After meeting in 6th form 12 years ago, Rachel and Michael George are now married with a young family and have recently started their own biltong company. Their USP allows customers to trace their biltong back to the individual animal it came from. We caught up with the George’s to find out why a secondary school teacher and an operations manager left their jobs to start From Our Farm Ltd and the benefits and challenges of managing a product end-to-end.
Where did the idea for From Our Farm start?
Our family has been beef farming on Pembrokeshire land for over 100 years. Whilst we’ve thought about selling meat to the end consumer, there are many challenges when selling fresh meat. For example, how to keep the meat refrigerated during distribution.
Michael discovered biltong whilst in South Africa and absolutely loved it. We loved the idea of running our own business and thought that biltong was the perfect product to showcase our home reared beef, to stand out from other competitors and to add value to the produce from the farm. We identified that biltong was a product that was gaining popularity in the UK and we wanted to capitilse on this.
Your customers are able to trace their biltong back to the individual animal it came from thanks to your field to product process, why do you think it is so important for people to know where their food comes from nowadays?
Traditionally, when people bought meat from butchers and local independents, it was usually sourced within a local perimeter that gave the customer an inherent reassurance. With the growing popularity of supermarkets and their intercontinental supply chains, the connection between supplier and customer has been eroded. This makes it harder for people to be aware of how their food was produced both in terms of quality and ethical farming methods.
Therefore, we believe that our product is unique compared to our competitors. We know that the farm operates the highest standards of animal welfare; we believe it’s important to offer this transparency to our customers, especially in light of numerous scandals within the meat industry in recent years.
What are the benefits and challenges of managing the end-to-end production of your product?
There are numerous benefits of managing the end-to-end production. We can provide a consistently high quality product as we are the primary producer as well as the processor. The farm provides us with a unique selling point and a great depth of marketing material that we can share on social media to engage with our customers. Because the process from growing crops and rearing the beef to production of biltong is all done around our farm, this keeps the associated food miles to a minimum.
The challenge of managing the end-to-end production is that eventually, it will be the case that we are processing all of the suitable beef cuts that the farm can produce for biltong. We are already looking at other products we could launch that utilise the other cuts of beef from the carcass.
What does a typical day look like?
We have recently finished our tenth week of trading, so we are establishing a routine as best as we can considering our production requirements are growing every day. We manage all aspects of our business from producing and marketing the biltong through to sales and all of the associated administrative work that goes with a small business. We therefore find ourselves wearing many different hats throughout the day and so no two days are the same.
Who are your customers?
When developing our biltong, our priority was that it should taste great, because of this many delicatessens, cafes and shops stock it as a premium food product. We have a lot of interest from bars and pubs as well since it makes a great accompaniment to a pint of beer or a glass of wine.
In addition to tasting great, the nutritional values make it appealing to the health and fitness industry, particularly as part of someone’s post exercise routine since our biltong is high in protein, low in sugar and relatively low in fat. So much so that we have recently started to supply to an international rugby player, to compliment his nutrition plan and aid his recovery between training sessions.
Another feature that widens our customer base and appeals to a wide range of customers is we don’t use artificial colours, flavours or preservatives in our biltong. Our recipe is suitable for anyone seeking gluten and dairy free products.
What is the hardest lesson you have had to learn?
Despite having a wide variety of work experiences between us, neither of us had worked in sales before and so this has been a steep learning curve. We’ve learnt to be more confident approaching potential customers in the knowledge that our product will sell itself once they have had a taste. Our sales job is made much easier by having a great product that we have total belief in.
Are you more emotional or rational?
We are passionate about the principles our business has been founded upon and ensuring we do not compromise on the quality of our biltong. We stand by these principles so strongly, that when it comes to decision making we can objectively discount many options that other producers may be torn between. Although our business has been founded upon our passion, we are definitely rational when it comes to making the best decisions for our business.
What do you define as success?
Being able to say that you are looking forward to what tomorrow will bring and having a genuine drive for life and your profession.
Who is your closest competitor?
In recent years the popularity of biltong has grown, leading to the establishment of some great British biltong producers such as The Western Biltong Company and The Gloucester Biltong Company. However, we are yet to find a biltong company that rear their own beef like we do.
What do you never leave home without?
We always make sure that we have several packs of our delicious biltong to hand, as we never know who we might meet that day. Some of our best business partnerships have come about through spontaneous encounters, or through organic conversations and not sales pitches.
What’s your first thought when you wake up?
Neither of us think of the business as our first waking thought. We first assume our parenting roles and think of trivial things like what’s the plan for the day, which car needs which car seat and which obscure item does our eldest need to bring to nursery to put in the red box? Upon reflection, we’re really glad that this is the case, running your own business, especially around a family, can easily become all encompassing. It’s important for us to show our daughters a healthy work-life balance and we are fortunate in that we can manage our work around them.
What is your top tip for a future entrepreneur?
We’ve been trading for ten weeks now but have been working on our business seriously for around 20 months. Our top tip to future entrepreneurs is not to be too cautious. We’ve always taken the approach of being methodical and to ensure that we do our research, but all business decisions carry with them an element of uncertainty, and so there comes a point where you have to go with your gut instinct. It is also important to acknowledge that you will not make the correct decision 100% of the time. When this happens, it is crucial that you are objective and learn from it. The only bad mistake is the one you make twice!