The 2010 1st Amongst Equals winner has built a successful brand by taking a different approach than her competitors.
LOCATED among the jarrah and karri forests of the South West, near the hamlet of Northcliffe, lies Bannister Downs.
The Daubney family arrived there in 1924, and established what is now known as Bannister Downs Farm.
Today, Bannister Downs has established a successful niche in the dairy products market, thanks to the ambition of its managing director, and this year’s 40under40 1st Amongst Equals winner, Sue Daubney.
Mrs Daubney told WA Business News her vision was for Bannister Downs’ products to be mentioned in the same breath as the more familiar brand names found in the fridges in supermarkets and corner stores.
“I don’t see why we can’t be the next Peters & Brownes,” she said. “I’d like to be a brand that WA can be proud of.”
After just a few years Mrs Daubney’s vision is beginning to pay off.
Bannister Downs has evolved from an idea being tossed around by Mrs Daubney and her husband, Matt, on how best to utilise the farmland inherited from the family in 2004, into a growing business with supply contracts stretching across the state.
The first batch of Bannister Downs milk made its way onto store shelves in August 2005, and the dairy has since found its niche supplying high-end restaurants such as Star Anise and Lamont’s, as well as cafes such as West Perth-based Epic Espresso.
Mrs Daubney has negotiated supply contracts with a significant number of IGA supermarkets, delis and corner stores, and the dairy’s uniquely shaped milk containers are now starting to appear on Coles supermarket shelves across the metropolitan area.
Bannister Downs has also become a significant local employer on its way to producing almost 6 million litres of milk each year.
“We’ve just found the most amazing people down there [in Northcliffe],” Mrs Daubney said.
“They’ve taken ownership over the brand and the product, and Bannister Downs is seen as a really good opportunity for the community.”
But before it got this far, to take on the giants of the dairy industry Mrs Daubney said she was determined to take a different approach to producing milk.
“I thought if we were doing it, there was no point doing what’s already been done,” she said.
“It’s got to be better and more worthwhile.”
So Mrs Daubney set about researching how to improve one of our simplest, most common, and most popular food items.
After consultation with the Department of Health, negotiations with banks, and a rigorous analysis of the dairy’s viability, Mrs Daubney and her husband decided they were ready to enter the industry.
The result is that just about every stage of the Bannister Downs process is different to other operators.
The 2,000-strong herd of Holstein Fresian cows is hand-reared, producing more placid dairy cattle that can be milked twice daily, and Mrs Daubney said by accepting a lower milk output per cow than the bigger dairies, Bannister Downs produced higher quality milk.
After the cows are milked, the milk travels just 10 metres down stainless steel pipes to the purpose-built on-site processing facilities.
Bannister Downs processes the milk more slowly and at lower temperatures than conventional dairies, resulting in what she said was a more flavoursome product.
The products themselves also make a visual impact on supermarket shelves, with 100 per cent biodegradable Ecolean pouches a departure from the norm of cardboard cartons and plastic bottles.
The Swedish-imported Ecolean packaging system is calcium carbonate based, is sterile on arrival at Bannister Downs, only briefly opened for filling and is immediately heat-sealed, reducing the risk of contamination.
But one thing is the same – finding the right price point, which Mrs Daubney said was vital if Bannister Downs was to be competitive in the marketplace.
“If there is a family that uses six litres a week, they can afford to have the best milk,” she said.
But it didn’t all come together like clockwork; early on in the piece there were difficult times for Bannister Downs.
“Unfortunately, on paper it was nothing like reality,” Mrs Daubney said.
“When we first looked at it, we didn’t allow enough for our fixed costs, to water them down to a reasonable level we have to be doing a big volume.
“Our initial budgets looked like they would be profitable doing 9,000 litres a week; the reality was it had to be 35,000 a week, and at 35,000 a week we needed five trucks, not one, and it was really tough.
“We had to keep pouring more and more money into it that we didn’t have, but we had a breakthrough around 12 months ago, so now we’re starting to get back on our feet.”