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Sydney Royal - a small dairy's annual health check

Posted on : 07 October 2016

Written by: Jennie Smiedt

What could possibly inspire a family-owned dairy in Australia's rural Victoria to go up against multi-nationals and face the rigorous judging panel at the Sydney Royal Cheese and Dairy Show?  We spoke to Julie Cameron, owner of Meredith Dairy to find out.

What first motivated you to participate in the Sydney Royal Cheese and Dairy Show?

We had two motivations. Firstly, in our business, it is so important to continually appraise the end product. Just like getting your teeth checked at the dentist regularly! In the first few years of Meredith Dairy we couldn't afford to do focus groups or use consultants to complete product reviews. But by entering the Sydney Royal Cheese & Dairy Produce Show we could get an annual check-up. The Shows offer an easy way to have our products assessed against equivalent products in the market. Judges provide a score and feedback which can be a message of, "you're on the right track" or "there is room to improve".  Businesses should be assessing and benchmarking their products all the time and the Sydney Royal Shows are a way to do this.

Our second motivation was to determine what new products were coming onto the market. In a vertically integrated farm based enterprise it is a case of head down and bum up. There were times when weeks would go by and we'd realise we hadn't left the farm.  Actually because we live on the farm, we'd realise we hadn't left work for weeks. So the competitions are a good way to establish if there are any new and emerging products in the category.

Would you say the Judges feedback is valuable?

It is valuable. Their comments are our annual check-up, benchmark and assessment. I consider the top scoring products to not have any or little faults. However when I receive feedback regarding something like salt, I may or may not take much notice, as saltiness is often a sensory element which is more profound in a young cheese where maturation flavours have not yet been established. How much I take the Judges' comments on board depends on the product (and the feedback).

How do you use that feedback each year?

All feedback, the good and the not-so-good, is conveyed to the production staff. Flaws are evaluated and discussed at the factory floor level. Gold medals or Champion awards are posted in our newsletter and conveyed at staff gatherings - like our staff barbeque which we have around six times a year. We want all staff; from the farming and dairy milking staff, through to the sales and marketing staff, to hear the feedback as we want to give them a sense of ownership of the products.

What benefits has winning a Sydney Royal medal afforded Meredith Dairy?

Our medal wins meant that in 2014, we were one of six finalists for the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW President's Medal awards which I saw as a way we could promote our sustainability work at Meredith Dairy along with the poorly known research and development conducted behind the scenes.

While we didn't win that award, winning Gold medals and Champion trophies at Sydney Royal meant we were given the award artwork which we have used on our website, in social media and on our point of sale material. Soon we'll be adding the artwork to our packaging on our Gold Medal winning cheeses. The awards nights have also presented a great way to entertain our NSW distributors.

How has winning at Sydney Royal benefited team morale at Meredith Dairy?

It has kept us focused and enthused. And it's been a great tool to motivate the staff who labour away every day. Because we give that sense of ownership to staff, I believe they feel personally involved in any win. It makes them feel proud to be part of Meredith Dairy.

About Meredith Dairy

Meredith Dairy is an on-farm enterprise, milking sheep and goats year-round to make specialty cheeses and yoghurts. Their products are sold throughout Australia and exported around the world.

Up until 1990, farming at Meredith focused on beef, prime lamb and wool production. When the reserve price for wool was discontinued in the 1990s, the sheep industry collapsed. To stay viable it was necessary to search for alternative farming systems, in particular, options that involved value-adding primary produce and which offered a sustainable income, irrespective of global commodity prices.

The owners, Sandy and Julie Cameron extensively researched animal husbandry, sheep and goat milk production and cheese making techniques. Two years later the Meredith Dairy factory was built on the farm. The farming activities now concentrate on supply of inputs for the dairy animals including growing grains and fodder.

Sandy, a qualified Veterinarian who received his doctorate in philosophy in 1985, has focused his research in sheep and goat reproduction, particularly in year-round production. Ongoing research and development enable continual improvement to farming systems, final products and sustainability.

For more information visit meredithdairy.com