Medals at Fine Food Awards, a nomination into this year’s AusMumpreneur and new markets opening up on the mainland. It’s been a whirlwind few months for Barbara Pippos and husband Chris, Owners of Mountain River Yoghurts, and the recipient of the Forming Circles’ $5000 Kickstart Your Business Grant!
Forming Circles recently caught up with Barbara on how the Forming Circles Grant and mentoring from key coaches is helping with the ongoing development of the business.
Barbara, so much has happened since you launched Mountain River Yoghurt in 2011 at local growers markets in Southern Tasmania. Tell us about the significant changes your family business has gone through in this time?
We have refined our product, consolidated a factory premises, found a very reliable and quality milk supplier and significantly expanded our market, now retailing in about 40 stores and a dozen restaurants.
What was your original inspiration for creating Mountain River Yoghurts when there are already so many yoghurts on the market?
You’re right, there are already so many yoghurts on the market. You only have to wander down the dairy aisle at the supermarket to see that. I guess what we wanted to do at Mountain River Yoghurt was create something that wasn’t available in Tasmania. Pot-set yoghurt was the thing. We saw a void in the local market and found that not only was there no pot-set yoghurt being made in all of Tasmania, but there were very few if any yoghurt manufacturers in the south of the state. From that point on, we decided to focus on producing a premium handmade product that was unique to the state of Tasmania…Mountain River Yoghurt was born.
What do you think differentiates Mountain River Yoghurt from others in the marketplace?
As I mentioned before, we are Tasmania’s only pot-set yoghurt manufacturers. Our products are also made using non homogenised milk which means you’re left with a delicious cream layer on the top….it certainly brings back memories of fighting for the layer of cream with my brother back in the days when milk came in glass bottles, that’s for sure.
We are hearing a lot in the media of late about the importance of probiotics to encourage gut integrity. What probiotics go into your yoghurt and what are the benefits of these particular strains you are using?
At Mountain River Yoghurt we add three live cultures a, b and thermocillus (a heat loving culture). These three cultures form part of our European pot -set yoghurt production method that ensures high levels of the healthy, body-friendly probiotics for which yoghurt is known.
Several studies have found that some large commercial varieties of yoghurt contain as many as 9,000 times fewer probiotics than that found in pot-set yoghurt. This is a big deal because probiotics can help benefit your lifestyle. They have been shown to improve digestive health. Other conditions that are improved with probiotic supplementation may include allergies, inflammation, gastric ulcers, immune function, infant growth, and nutrient synthesis and availability to the body.
In the pot-set method of making yoghurt, milk is put into individual containers along with the bacteria culture; the containers are sealed, then incubated. The incubation takes about seven hours and has to be at the perfect temperature to achieve the highest bacteria counts. The benefit of pot-set yoghurt is that it creates the least disturbance to the bacteria, which means more benefits to your overall health.
What positive impact has the Forming Circles $5000 Business Grant had on your business – what new initiatives have you been able to instigate because of it?
A big chunk of the $5000 Business Grant went towards a new refrigerated vehicle. Prior to this purchase, we were doing our 200km round trip delivery using a mountain of eskies and icepacks to maintain temperature. I can’t begin to tell you how much time and effort this has saved us! I also purchased a MYOB invoicing package to help streamline our accounting and invoicing system. This has saved me hours every week and means my paperwork is much more user-friendly.
Tell us about the mentoring you also received from the Forming Circles Full Circle Mentoring Program. What difference has this made to the way you now do business?
My personalised mentoring sessions have proven to be very valuable. Speaking to Janine Garner (CEO of LBD Group), Lee Ussher (Co-Founder of Buzz Media Web) and Kim McGuinness (MD of Network Central) was an opportunity to chat with women who had been there, done that, in the business world. Their insight and advice in regards to online marketing was quickly taken on board, and the results speak for themselves. I set up a Linkedin account and through this have been contacted by media outlets who have written articles about us. With a tiny budget for marketing, this is a massive bonus for us. The Forming Circles Full Circle Mentoring Program has enabled me to make life-long business contacts with some amazing women. They have kindly offered advice and support to me on an on-going basis. Invaluable contacts for anyone in business.
I understand being nominated for an AusMumpreneur award “Emerging AusMumpreneur” was a bit of a surprise for you – tell us about the nomination.
It certainly was a bit of a surprise. At first I thought it must have been Renata Cooper from Forming Circles who nominated me for the AusMumpreneur award, but I’m still not sure.
Your business is a very hands-on labour intensive one. Has that changed at all in the last six months – if so how? And what new areas have you been able to focus on because of this?
Unfortunately it continues to be very hands-on, not least of all because demand for our yoghurt has increased so much in what was to be the quiet Winter period. On the plus side, we are currently working on having a pasteurisation vat manufactured to meet our growing demand. This should mean more yoghurt with not too much extra work.
What have been the biggest mistakes you’ve made along your business journey and what have you learnt from them?
Initially we sub-leased a factory from someone who let us down. It taught us to only do business with good people, genuine people with credibility.
What 5 top business tips would you offer others starting out in their own businesses?
