Australian smokehouse expects to turn over AU$1 million with the help of Instagram

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Sarah Fenton and Jason Smith, the owners of the Bellarine Smokehouse, near Melbourne, Australia, have used social media to grow their business and say they hope to be in a building within the next four to five years.

And that’s the long-term plan of the business which only started 14 months ago. Since then, they have sold 2 to 3 tonnes of salmon.

They originally set-up the venture after seeing an opportunity in the market.

Ms Fenton told Salmon Business: “We made the decision in three days. Since then, we’ve introduced new product lines, we’ve grown the business by nearly 100 per cent. We’ve taken it into numerous suppliers in Victoria and Melbourne. We’ve rebranded with a different name to further reflect where we want the business go. At the moment we sell premium smoked fish.”

So how does the business work?

Bellarine Smokehouse van Photo: Bellarine Smokehouse

“We manufacture our products in the shed,” Ms Fenton told Salmon Business.

“We slide the doors open, open up the factory doors, and put the table out the front. Some flags out on the gates, and we sell from the shed door. The shed is 30 metres long by 15 to 20 metres, it’s a big shed. We don’t open any other days other than a Saturday because we have such good wholesale.”

The business gets its salmon from Huon Aquaculture in Tasmania and Ora King in New Zealand. They also sell other fish products.

Ms Fenton said: “We’re very lucky with our supply chain. We’ve now got guaranteed supply from our suppliers that even if stocks become stuck, we’re OK.”

When the fish comes in, it starts a three-day process, with the fish first being salted.

Mr Smith told Salmon Business: “The smoking process begins and the fish are rinsed off. They’re then dried over night, and then added to the smoker. It’s in there for at least five hours and then it comes out, and then put into small racks.

“The next morning it’s put into a bag which extends its shelf-life for 6-8 weeks. I use kindling paper to start a fire, and then put 2 or 3 small logs on, and that starts the smouldering process. It’s a very hands-on, artisan process.”

Ms Fenton said smokehouses were in their ‘infancy’ in Australia, but that people were very interested in an artisan process. She said: “What we know from the research we’ve done and who we have spoken to in the industry, people are focused on not knowing how to cook fish, so we’ve got a product that is hot smoked and ready to eat.”

Bellarine Smokehouse salmon Photo: Bellarine Smokehouse

Will the business grow? “Yes,” is the answer. It may have started life in a shed, but the owners of the Bellarine Smokehouse hope their business venture will end up in a building.

“Within the next four to five years, we hope to acquire a property to be a proper smokehouse as a destination and not just the fish products,” Ms Fenton said.

“But we want to be a strong tourist destination with a wholesale line behind us. We can run it how we like. We can open for four days for six months of the year, and then in the down-tourist season we’re not open.”

And how do they expect to get there? “Instagram,” Ms Fenton told Salmon Business.

Ms Fenton said: “I didn’t know Instagram until 12 months ago. I learnt it very quickly. But I’ve always known that people eat with their eyes. They eat with a story.”

Mr Smith added: “I used to work in sales and they always used to talk about so many Likes and stuff, and I used think it was boring, and now it’s a key tool for us to be able to talk to our customers.”

“Now Sarah is on board it’s given me more tact to go out. The sky’s the limit at the moment. We’re about to invest in more infrastructure, more smokers, keeping the products.”

They expect to turn-over a big amount in the next four years with the growth expected in the business. Ms Fenton said: “We would expect turn-over to be a million dollars in 4 years. We’re on that trajectory.”