Japanese traditions in the heart of northern Tasmania
When looking to for a place to launch their start-up, Meagan and Chris chose Launceston as the home for their next-gen food company
When Chris and Meagan met in the Royal Australian Navy, they never imagined heading up an innovative food manufacturing company, Meru Foods, that turns the heads of Australia’s leading chefs.
Chris and Meagan de Bono didn’t envisage a Launceston-based career in food manufacturing. Their respective backgrounds in warfare and logistics are an unusual prerequisite for creating an ultra-premium Australian Miso product.
“I’ve always been fascinated by fermentation and the art of crafting something through this process,” explains Chris. “Meagan is a skilled designer so we merged our skillset and launched a small business in kombucha and fermented vegetables. We were living in Melbourne and selling at farmers markets. Through this, we saw a gap in the market for high-end Miso.”
For the non-acquainted, Miso is made from koji (inoculated rice, barely or soybeans), soybeans and salt. To understand Miso is like delving into the world of wine. No two Pinots are alike. As such, Miso from one maker will have a very different flavour profile to the next.
Though Miso is less known in Australia, it packs a healthy punch as a sustainable, plant-based food. Soy beans have some 36 grams of protein per 100 grams, one of the highest ratios of any food. Low in calories, and loaded with prebiotics, probiotic bacteria and enzymes. In Japanese culture it is believed to be a gift from God. In Okinawa where they still have Miso soup daily, dwell some of the world’s oldest people.
“When we launched, it was a small community of people who were familiar with Miso, mainly in the health and wellness space even though it’s been around for 2,000 years,” says Chris. “We’re introducing people to it daily which is part of the joy of what we do. We encourage people to try the recipes on our website, adding Miso as a flavour enhancer to, for instance, spaghetti bolognaise. It is Australian chefs who have really taken to Meru Miso, adding a depth of flavour to their dishes.”
When deciding where to base their venture, Victoria and Tasmania were on the cards. Establishing the company as a couple from their home kitchen, Chris and Meagan knew they would need to expand and found that northern Tasmania provided the best prospects for a food manufacturing start-up. In 2016, they made the move and in March 2017 founded Meru Foods Pty Ltd.
“We wanted to be in close proximity to amazing producers, near an airport, and surrounded by like-minded businesses. Launceston is a micro-city with everything we need,” says Meagan. “It’s also my hometown, so there was the pull of family as well. We couldn’t be happier here. We now have a team of six and are expanding from 300 to 1000 square metres at the factory here in St. Leonard’s, right on the edge of the city. It only takes us five minutes to get to work and we can be out in the countryside in no time.”
In 2018, the company was recognised as a finalist in the Telstra Business Awards category of Emerging and Energised for Tasmania and more recently Chris and Meagan have launched another retail brand, Umami Pantry, with a focus of bringing ‘real flavour and real food’ to the shelves.
“Every new business has its challenges and is a lot of hard work. Learning to make Miso was such an involved process with very little English literature about it, so there was plenty of trial and error. However, we’ve grown consistently from 5 tonnes of Miso in our first year to producing 30 tonnes last year and launching Umami Pantry as well. We sell mainly through distributors into restaurants and retail – independent grocers and health stores nationally. It’s the chefs that have embraced it since day one, which is a great credibility stamp on the product and its quality. They use it like a complex salt that adds amazing flavour. We’ve had so much support from Tasmanian retailers – once they know it’s made here and is certified-organic they get really excited,” says Chris.
“What we’ve found in Tasmania is a fantastic support eco-system of other small businesses. It’s an exciting time for northern Tasmania, with lots of new enterprises. Where we are located in a former abattoir, has been re-energised with businesses ranging from gin making to mushroom growing to Baijiu distilling, crafting the world’s most consumed spirit, a Chinese white spirit,” adds Chris.
What’s next? Watch this space. Chris is currently brewing test batches of soy sauce. Meru Foods, as Australia’s only sizeable Miso maker, might just become the country’s first soy sauce manufacturer. Motivated by the fact Australia ships soy beans overseas to have them come back as a finished product, Chris doesn’t see why it can’t be done right here in Tasmania. It appears a flavourful future is in store.
Are you interested in making a move? Make it Tasmania.
Find out more about Meru Foods.
For information on starting a business in Tasmania look through our stories or visit Business Tasmania.