Founders Cheryl Jakobi and Sara Bailey formed Gippsland Pearls in May 2018 and started trading in November 2018 - with two premium product lines in the business model ; gourmet mushrooms and escargot caviar ( snail eggs ).
Given it was such early days in their production volumes, even though it took Cheryl and Sara several days to come up with that precious one kilo - they remain forever thankful to the insistance of Dr Nicola Watts that they must include their produce at the Spring Table event!
"We are still getting sales from that event, with people buying Gippsland Pearl Mushrooms from the markets, ( or now also available direct from the farm gate on certain days ) saying that they had first tried them and loved them at the Spring Table event.
We were definitely springboarded by Spring Table" said Cheryl with a smile.
Cheryl and Sara had spent a lot of time in early 2018 researching the right varieties, and with their careful planning and selection definitely paying off judging by the popularity of their product, they are now working on another element of the business.
"Our plan is to create our own sub strates for production so that we are not relying on suppliers for that product, and it contributes to us driving more sustainability in our business
We want to create a compostable product and do away with any reliance on single use plastics, which is currently the case with our supplied sub strates".
The mushrooms have always been categorised as the local hero product in the Gippsland Pearls model, and they plan to keep it that way.
"We definitely always want them to be our "grow local and sell local" product that creates very little food miles, but a whole lot of consumer and eating satisfaction".
And the proof is certainly in the eating, with the mushrooms now a regular feature on the menus of a growing number of Gippsland restaurants, whether it be in breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner creations.
Chefs are embracing the opportunity to show off yet another quality product and their front of house staff are delighting in telling the story of where the mushrooms come from, how they are grown, and how far that is from the restaurant location.
With the power of story telling continuing to play such an important role of how consumers are connecting with food, the personal knowledge that a restaurant team member can share with their diners is such important element in engaging visitors and locals alike in the provenance of the food they are enjoying, and giving them a deeper layer of connection to the region.
For this reason ( and many more ), Cheryl and Sara are an end to end business process - they grow it, harvest it, pack it and hand deliver it to their restaurant customers, meaning that chefs and their "ingredient ambassador" front of house staff get the opportunity to meet the grower on a regular basis.
Approaching their first year anniversary in a few months, Cheryl shares some insights into their seasonal learnings in year one, particularly in addressing the drop in demand across the community as people hibernate through the colder months, as well as a little known fact that mushrooms are exciteable !
"We will be doing some work on refining our process so that we address the slow down in buying habits over the winter, whilst not letting it affect our natural production schedule - we are in the middle of researching ways to maintain production and find other avenues to move the product on so it maintains our cash flow in winter"
As with any start up, the first year has been a mixture of highs and lows, and some funny moments along the way, including an unknown reaction that mushrooms have when their environment undergoes has any significant changes, as Cheryl found out when there was a power outage throughout the evening or overnight a few months ago.
In this particular case when the power went off, it meant the mushrooms were in the dark for a period of time, and when Cheryl went to check on them in the morning, there were two growing blocks of mushrooms that had gone crazy in the dark, spored everywhere and grew exponentially in a very compressed period of time.
"Mushrooms are very excitable so we now know that when anything goes awry, or their environment has any dramatic changes, they literally spore everywhere, leaving me a very big mess to clean up !"