Toni Barton has hit on a winner with a unique meat product.
Story + Photos Kathy Mexted
Toni Barton has had one long journey of discovery from setting up a farm in 2014, a handcrafted smallgoods business in 2017, to exporting to New Zealand and the Middle East under her own brand. “Some people talk about a burning desire and mine was an intense yearning for land,” the displaced dairy farmer’s daughter with an international marketing background says. With the land came a need for stock and her grandfather suggested Australian whites. A self-shedding meat sheep bred for Australia’s climate, whites are even-tempered mothers whose marbling intramuscular fat with a low melting point is just the shot for taste and handling.
She sold her meat through farmers’ markets, set her price according to her costs, and pursued all opportunities to broaden her networks and her knowledge, while developing her flock.
This was not what she foresaw when she bought her 80ha farm near Tooborac in central Victoria, but the bright idea developed one weekend during a cooking and smoking masterclass in her kitchen. The demonstrating butcher held up lamb belly strips and remarked, “If this was from a pig, it would be bacon”. That’s when the smallgoods business idea seeded. Instead of feeding the lamb bellies to the neighbours’ dogs, she trialled lamb bacon. Orders went from 5kg to 100kg a week. The pace became frenetic and she was soon distributing nationally. Then her mentor, Jon, and his wife Lauren Bell, moved to Qatar, and they reported they were confident of a market for Toni’s product there.
There were many challenges, such as retaining butchers, learning to butcher her own meat under guid-ance, finding smoking facilities for the smallgoods, being held to ransom by a couple of unscrupulous service providers, sourcing stock and continually working to develop her brand.
“A 14-week food ag innovation accelerator program in late 2017 forced me to consider innovation and what problem I was solving,” Toni says. “The answer was greater than I’d imagined. Halal food is the largest growing sector in the world. Australian lamb is seen as clean and green and no-one was making a range of handcrafted lamb smallgoods.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #127
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2019