales because it’s the perfect size for backpacks and handbags and is suited for picnics, camping and just about any other occasion. We have also had to add an additional team member to service these new markets so the flow-on effect has been significant.”

For Silver Tongue Foods the chance to have their sourdough lavosh crackers included in the flight menu was too good an opportunity to turn down – but they also had to find a packing solution that would offer individual snack size cracker packs suitable for the aviation industry.

Co Founder Kristina Kaucan said the challenge was to have a cracker separate from the cheese which would allow the consumer greater choice as well as minimising the potential for food waste.

“We assessed what was available on the market at the time and what was traditionally being served on airlines,” she said. “We tailored a solution and presented it to Bonza as a cost-effective premium product that minimised food waste but retained passenger appeal.

“Bonza opened up a new channel for us in aviation and hotels, and we are now assessing the need for single serve products within the retail sector.

“The growth we have experienced on the back of the Bonza relationship has also seen us transition to a new production facility and we are looking at packaging options that will extend the shelf life of their product without the need for preservatives.

“We were given an incredible opportunity and we were small enough and hungry enough to be able to pivot and innovate. As a result, we have experienced a 20 per cent increase in production.”

Another small business finding innovative solutions for packaging was Woombye Cheese.

Owner Beth O’leary said they didn’t realise there was a market for single serve portions of cheese until Bonza reached out.

“While we missed the initial in-flight menu, it prompted us to continue working towards this product and we now have a 50g cheese available and the response has been great with a large hospitality group in Brisbane making a significant weekly order,” Beth said. “We completed several trials across our range of cheese where we were looking to see the product present the same way and have a similar shelf life in this smaller format which included a thin rind and a creamy paste. It ticked all the boxes and while we may tweak it further down the track, it’s certainly something we are very pleased with – and they look super cute too!”

Beth said that initial conversation with Bonza made her aware of how big the potential for this new product line was.

“The market for our ‘Minis’ is huge. A lot of venues don’t have a food license and this format allows them to offer a premium product,” she said.

“Because it’s packaged, hamper companies can box it up without worrying about the cheese taking on other flavours and vice versa.”

Melbourne-based brownie manufacturer Brazen Brownies is another small business who are featured on Bonza’s in-flight menu and who had to quickly pivot to take advantage of the opportunity presented.

“The challenge for us was to create a bespoke bite-size brownie for mass production without compromising our high quality and handmade ethos while also documenting our processes to satisfy HACCP requirements. It was tough but incredibly rewarding at the same time,” Director of Sales & Marketing, George Kalpakis, said.

While Melbourne might be their home base, the relationship with Bonza has George and business partner Caroline Kropack looking for ways to expand their business into the Sunshine Coast.

“Bonza has certainly opened our eyes to the way people connect on the Sunshine Coast and we will soon announce a collaboration with a local producer that has resulted in the creation of a very special brownie,” George said.

“The Sunshine Coast has so much potential and such great produce that we are now talking to local macadamia growers and looking at potential commercial kitchens and manufacturing facilities in the hope that we can be part of this incredible food and business eco-system.”

He is absolutely right – the Sunshine Coast is home to so many bespoke food and drink producers who all do something uniquely different.

The magic is found in how, together with the broader business community, they connect, collaborate and find innovative solutions to problems that further enhances our reputation as the entrepreneurial capital of Australia – and that is a title we should all wear with immense pride.

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