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Grandma’s Recipe - Award Winning Gourmet Food

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Grandma’s Recipe Transformed Into Award Winning Gourmet Food


A former hairdresser in Ashburton has broken into the market for premium gourmet foods in New Zealand, with a range of wine gelée based on a recipe handed down by her grandmother.

Two and a half years ago Jennifer Shepherd was going through old recipes and decided to try her hand at her grandmother’s port wine jelly. It tasted so good she sought a professional opinion from a chef in Christchurch who took it to two South Island wine conferences, where the product got an enthusiastic reception.

Just a few weeks after her first cook up in the kitchen Jennifer had decided to give up her hairdressing job and concentrate full time on the new venture, called Wine Aspics.

Working with food technologists at Formula Foods in Christchurch, Jennifer developed the original recipe to create six different flavoured wine gelée that are naturally set using a seaweed based product, gluten free and suitable for both vegetarians and diabetics.

The products, made from New Zealand wines, are designed to be eaten with bread, cheese, meat and desserts. They remain stable in temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius, making them ideal for picnics says Jennifer.

The business received a huge boost when Jennifer’s wine gelée took third prize at the prestigious 2004 SIAL d’OR food awards in Paris, just behind another high flying New Zealand product, 42 Below’s Manuka Honey Vodka, which won the category.

“It was amazing to get international recognition so early on. I’ve never wavered in my passion for the product and my faith that Wine Aspics would succeed, but I realised I needed more capital and more business know-how,” says Jennifer.

She sought help from the local economic development agency in Ashburton and was hooked up with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s Escalator programme, a capital raising vehicle for businesses and entrepreneurs.

Escalator is delivered by a consortium of providers and Jennifer worked with Deloitte in Christchurch to develop an investment case and bring on board an Ashburton investor. She has been selling her products in premium food stores and is now beginning to supply supermarket chains around New Zealand.

Richard Bailey, Senior Manager with Deloitte in Christchurch, says Jennifer’s venture is stronger as a result of the support provided through the Escalator service.

“It’s a huge learning curve, to take a business from nothing to breaking into major retail stores. Winning the award in Paris got an investor interested in her business, working with Deloitte ensured that the investment was presented and structured commercially.”

The Escalator programme has helped raise more than $NZ37 million of capital for 46 firms since it was launched in November 2003 with deals ranging in size from $95,000 to $5 million.

Project Manager for the Service, Tim Robertson, says over 650 firms have been assessed by Escalator brokers, with 120 being selected for in-depth deal brokering assistance. While not all end up securing an investor, going through the programme can build capability and shows businesses what they need to do to be investment ready.

“It’s quite common for businesses to come to us, as Jennifer did, because they have an investor interested in their business but want help with structuring the deal,” he says. “Even those who don’t end up securing investment find the programme hugely valuable as a kind of Warrant of Fitness test for their business.”

Jennifer has gone on experimenting in the kitchen and last year decided to try adding cheese into the gelée, to create an entirely new taste.

“The food technologists I work with were blown away by the results and by the fact that the product seems to get better as it ages.”

Two new products have been added to the Wine Aspics range as a result and Jennifer is considering entering these in the 2006 SIAL d’OR awards.

Giving birth to her first child three months ago has added a further challenge to Jennifer’s working life but, she says, the stresses and strains of starting a new business and juggling motherhood are worth it.

“It’s been really exciting to learn about growing a good idea into a profitable business and the help I’ve had along the way has been inspirational. People in the industry have been very willing to share their experiences and give me tips about the road to success.”

Richard Bailey from Deloitte, Tim Fitzgerald from Enterprise Ashburton and Jennifer’s investor have now formed an Advisory Board to ensure the business stays on track and continues to expand.

“Ongoing support is crucial,” says Tim Fitzgerald. “Great ideas and passion are vital but access to savvy business knowledge is also a crucial element of success.”


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