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There was already plenty of pasta available in the world when Doug Cush was urged to enter the market – But there’s always room for a quality product, especially when it has a point of difference and is carefully promoted.

When an Italian tells you you’ve got what it takes to produce pasta, you listen. That’s when the Bellata Gold success story began to take shape here, and soon after in markets overseas. It began, as most business success stories do, with a quality product.

Doug Cush had been growing durum wheat (a major ingredient in pasta) on the family farm in Bellata, northern NSW, supplying the grain to the Italian market. On a trip to Italy, the quality of the grain was praised so much he was urged to use it to make his own pasta. Returning to Australia, Cush decided to give it a go. The pasta was made in nearby Tamworth, and in 2003 the Bellata Gold pasta line was born.

"Doug’s very passionate about value-adding," says marketing manager Tom Vanzella of the company’s director. "And about Australian companies using their products to the nth degree and getting more value and more dollars for their final output."

Making the most of Bellata Gold’s produce in the limited gourmet market in Australia has led to export. "There’s a lot of pasta in Australia; we needed to branch out. The domestic market is good, but the most potential is certainly for export to places like the UK and the US," says Vanzella. "We needed to source markets that were going to continue to grow in volume."

Branching Out

Fortunately for Bellata Gold, they already had someone located within the lucrative UK market, Cush’s daughter Michelle. Along with husband Hamish, she was more than ready to help launch Bellata Gold to the Brits. "That gave us a competitive advantage having someone in the market, leading the charge," says Vanzella. He also credits the great success of Australian wines overseas as helping to pave the way for other local produce in the UK.

Having a good name is one thing, but launching pasta into a country so close to the motherland is another. Vanzella admits it’s a constant challenge to find ways to penetrate the market. "It’s not something you can just set up and walk away from. There’s always something new and improved around the corner."

As with any product, having a point of difference is crucial. For Bellata Gold, the key word is traceability–everything is done locally. "We know exactly what paddock our wheat comes out of," Vanzella explains. "Having something that’s fully traceable is becoming more and more important."

With an insider firmly in place in the UK market, Vanzella says it was relatively easy to start making contacts. Michelle and Hamish attended trade shows, and started forming relationships with potential buyers. Being able to bypass the need for a distributor in the initial stages kept costs down. "It’s okay having a gourmet product and charging a premium, but when you’re competing in a market like we are, you need to take as many costs out of the chain as possible," Vanzella.

Bellata Gold is now available in several stores in England and Scotland. Michelle and Hamish are returning to Australia shortly, and have handed the reins over to a UK distributor.

As there are no Cush offspring living in the US, breaking into that market has required a different approach. Vanzella attended the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco this year, with assistance from the NSW Department of State and Regional Development. "We decided as a company to take the opportunity to go over there and do a test, it was a bit of a fishing exercise to see what sort of reaction we’d get," Vanzella says about using the opportunity to network with potential distributors and retailers to see if they could "bond" with the Bellata Gold products.

Initial relationships with some distributors have been formed and Vanzella says retail interest is high. "We don’t like to hand the product over to distributors and say ‘here, go and sell it’, we prefer to communicate the advantages of Bellata Gold pasta to the retailer and even the consumer."

This is all part of knowing your market inside out (and having the market know you), which Vanzella says is enormously important for any exporter. Bellata Gold consulted with Austrade and Australian Business Limited to find information and research on their chosen markets. As a source of reference both are invaluable Vanzella says, and Austrade continues to play a vital part in their search for a US distributor.

Other advice Vanzella offers to aspiring exporters is taking time with packaging and presentation. It’s a step that’s easy to overlook, but very important. For example, having nutritional content listed in ounces for the US market is crucial. "It all costs money. So find out all those things you need to do. Work out how much you can commit to the market."

In the long term, Bellata Gold is considering exporting to Japan, and there’s interest from Singapore. Cush is looking at setting up a mill for semolina and flour for exporting, and there’s still the domestic market to take care of. "We’ve got a few fingers in a few pies," says Vanzella. Although, perhaps considering the latest addition to the Bellata Gold range, ‘pies’ should be replaced with ‘bowls of kangaroo-shaped pasta.’ That’s a point of difference the Europeans won’t see coming!

—Cameron Bayley

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