Family run company Heather Brae began in 1941. It sent biscuits to the Australian Diggers overseas and it’s still making biscuits, tarts and shortbread in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. You can hear the factory line behind me.
Bassam Wakim is the company’s managing director. He says, unlike car makers, he doesn’t get government handouts.
Bassam Wakim: Most of them have been bought out by larger companies and, from what I understand, even they are still struggling a year later.
Tony Eastley: You say you are ahead of the game and you are growing. How do you manage to do that?
Bassam Wakim: We need to be innovative. We’ve got a full time person that just does product development for us. I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. We’re always looking out for new ideas, new products just to stay ahead.
Tony Eastley: Are you confident about the future?
Bassam Wakim: Yes I am. I have children and I’m confident that one day I could hand all this over to them.
Tony Eastley: Other food manufacturers have gone by the wayside. What lessons have you got for those who are suffering?
Bassam Wakim: We have stuck to our core business, which is biscuit and cookie manufacturing. We haven’t ventured into other areas. We’ve reinvested, we’ve trained our people, but probably most importantly we’ve been able to understand our costings.
These days there’s a lot of criticism of the supermarkets, but if suppliers can’t supply the supermarkets at the price they want they need to walk away. I think a lot of the problems others have had were in supplying products at no, or little profit margin.
Tony Eastley: And in a way you go against the grain of common thought and that is you’re nor exporting.
Bassam Wakim: You are right, currently we are doing little in export. I feel that there are still very good opportunities for us in the Australian domestic marketplace, and that is our main focus. But that isn’t to say we are not trying to do more in the export markets. We are hoping to close off two new export contracts in the next 6 months.
Tony Eastley: The managing director of Heather Brae there.