Commuting to her job as a media and communications advisor in Brisbane in 2013, it was impossible for Jodie Cameron to imagine how different her life would become in just a few short years.
Tired of the city and corporate life, she yearned for something different. Little did she know she would soon be one half of a macadamia farming couple with husband Michael, and the developer of an award-winning macadamia food product!
“Michael grew up on an organic wheat farm near Goondiwindi, so it wasn’t hard for him to imagine a life on the land,” Jodie says. “When he first started talking about buying a macadamia farm, I was intrigued because I love the country but I wasn’t sure if it was for me.”
Fate intervened when a working macadamia farm on Queensland’s Fraser Coast came onto the market. While the Camerons had inspected a number of properties, this one was different.
“The farm had a commercial kitchen on site. That sealed the deal for me,” Jodie explains. “With the kitchen, I could suddenly see my future here because I knew I could use it to create something of my own, in addition to being a farmer.”
Fast forward a few years, and Jodie’s vision is very much a reality. The fully certified gluten free kitchen is where she crafts the Barenuts product range that includes Bush Tucker Blends flavoured macadamias, Barenuts Butter, Barenuts Bites and Bare Balls.
The range has attracted a large and loyal fan base, particularly among health-conscious foodies keen to know how and where their food is grown.
A leap of faith
Jodie and Michael purchased the Barenuts business as part of the macadamia farm. The previous owner had developed it as a part time interest on a small local scale, so Jodie quickly set about creating new products, expanding the customer base, and shifting the focus from sugary flavours to a healthier range that incorporated native Australian bush flavours.
But her new life wasn’t without its critics. “Some people thought we were mad taking such a big leap,” Jodie says. And there were a few moments where she wondered if they were right.
“The first year was hard,” Jodie reveals. “Michael continued his fly-in-fly-out coal seam gas mining job in central Queensland for 12 months before moving to the farm full time with me.”
“I used that time to focus really heavily on the Barenuts business, which was how I managed to grow it so quickly, but I had a lot of ‘What have I done?’ moments when I’d think ‘I’ve left my job, moved to this farm, Michael’s not here…’. I had to dig deep to overcome a lot of doubt and fear.”
Gold medal glory
When Jodie entered the prestigious 2017 Australian Food Awards, she decided not to tell anyone – not even Michael. “To be honest, once I’d submitted the entry, I didn’t think much more about it,” she says. So when she got a call to say Barenuts Lemon Myrtle Macadamias had taken out the Gold Medal with a perfect score, Jodie was as shocked as she was delighted.
The judging panel awarded the product 100 out of 100, declaring it to have “a good crunch and richness, lemon myrtle well balanced and applied and well salted.”
The Lemon Myrtle macadamias happen to be Jodie’s personal favourite, and she believes it’s the product’s simplicity that won the judges over. “They’re a product made with minimal fuss – just beautiful Aussie grown macadamias, sea salt and lemon myrtle. That’s it!” she says.
For Jodie, the award is extremely gratifying. “After all the hard work, especially that tough first year, when I got the news about the award, I thought ‘I’m doing something right’,” she says. She’s also keen to capitalise on the win from a marketing perspective. “If a product has a medal on it, consumers respond to that. It will give us a lot of added credibility.”
Growth through innovation
New product development has been a significant element in the success Jodie has created with the Barenuts brand to date.
With the Bush Tucker Blends, Jodie has showcased some of Australia’s unique native flavours using ingredients such as bush tomato, wattleseed and, of course, lemon myrtle.
The gluten free Bare Balls and Barenut Bites were created to help the brand break into the health food and organic space, and they’re now stocked in a number of large organic markets on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
However, it was a late-night scroll through Instagram that inspired Barenuts’ best-selling innovation. “I kept seeing these beautiful images of smoothie bowls, but they always had a big dollop of nut butter just plonked in the middle,” Jodie says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about how annoying that would be to try and spread around the bowl. So I developed Barenuts Macadamia Butter – Australia’s first squeezable nut butter.”
While the product took a little while to find its feet, once it did, there was no looking back. “It’s really taken off,” says Jodie. “You can use it in so many different ways – in smoothies, stir fries, or as a replacement for regular butter. People absolutely love the taste and the packaging format. We sell out of it every time we do a food festival.”
Heeding the lessons while looking to the future
Jodie says trial and error has played a notable part in their debut into macadamia farming, and this has carried over to the kitchen too. “I’ve tested things a lot,” says Jodie. “Initially I would get so disheartened if something I’d created didn’t sell. But I’m learning to push through that, to persevere and trust my instincts and my product more,” she says.
While she says she has used her marketing communications experience more in her business than she ever did in her corporate life, one thing she hasn’t had to learn is how to become a salesperson. “I don’t do any hard selling – I just let people try my products, and they usually sell themselves.”
A natural born foodie who admits to always thinking of her next meal while eating her current one, Jodie can’t help but think up new product ideas. Her latest innovation is dukkah flavoured macadamias, and she recently launched garlic and chilli & kaffir lime variants as well.
While the temptation to continually grow the range is strong, Jodie is currently focused on expanding distribution into independent supermarkets beyond Queensland, and has her eye on the Asian market too. “I would love to break into the Asian market. Their consumers are very health conscious, and they like the unique and unusual Australian native flavours we use,” she says.
With plans to expand the Barenuts kitchen, which is currently at capacity, and plenty of untapped market potential, it’s clear that this macadamia brand is well on the way to more gold-medal standard success.
For more information or to buy Barenuts products, head to the Barenuts website.