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Dynamic Export charts the meteoric success of an idea that began as a modest value-add to farm produce and was soon exporting to 20 countries.

Active ImageSelling Simply Green Tomatoes to Italians is like selling ice to Eskimos. When Marilyn Lanyon took a friend’s advice and developed a simple antipasto recipe using her own freshly grown tomatoes, she didn’t imagine it would soon be a fast-growing business exporting to 20 countries, including the recipe’s native Italy.

"Ninety-five percent of our business is from exports," states Lanyon. "The other 5 percent is from domestic sales to about 100 stockists in Australia."

The flavoursome tomato product sells to businesses such as cafes, delicatessens, and catering companies, and has featured on notable menus such as last year’s Danish Royal Wedding banquet. It began when Lanyon recognised the potential in her farm, bought with her husband in 1978, beyond simply growing produce. From seed to packet, all product is prepared by hand at their premises in Boort, Victoria, and the company is 100 percent Australian-owned. It takes three days to process the fruit from vine to brine, starting with golf ball-sized green tomatoes that are sliced and preserved in a mixture of vinegar and salt then topped with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and oregano.

"If you keep it in its packet, the product has a shelf life of 24 months without refrigeration," explains Lanyon. "And because of the fresh ingredients and the great packaging, the market loves it."

Following a sponsored trip to a trade show in Singapore four years ago, Lanyon realised that the antipasto idea filled a gap in the market. Simply Green Tomatoes opened its commercial kitchen not long after. "We opened our doors at the beginning of 2002 and around six months later filled our first international order," she recalls. "But I didn’t start off thinking that we should export, I was just concentrating on getting the business started."

Not that Lanyon just got lucky. Through a combination of thorough market research and help from Austrade, Simply Green Tomatoes received the profile it needed to enter the marketplace. Lanyon’s research included identifying a niche in the market—she found there was nothing like Simply Green Tomatoes.

Active Image"I noticed that no one else was doing what we were doing," she says. "So we started exporting to Asia and that’s how it took off."






Getting Help

Austrade’s contribution came via their New Exporter Development Program, and Lanyon highly recommends that new businesses use available government resources for the initial boost. The program offers a range of services to support small to medium businesses, including advice and training as well as business introductions. Companies can also apply for financial aid via Austrade market development grants.

Active Image"I’ve had so much help from all levels of government–federal, state, right down to local government," she says. "Through the program we were able to show our product at trade shows overseas and it has snowballed from there. Having Austrade behind us made us a bit more confident. It was good for business because potential clients could see that we were supported by government and that made them see us as secure."

Conversely, Lanyon warns that it is important to do your research to ensure that the businesses that you’re dealing with are stable. Having been stung once, she’s adamant that it won’t happen again. "The most important advice I can give is, do your groundwork," she says. "Go over there, see how their company is run, and then when you’re satisfied you can start trading."

Lanyon credits her export sales adviser, Greg Street (of company SpecEx), with keeping her up to speed with the global marketplace, which she wouldn’t be able to do alone while juggling company operations. And although she’s still on a steep learning curve as a businesswoman, this farmer’s wife and mother of five has shown that she’s quick to acquire new skills to benefit the company. As a result of this dynamic rise, the Simply Green Tomatoes brand has moved from strength to strength, giving Lanyon momentum and a profile that has already garnered several accolades, including the Victorian Rural Women’s Award in 2004, which she fed straight back into the company.

"I took the bursary from the Rural Women’s Award and went overseas with Greg," she says. "We did some research and opened business connections, and that allowed us to push the product into Europe."

Not bad for a small company that fluctuates between three to 22 employees with the seasons.

Next, Lanyon predicts a new product to sit beside her antipasto creation and perhaps a different type of export—tourism.

"We’ve started seeing groups come through the region, maybe a bus every couple of weeks," she says. "The best thing is that because everything we do is done on the premises, we can answer any questions that people may have about the farm, the product, and even the packaging. The tourism side is definitely growing."

Adeline Teoh

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