Capping off a rollercoaster 18 months since it began operating, Provenir has taken home a prestigious innovation award for its on-farm meat processing unit.
The Bannockburn-based company fought off laws that needed to be changed, drought across much of the state, fires in the east, the coronavirus pandemic, and record-high cattle prices to slowly build up its business, winning plaudits from farmers and Australia's top chefs.
Provenir focuses on improving animal welfare by bringing the abattoir to the paddock, reducing stress for livestock - the company developed custom processing units that fit in a truck trailer.
Chief executive Chris Balazs said it was "validation" for his team after years of work to win the delicious. Produce Award for Innovation, Sustainability, and Community.
"It's actually been a really challenging first year of operations, but to be able to win awards like this whilst operating in those conditions, they're the real highs," he said.
"The animal welfare aspect is really important to us, the fact that we can remove the stressful step of live transport and abattoir layerage, those aspects were the founding principle.
"Myself, I'm a first-generation farmer, and when I tasted for the first time animals that were processed on my farm - which farmers are allowed to do - I was thinking 'this is the most incredible meat I've ever eaten' - so from that point, it was about how do I enable being able to sell that to the average consumer, to know how good meat can actually be if it's done this way."
The business was nominated by chefs from Rockpool and Three Blue Ducks, which Mr Balazs said demonstrates Provenir's reputation.
"I think when I look back at where we were 18 months ago, and the fact I can call Neil Perry, he picks up the phone and we can talk about what he wants to put on the menu, or Mark LaBrooy, these institutional, cult figures who I've been following for what feels like a lifetime, to be actually able to sit down and talk to them and have them be interested and excited about what we're doing, that's a real buzz for me," he said.
"We know the quality's there, the tenderness and the taste.
"We're really starting to develop the traceability, the QR code that sits on the package that tells the stories of all the farmers we process on, that's really starting to resonate with consumers - every time they buy some Provenir meat, they learn the story of the farm we were on.
"So today, for instance, we went on Steve Fenwick's farm in Inverleigh and processed Friesian-cross-Hereford, and that's on the label, so everyone knows exactly what they're eating - it's not just beef, they know whether it's Angus or Hereford, all the different types of beef, and then we get romantic about the idea of the terroir of beef, so they can start to develop an understanding, and a liking, for the different styles of beef, much like wine."
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The traceability aspect of the product could lead to some interesting new avenues, but Mr Balazs said for now, the focus is on expanding the business across Victoria, and potentially to Queensland.
"It's really about building the consumer awareness of on-farm processing and what that means, we do that through the QR code, the developing the brand - we see it as a co-marketing strategy, because it's all under Provenir, which is on-farm processing, but we tell the story about the farmers, these guys are the heroes, how and why they farm is what we believe consumers, principally in the city, really want to know about," he said.
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