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The original ingredients, a new recipe: Jasmin Robertson on the ‘sauce’ of her recent success

In the space of five years, Jasmin Robertson has reversed the fortune of the family business she never imagined she’d run. With little industry experience, and only a $20k overdraft to work with, the Brisbanite has grown Roza’s Gourmet into a multimillion dollar brand. How did she do it? By sticking with the original ingredients but updating the recipe and serving a bigger table.

Founded by the late Roza Robertson in 1991, the Brisbane-based boutique sauce and dip business has undergone an incredible evolution since her devoted daughter Jasmin took the reins as director and owner five years ago. Once upon a time, Roza’s Gourmet was a hobby business with a small but loyal following. Today, with Jasmin at the helm, it is a national brand with 17 employees, a range of 40 products, a presence in over 600 specialty stores across Australia, weekly sales of over 11,000 units and an annual turnover of $2.9 million, which equates to a 600% increase in revenue since 2011.

This remarkable growth has not gone unnoticed. In 2015, Roza’s Gourmet secured a spot on the BRW Fast 100 list for averaging 50% growth year-on-year for three consecutive years. For the crucial role she’s played in revitalising the business, Jasmin too has received recognition – for the past two years, she’s been included in the Hot 30 under 30, an annual list honouring the young entrepreneurs driving the nation’s fastest growing SMEs.

FY2016-2017 looks to be another blockbuster year for Roza’s Gourmet Jasmin expects the business will turnover upwards of $4 million. She is also looking to capitalise on her recent involvement in Australia Week in China 2016 as an official delegate. While the business has a small presence in Singapore and Hong Kong, Jasmin is looking to expand further into the Asian market.

Considering the rise and rise of Roza’s Gourmet under Jasmin’s direction, it’s funny to think the 29-year-old never imagined herself running the family business – in fact, growing up she was emphatically opposed to the idea.

“Mum and dad never imagined national success”

Jasmin spoke to Dynamic Business about the humble beginnings of Roza’s Gourmet; her journey away from the business as she explored different career paths; and, ultimately, her journey back to it, determined to stay true to – but build on – her mother’s legacy.

“Roza’s Gourmet started as my mum’s hobby,” Jasmin said. “Using fresh produce from our garden she crafted delicious, home-made sauces, which were sold at the end of our driveway on weekends. I was just four at the time. Owing to the quality of the sauces and mum’s passion, the brand began to develop a small following. This led to the decision to sell the sauces at local markets and stores. Mum was always more at home in the kitchen creating, so she left my dad Bill to his strength: selling.

“I don’t think mum or dad ever imagined Roza’s could be a national brand but for what it was – a local business, it was very successful. Our sales and product range grew organically until mum passed away in 2001. From that time onwards, we outsourced manufacturing. While we maintained our market share of sales in South-East Queensland, expansion wasn’t the focus – we were just trying to keep it going.

“I was very involved in the family business but it wasn’t a glamorous experience. It meant I couldn’t go out on the weekends or do after-school activities. Instead, I labelled jars, sold at markets, picked the tops off chillies, washed herbs and performed deliveries. I honestly never imagined I would run it one day. In fact, I proclaimed many times, growing up, that I most definitely wouldn’t!

“After high school, I did a business degree at university at my father’s behest. I had never felt particularly intelligent or gifted but I flourished in the self-directed study environment. I also gained immense experience working as a research assistant for the university’s business faculty. As someone who struggled at school, succeeding in my business degree was hugely valuable to my sense of self-worth, as well as equipping me with significant analytical and academic skills.”

Jasmin2“An opportunity I couldn’t walk away from”

Jasmin’s accomplishments at university helped land her a graduate position with PricewaterhouseCoopers but it wasn’t long before the Brisbanite departed the corporate world to study acting – her true passion.

“I only lasted six months with PwC but I’m grateful for the experience because it taught me a lot about myself and forced me to confront what I wasn’t,” she said. “It also gave me an appreciation for what my parents had achieved, and the value that I could add, including the opportunity to ‘be my own boss’.

“My father, who was essentially running Roza’s Gourmet on his own and without staff, needed help and suggested I work part-time in the business while I studied acting. So I got involved in the business as a means of having an income and to alleviate some of the pressure on dad. I had never made the products before and felt like I knew nothing about food, but I saw the potential. After a couple of years, it became obvious that I had to make a commitment either to my acting career or the sauce business. I realised Roza’s was an opportunity I simply couldn’t walk away from.”

“My mother’s legacy is very important”

When Bill decided to retire in 2011, Jasmin became the owner and director of Roza’s Gourmet. Determined to grow the business, she took out a $20k overdraft and employed two kitchen staff. She had three key aims: market the brand to build recognition and add value to the business through goodwill; set up a commercial kitchen and bring the manufacturing in-house to improve product quality; differentiate the product range to stay current; and expand interstate. The new direction paid off with fast growth but, as Jasmin explained, the road to success was not obstacle-free.

“My initial decision to move manufacturing back in-house (literally) was the first challenge,” she explained. “I didn’t even know how to make the products, let alone set up a commercial kitchen! Having only two staff initially was tough, and progressing the business out of home into a factory was also difficult. Cashflow was tight and formalising our processes created instability – there were a lot of ‘culture’ issues that went along with this.

“Making the right business decision at the right time has been an ongoing challenge, and of course managing my own inexperience – in a growing business you are always doing everything for the first time. I take a very personal approach to spreading the word about our products so when I first started, I’d go to independent retailers and grocers myself and talk to them about the range and tell them our story. As any business owner knows, no one is as passionate about your brand as you are!”

While Roza’s Gourmet has grown to have a national presence, Jasmin hasn’t lost sight of the business’s defining ingredient: Roza’s passion for creating delicious, natural flavours.

“My mother’s legacy is very important to me, and a huge part of the direction that I take the company in,” she said.  “This has meant staying true to her recipes, remaining proudly old fashioned in service and community spirit, hand selecting our stockists and being 100% Australian made and owned.

“Additionally, everything we make is 100% natural, gluten free and preservative free. In keeping with various dietary requirements, many products are dairy free, egg free, low FODMAP, vegan, and Kosher. My vision is for Roza’s to be positioned throughout Australasia as a boutique brand synonymous with quality. I want Roza’s to epitomise gourmet Australian food, renowned for its values and respected as a business that gives back to the community.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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