We sat down with Will Brook, CEO of Brookfarm, about the family business, the competitive food market, and what constitutes a great granola.
What’s the Brookfarm story and was it destined to be your namesake?
The story of Brookfarm started over 30 years ago in 1988 when my parents Pam and Martin fell in love with the Byron Bay region on a family holiday and bought a macadamia farm overlooking Byron Bay, sight unseen.
In 2000, frustrated by the macadamia nut not getting the credit it deserves, we set about using this Australian native in one of our favorite things; muesli. The first bags were sold at local markets, and the business has now grown to now servicing the domestic market nationally in independent retailers such as IGA, Harris Farm, quality grocers, airlines, and cafés, and in over 15 countries worldwide.
My journey at Brookfarm, of course, started at the very beginning, helping to label bags, bake granola, and set up for the local markets (lots of early starts!) while I was in high school. My path took a different turn post-graduation when I studied Music and Education at University (even trying to become a rock star for a year or two).
I came back into the business by chance as I worked in a part-time sales role in Sydney. It was there that I really got to see how much our retailers loved not only our product but Brookfarm itself and what it stood for. I was hooked and dove headlong into the all things Brookfarm: I worked on the bakehouse floor and through the business, from baking, to packing, to cleaning, dispatch and logistics, QA, and everything else over 10 years.
I have developed a true love of what we do at Brookfarm and complete respect for the “family” we have created.
What’s the key to really good granola?
There are a few simple things that are key to making great granola. First, you actually need to love food, and love making great food. At Brookfarm, we make everything ourselves, we don’t contract our production out. This is for a number of reasons, but most importantly, we love making our products, and to ensure quality you have to make it yourself.
The other key factors are high-quality ingredients and processes. Our products may change from time to time as ingredients move in and out of season, but the quality is consistently high.
How does the company work to distinguish itself as food producers?
Brookfarm is naturally differentiated from other food producers in our market as we have a true paddock-to-plate story. We are macadamia farmers and passionate foodies who have a true appreciation for where our food comes from, and are fanatic about the process and care required to make an exceptional product.
Quality is king. The cost of a Brookfarm product isn’t in the marketing, it’s in the ingredients we select, and the care taken to create the recipe to get it on your table. I like to say that if you make granola or muesli at home, we basically do it the same way – just on a larger scale.
This is a competitive marketplace. How do you know how to strike the right marketing notes to cut through?
Brookfarm is in a relatively unique position in our market in that we are not available in the two major supermarkets, so there are fewer people walking past our products every day when they do their weekly shop.
We want the people who enjoy our product to understand what we are about, our stories, and the things that make us tick. We are a generational family business with a commitment to quality and taste, as well as an inherent knowledge and appreciation for sustainability and our natural environment because of our farming heritage.
Take us through a day in your life. What does the typical day look like?
A typical day for me balances family, work, and personal health.
First thing in the morning, I’ll be up with our kids who are 7, 5, and 1. Then off to Brookfarm. After I’m set up in the office, my priority is to take a walk through our bakehouse and catch up with the team, see how the day is running, and also to say “G’day” (we are a family business after all).
A good portion of my week is dedicated to our team to ensure that the business is running effectively, which includes a frequent review of our key data and where we are performing, to our goals and strategic direction.
I commit time to my physical health as there is such a strong link between physical and mental health. I will often be found in the local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school on my lunch break, which I find rewarding as well as physically demanding. I encourage all staff to take time out of their day for their own health.
I also recently launched a side business with two of the founders of Stone & Wood. It’s called We, the Many, and we create functional carbon-neutral foods starting with breakfast with the principal purpose of investing in climate-positive products.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I have developed my leadership style through life experience in the family business as well as many hours of study and research; leadership and business culture is a passion of mine.
I would summarize my leadership style as collaborative, transparent, and leading by example. I would not ask anyone at Brookfarm to do anything I would not, from cleaning the drains to international trade shows. I am a firm believer in ensuring you have the right person in the job and trusting that person to be effective and deliver what needs to be done.
What are the short- and long-term goals for the company?
Our short-term priorities are in getting one of our newest products, Puffcorn, out to the people of Australia and the world. They are non-GMO puffs of corn that are perfectly coated in house-made coconut butter and sprinkled with sea salt (we also have a version with a hint of maple, and a spicy alternative). We’re also busy getting our products back out to cafés as restrictions start to ease.
Long-term, we want to ensure we are growing sustainably in all markets we are active in. We want to be a key part of our customers’ business and a leader in quality, taste, and sustainability – and we want others to be able to look to Brookfarm for inspiration as to how food business is done.
What kind of impact has COVID-19 had on Brookfarm’s bottom line or company strategy?
COVID-19 threw a major spanner [wrench] in the works for Brookfarm. We saw some of our export markets, as well as all of our café and airline customers completely close their doors almost overnight.
This of course had a significant impact on our bottom line, but we were able to support our staff by increasing our sales to retail customers and a focus on our online business.
Our online store has been busier than ever, which allows us to communicate our story even more effectively, giving people the opportunity to truly connect with our story, our way of doing business, our ethos, and what can be done when you commit to both your product quality and sustainability.
Vital Addition presents this Meet a CEO series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in “strength in numbers,” empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.