Staying Afloat in a Storm

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-By Claire Suttles

The Bestlan Group knows how to weather a storm. Last year, Cyclone Yasi hit the company hard. So hard, in fact, that Sales Director Nadia Moulds admits that mere survival was the goal for 2011. Bestlan’s core values played a key role in its survival, as well as in its transformation from a humble banana grower to a leading supplier of value-added fruit products for the food industry. Throughout its recent recovery, and quarter century of development, Bestlan Group has remained a privately owned, family run business that is proud to be “100% Aussie.” The company takes its family owned status seriously, and believes in building strong, long term relationships with customers by treating them like family as well. In fact, Bestlan believes that this strategy has been as important to its success as the high quality of its products.

Bestlan is a domestic and international base manufacturer, producing and supplying purees, pastes, processed dried fruit and value-added fruit pulps for the food industry. The company buys fresh, Australian grown fruits, and then manufactures the raw produce into a product specially designed for each customer. Because Bestlan uses locally grown produce, it can deliver products to Australian customers in as little as one week, versus the two to three months expected from overseas shipments. Furthermore, customers have exclusive rights to the specially formulated product, and Bestlan group will not sell that customer’s product or formula to competitors.

The business began over 25 years ago as Bestlan Bananas in Coffs Harbor, New South Wales. The company’s original focus was growing bananas but, with bananas worth very little at the time, the company needed to increase profits. With a little creativity and a lot of can-do attitude, Bestlan developed new value-added products from its undersold fresh bananas. From there, the firm “never looked back.” Soon the company, renamed The Bestlan Group, had a manufacturing plant in Tully, followed by a second one in Townsville, both in Queensland. It also began to look beyond the banana, developing products derived from a wide range of fruits.

In general, seasonal and market demands dictate which fruits Bestlan focuses on at any given time. These demands are constantly changing, and the company has made it a point to evolve along with the food industry to stay on top of the game. Recently, focus fruits have included banana, mango, blueberries and raspberries. This year, for instance, there has been a lot of interest in whole frozen bananas for post manufacturers and bakeries, as well as dried blueberries and banana purees.

Evolving with the food industry, and being savvy to seasonal trends and customer needs, has helped the company withstand tough times. And Bestlan has certainly faced tough times. Last year Cyclone Yasi devastated the fruit growing region that Bestlan depends on and destroyed its plant in Tully. With only the Townsville plant left standing, the company’s processing ability was cut in half overnight. It was a manufacturer’s nightmare: heaps of fresh fruit “just sitting there.” Ms Moulds explains, “We couldn’t get product out, we couldn’t expand, we couldn’t do anything.”

The company was extremely hard hit, and Ms Moulds believes it was lucky to have survived at all. However, there appears to be more than just luck behind Bestlan’s survival. Smart planning, active communication, and a commitment to treating customers and employees like family all contribute to the company’s resilience and success.

Had Bestlan not planned ahead, the company may well not have survived. Because Tully is in a cyclone area, the firm has always been careful to put away several hundred tons of processed stock each cyclone season. In this way, Bestlan ensures that, regardless of what Mother Nature may bring, the company can provide its customers with the products they need and expect. Fortunately, when Yasi tore through Tully, this vital stock wasn’t affected and its existence enabled Bestlan to get through the last year. Because Bestlan uses Australian produce, the company couldn’t look to imported fruits to keep them producing. Instead, it was forced to halt production until Australia’s fruit growing industry recovered. For just under a year, the company was only able to provide products to the customers already on its books, many of whom had depended on Bestlan for many years. Even then, there just wasn’t enough fruit to go around, and this lack of product sent a ripple through the entire industry.

Australia’s fruit growing industry is finally coming back to life and Bestlan has been able to get back up and running in the past few months. The remains of the Tully plant are set to be demolished, and all operations are currently being run from Townsville. Bestlan’s team is optimistic about the future and has already begun building a new warehouse. “We have to be resilient,” Ms Moulds states, “otherwise you don’t survive.” Without resiliency, “we would have just fallen over.”

Bestlan’s commitment to customers and employees has given the firm a widely respected name over the years – another factor in overcoming Cyclone Yasi. “We are a family owned business,” Ms Moulds explains, “So we treat our employees like family.” For example, when Yasi destroyed the Tully plant, Bestlan refused to lay off a single worker, but instead found a place for them all in the Townsville plant. When one woman found the long commute to Townsville impossible, the company allowed her to work from home the majority of the time.

This dedication extends to customers as well. “We talk to people,” Ms Moulds explains, “We make it personal.” What seems like a simple courtesy has yielded powerful results, including loyalty from many customers. By talking to customers and maintaining relationships Bestlan is able to stay proactive. “If we get a project we follow it through on a continuous basis,” Ms Moulds reports. “We don’t just sit there and wait for the customer to come to us. We get in there and [stay] involved with the projects right up until the end.”

Bestlan’s communication isn’t just friendly; it is also upfront. Ms Moulds describes the company as down to earth, and says that Bestlan makes it a point to “tell it like it is.” She explains that in the food industry, there is no room for fudging the facts. Instead, “What you see is what you get.” And Bestlan believes that its best marketing strategy is to simply let the product speak for itself.

In addition to more traditional forms of interaction, Bestlan also employs web based communication strategies. The company’s web page is designed to foster new relationships and initiate dialogue with potential customers. The site is updated regularly, and allows an interested party to order samples with just a few clicks of the mouse. Bestlan then makes it a point to “ring them back and get to know them.”

Pushing samples through its web page is key to bringing new customers on board. All samples are made-to-order, and Bestlan works hard to please. The company gathers as much information as possible and strives to get the formula right the first time. Once again, “letting people actually talk” is the key to developing a good sample and Bestlan encourages strong communication throughout the process to ensure customer satisfaction.

Once a sample is produced, Bestlan overnights it to the potential customer. Documentation and pricing information arrive soon after, usually within 48 hours. In this way, a customer’s research and development department can begin incorporating the sample into a food product right away.

Well known for high standards and quality products, it is no surprise that Bestlan has kept its head above water in spite of a major storm. Committed relationships, solid communication, and a hands-on attitude have not only kept the company afloat this past year, but have helped make it an industry leader, with two and a half decades of family run service.

Looking ahead, Bestlan plans to keep doing what it’s been doing: maintaining strong relationships with customers, actively building new relationships, and evolving with the ever changing needs of the food industry. The firm also hopes to impart a message to Australians to buy as much domestic product as possible. Bestlan wants to see a greater promotion of Australian based and Australian made products overall, believing that keeping Australian dollars within Australia will strengthen the country’s economy and help keep local producers and manufacturers going. Regardless, “We’re going to be here in [another] twenty years’ time,” Ms Moulds announces, still “pumping along,” and continuing to enjoy the kind of success the past twenty five years have seen.

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December 19, 2018, 5:14 AM AEDT