Herbisaurus: growing a vegan food business from scratch


By Melissa Barks
Monday, 12 September, 2016

Herbisaurus: growing a vegan food business from scratch

In less than two years, Herbisaurus has grown from a small home business selling vegan food at local farmers markets to a commercial kitchen with national distribution. Prepared Food spoke to owners Matt and Lisa Brune about how they have managed the transformation of their business.

Run by the Brunes from their home in Sydney’s southern suburbs, Herbisaurus aims to give families nutritious, flavoursome, vegan alternatives to meat.

“A lot of vegan savoury food is made with soy protein, which is quite processed. We only use whole foods. We buy chickpeas, we soak them, cook them, process them and that’s our base. Or we buy fresh Australian pecans, grind them down to a meal and use that as the base,” said Lisa.

Turning passion into business

The business began when, after friends insisted their vegan burger patties were good enough to sell, the couple began making 60 burger patties a week — hand formed in their home kitchen — for their local farmers market. Sales were slow initially, so they started a home delivery service to clear the stock. Word spread on social media, and soon new products were added — vegan lasagne and sausage rolls.

“It took months to get the sausage roll recipe just right. I wanted it to taste good, for kids especially,” said Lisa.

It's all about the equipment

That’s when the business started to grow, so the couple built a commercial kitchen downstairs in their house and embarked on a steep learning curve to outfit it.

“The NSW Food Authority came out and advised us on how to set up the kitchen,” said Lisa. “We started with one stainless steel prep bench. Then as we got income we would spend it on equipment. Our first purchase was a 7-tray Moffat blast freezer which quickly became too small, so we upgraded to a 13-tray Williams model.”

As revenue increased, the focus shifted. Eliminating the time-consuming market and delivery sales, Herbisaurus became solely a food production business, supplying frozen food to retail and foodservice customers.

An average week now sees the Herbisaurus kitchen churn out 2800 burger patties, 150 m of sausage rolls and 300 lasagnes. And the business is still expanding, along with a rapidly growing need for equipment.

Installing an MKN bratt pan has been game changing for Herbisaurus. Vegan Bolognese sauce for lasagne, previously prepared in 22 L batches on a stove top, is a breeze in the 150 L bratt pan. Dairy-free bechamel sauce that once took an hour can be prepared in 10 min. Getting the 350 kg monster into their kitchen was quite an undertaking, however.

“It took six guys two and a half hours to get it from the front gate into the kitchen,” Lisa said with a laugh.

A Helix Packaging continuous band sealer has slashed the sausage roll packaging process from an hour (using manual heat seal) down to less than 10 min.

Sometimes a little ingenuity is required and Matt turns his hand to engineering to make equipment that suits their needs. With a few modifications an automatic sausage stuffer was used to make burger patties and a further adjustment helped them fill their sausage rolls.

One of the next items on the Herbisaurus shopping list is a sausage roll filler that will be easier to clean and lighter to operate.

Securing a distribution agreement with vegan specialists Plant-Based Foods has taken the Herbisaurus range to a broader audience. The frozen products are now available in IGA, health food shops and vegan specialty stores around Australia, while lasagnes, burger patties and sausage rolls are supplied to foodservice outlets at major universities.

The importance of networking

Matt and Lisa freely admit they were novices in the food business when they began, and they’re grateful for all the advice they’ve received along the way.

“We have a fantastic support group called Vegan Business Owners in NSW. There are some phenomenal businesses there. We have meetings once a month and people bring their issues and questions and then others share their knowledge,” said Lisa.

Events like Fine Food Australia provide businesses like Herbisaurus an invaluable opportunity to meet with equipment manufacturers and discuss their needs. Matt is in the market for a 50 L bowl cutter to replace their trusty but overworked 4.5 L Robo Coupe, and is looking forward to doing some comparisons in Melbourne. His ears pricked up when I mentioned Foodtech Packtech, so we may meet up again in Auckland in October!

With demand for their product on the rise, Herbisaurus is about to outgrow its humble beginnings as a kitchen table enterprise, as the Brunes search for the perfect factory facility to expand their production capabilities. They are intent on growing their brand and hope to pursue export opportunities once they have sufficiently scaled up.

While commitment to vegan food is at the heart of this business, it is clear that the entrepreneurial couple has also fallen in love with the nuts and bolts side of commercial food production.

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