1. Ask yourself are you in this for the love or the money? It can’t be one or the other, it really needs to be a combination of both for it to last the test of time.
2. Don’t grow too fast. Slow and steady wins the race. Our philosophy has been to only invest what we can afford. We have no debts associated with our business, which takes out one of the stresses people are faced with in starting their own businesses. You don’t want that added pressure.
3. Never promise what you cannot deliver. This applies to everyone you deal with from retailers, contractors, customers, statutory bodies….even yourself.
4. Nothing can substitute hard work. And remain true to yourself and your vision. Don’t let anyone bully you into their way of thinking or doing business.
5. Think outside the square – it always pays dividends.
Working on and in a business together as a family can be a blessing and a curse. How do you keep it all in balance with work/marriage?
You have to draw boundaries. It gets increasingly hard but you have to say “no yoghurt today, it’s just us”, or “it’s just the kids”. Otherwise, small business can slowly take over your precious personal time.
What does a typical day look like for you balancing business and family life? How much are the kids involved in the business?
There never seems to be anything typical about our days. Chris still works as a freelance journalist and the kids are only six and nine years old, so most days start with getting them ready for school and the 40 minute drive to get them there. If it’s a production day, Chris gets up with the sparrows and heads to the farm to collect milk from the lovely herd of Friesian and jersey cows in Cygnet. Once I’ve dropped the kids off at school we meet back at the factory to start processing. This takes all day and once the yoghurt is incubating, one of us picks the kids up and heads home with them. The other person remains at the factory until the yoghurt is ready to be blast chilled….usually around 10pm. It’s a long, long day starting at 6am and back home by 11pm.
As far as the kids being involved in the business, Ellie, who is nine, is often the little face you’ll see at country markets. She loves serving customers and is really good with working out change and setting up the stall. Darcy, six, on the other hand, prefers to eat all the tasters!
With your business growing, how are you maintaining the traditional hand-making methods – more staff, new machinery, a factory premises?
To be honest there’s no avoiding the traditional methods as that’s what we pride ourselves on, and what makes our products so unique in the first place. So what we’re trying to do is increase production by using vats that pasteurise the milk quicker, so yes new machinery. I like the idea of the business being just Chris and I, it means we are 100% accountable and in control of every single step in the process. Employing staff isn’t really on the radar for us. We currently lease a fantastic disused cheesery which works well for us. The goal would be to construct a purpose built factory on our land here in Mountain River.
Where can we find Mountain River Yoghurts and can you please share your favourite recipe with us!
We currently retail in about 40 stores across southern Tasmania and supply a dozen restaurants and cafes. For a fully updated list just go to our website at www.mountainriveryoghurt.com
I couldn’t decide on just one recipe to share with you so I’ve gone with two. Here’s one savoury one that was very popular when I posted it on our Facebook page:
Make this pizza dough using equal amounts of self-raising flour and Mountain River Natural Yoghurt. Add a drizzle of olive oil for an extra crunchy crust. I also use a few dollops on top of my tandoori inspired chicken pizza topping….you can’t help but be impressed with this fail-proof pizza dough!
Now for a sweet one…
Greek Yoghurt Cheesecake Recipe with Pomegranate Sauce
For the crust
• Nonstick vegetable oil spray
• 1 1/2 cups finely ground gingersnaps
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
• 9-inch-diameter springform pan
For the filling
• 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
• 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 1/2 cups natural Mountain River Yoghurt
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or seeds of 1 vanilla bean
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Pomegranate syrup
• 2 cups pomegranate juice
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
• Pomegranate seeds
For the crust
1. Coat bottom and sides of pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom with a parchment-paper round. Using your fingertips, mix melted butter and gingersnap grounds in a medium bowl until mixture holds together when pinched tightly. Pack onto bottom of pan in an even layer (using the bottom of a flat measuring cup works well). Chill until firm, at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
For the filling
2. Place gelatin and 1 1/2 tablespoon cold water in a heatproof bowl. Let stand until softened, 5-10 minutes.
3. Pulse cream cheese, yoghurt, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt in a food processor, scraping down sides as needed, until completely smooth.
4. Pour water to a depth of 1/2-inch into a small skillet over medium heat. Place bowl with gelatin in skillet; stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from skillet.
5. With processor running, drizzle gelatin into cream cheese mixture; mix until well blended. Pour into prepared crust. Tap pan firmly on the counter to break up any big air bubbles. Smooth top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for at least 6 hours before serving. DO AHEAD Cheesecake can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.
For the Pomegranate syrup
6. Bring first 3 ingredients to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; simmer, whisking occasionally, until syrup is thickened, shiny, and measures a generous 1/2 cup, 35-40 minutes. Let cool. DO AHEAD: Pomegranate syrup can be made 5 days ahead. Cover; chill. Rewarm slightly before serving.
7. Cut cheesecake into slices, dipping knife into a large glass of warm water and wiping dry between slices, and place on plates. Drizzle pomegranate syrup over and scatter pomegranate seeds around.
(Photo and recipe credit @ Vintage Mixer )