Forage & Graze co-owners Tash Hamilton and Kath Menpes are stepping into the sales spotlight as they take their Winton-based whole food business to the next level.

Forage & Graze’s trail mix, biltong, and wild mix (a mix of tender beef biltong, raw nuts and organic dried fruit) are being munched down in increasing quantities as the business moves beyond “something that was ticking away in the background”, as Menpes puts it.

Their ethos centres on people reverting back to foods they instinctively know are good for them: clean, whole foods that are nutrient-dense and that their bodies are genetically designed to eat for optimal health and performance.

“These are foods that have been around for millennia – meat, fruit, nuts and seeds,” they say.

Getting on to the Venture Southland Business Accelerator Programme was great because it gave them a push and made them be accountable for progressing the business, Hamilton says.

“It’s great to look at the business from different angles, and to talk to someone with a business background, who makes suggestions about things we might not have thought of.”

The pair, who both work seperate jobs, have reasonable backgrounds in administration, but needed to work on their sales approach.

Accelerator programme manager Stewart Fleming helped push them “a wee bit out of our comfort zone on the sales front, which was great for us”, Hamilton says.

“The biggest challenge was backing ourselves and putting ourselves out there.”

Fleming helped them come up with new ideas around sales and the business is growing quite quckly as a result, Menpes says.

“We are selling in quite a few different places now.”

Their customer profile falls under a “massive umbrella” from young through to older people and across males and females, she says.

The wide-ranging appeal of their products is shown in the variety of outlets stocking their products, from health food stores, to supermarkets, specialty food stores and hunting/outdoors shops.

“We’ve had amazing support from local businesses,” Hamilton says.

Getting the business to the stage it’s at now after two years’ work has been no easy task.

As anyone in the food industry will tell you, there is a lot of paperwork and things they had to get signed off, such as food safety plans.

It was, and still is a big learning curve, especially when it is being fitted in around their other jobs, and family commitments.

Forage & Graze’s origins can be traced back to the pair’s interest in running and cross-fit, which piqued their interest in high energy and high protein nutrition options. As a result, they decided to make their own, and the business idea bloomed.

“It was a bit of an eye-opener for us (looking at what was in many foods). It just kind of evolved from there,” Hamilton says.

Winton Bakery saw the potential in what they were doing and has allowed them to use their commercial kitchen in the evening to bake and bag their products.

“People hear that we make it in Winton, at the bakery, and they are like ‘wow that’s amazing’.”

People are always keen to tell them their own food stories – and the face to face interactions with customers are really valuable.

Menpes says people are becoming more discerning about what they and their families eat – inspecting ingredient lists and seeking out less processed, more nutricious, whole foods.

“I think in the last six to 10 years we as a society are becoming more and more aware of what’s going into our food,” Hamilton says.

Their online sales are building and they’ve recently attended a gift fair in Auckland. Earlier in the year and they attended the Christchurch Food Show.

“People like to see the faces of the business, and talk to people about their products.”

They are also very active on social media, which Hamilton says took a bit of getting used to – but her teenage daughter is helpful in this respect.

They have finished their 12-week accelerator course, but still check in with Fleming every month – and got to meet the next cohort in the progamme to talk about their experience.

“If it wasn’t for the accelerator course we’d probably be six months or a year behind where we are now.”

They recognise there are gaps in what they do – like any business – but they’re excited to be working together, producing products they are proud of, and now have a five-year plan to grow the business.

Feedback on their products in Southland has surprised them and delighted them.

“It’s been an amazing reception for us,” Hamilton says.