Look who has blown our minds…

4 November 2020

Fiona Mann | BLOCK 275

Farming with her husband and three young sons at Eradu, on a small farm 70km east of Geraldton called Midoxgate, the Mann family found themselves needing to further diversify and buffer their farming enterprise, from the unpredictability of the weather and the markets.

Enter their recently launched value-added extension – BLOCK 275 producing 100% natural, premium, cold pressed canola oil.

Produced from a paddock traceable, GM-free variety of canola, sustainably grown and harvested on Midoxgate – no hexanes, solvents or heat is used in the production and there’s no bleaching or deodorising. Each batch is slowly mechanically pressed, filtered (to catch any natural waxes or uncrushed seed) and then packaged in dark coloured glass bottles or tin drums, to protect the oil.

BLOCK 275 cold pressed canola oil has no trans fats and contains low saturated fats, which means it may help to reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. Plus just one serve (15ml) contains over 40% of the daily RDI of Vitamin E for an adult, which can help to maintain healthy skin, good vision and the correct functioning of the immune system. Better yet because it is unrefined, meaning no nasty processing, it retains all of its healthy characteristics.

Best described as a vibrant yellow oil, it is nutty on the palate and extremely versatile – used for anything from shallow frying, BBQing, baking cakes, or in its virgin state with sourdough and dukkah.

From back burner to priority…

The purchase of a press and filter from Germany in 2016 and some social media accounts in draft format signalled the first pursuit of this business idea for the Mann family. Unfortunately a couple of below average seasons while trying to build up a farming business from scratch stretched the finances too far to complete the rest of the purchases required.

In April 2019 Fiona attended a two-day intensive workshop – Agrifoods Emerging Entrepreneurs – hosted by the Muresk Institute and RRR (The Rural, Regional, Remote Women’s Network of WA) and facilitated by BYOM.

During this workshop Lisa and Vicki challenged: “What is the worst thing that could happen if you put yourself and your business out there?”

Having always received strong support for the business concept, Fiona realised what was holding her back was her fear of failure.

“I walked away from the workshop with a new found confidence and we made every effort to push forward with trying to complete the setup. In April 2020 after a terrible 2019 and a budget that just wouldn’t balance, it became a case of we need to get this happening”.

Fiona pushed forward with nutrition testing, label designs, packaging purchases, website design, registrations and food certifications. Feeling like she was doing everything and getting nowhere, she was then approached by a restaurant in Perth for a sample which resulted in a sale…. and then came the first stockists, some local businesses in Geraldton including three IGA’s… and suddenly it’s all happening.

Pain points…

The nature of her location, and needing to be on the farm for harvest, means approaching potential stockists and customers in person is a challenge. Thankfully she is finding that other small businesses are open to communication over email.

On top of that as their current volumes don’t yet enable accounts with some of the bigger distribution networks, getting their products to locations outside of Geraldton is costly. However as Chair for the newly formed Midwest Food Industries Cluster, Fiona is addressing this freight issue, faced by so many fellow small businesses and hopes to gain some traction for the group as a whole.

What’s next…

Introducing new pack sizes, focussing on the food service side of the business and getting stocked into Perth small businesses are high on the list of priorities.

Would you say you have blown your own mind?

“Most definitely, not only with how far we have come in terms of the business in the past six months, but also in how much my confidence has grown in terms of putting myself out there. I still cringe at it, but fingers crossed I am getting better. The support from our friends and the local food community has also been amazing. Their feedback, encouragement and help with information has been second to none. I get the biggest buzz when someone personally messages me with a testimonial out of the blue – particularly those that are more acquaintances or followers and are genuinely loving the product”.

To connect with Fiona, email hello@block275.com.au

Follow BLOCK 275 on Instagram and Facebook | For more information and to shop online visit www.BLOCK275.com.au