Sandhurst Fine Foods officially started in 1988 when Vince had just left a business in seafood processing, that nearly cost us our house and car.
Whilst looking for new opportunities to utlise a warehouse he had leased, Vince dabbled in olives. He thought the olive market was an interesting project, and Australia’s interest in international foods as accessible and mainstream, was in its infancy
Vince recalls the early days of Sandhurst Farms in Macquarie Fields in the mid-1960s to 1970s where they would import metal 200 litre drums of stuffed olives from Spain and repack them into jars.
In Italy, the marinated olives were part of Vince’s childhood as they would normally spice up olives with garlic, lemon, oregano, parsley in order to preserve these foods for the upcoming summer. The olive tree was the mainstay of every Italian household, regardless of geography, as it provided oil, fruit, soap – even lighting for olive lamps!
With his own love of olives, Vince always believed that a flavoured olive would be a good point of difference so he created a recipe to marinate an olive, and experimented with flavours and varieties.
The birth of Sandhurst Fine Foods then commenced in 1988, with Vince’s love of the humble olive.
People saw olives as a luxury, so there was a lot of risk in launching a gourmet product when the country was finding it hard to make ends meet during the recession.
A few distributors tried Vince’s marinated olives and decided that it would be a good idea to put them into selected delicatessens and some of the supermarket delicatessens.
The famous Marinated Stuffed Olive was born and the business started to grow as Vince then dabbled in larger 1kg jars. He would purchase a pallet of empty jars and fill each jar by hand, adding a hand made hot brine using family recipes from the Sandhurst Farm, and using Italian preserving techniques he learnt on the farm
With very little budget, Vince had to think outside of the square. To ensure each product was safe for supermarket shelves and the bacteria was killed, he invested in some old burners and made a simple bain-marie pasteurizer. Labels were applied by hand and packed into cartons. It would take one day to make 2-3 pallets of olives in jars; nowadays with mechanization, we can fill up to 25 pallets in one day!
After working at Sandhurst for about 6 months, I noticed we were starting to get some traction with the olive business, and interest from foodservice wholesalers as well as supermarket chains at the time.
The lesson we learnt from Vince being unceremoniously let go by his original seafood processing customer, I&J, is to never allow another company to control our destiny. Contract packing was all the rage in the early 1990s but we saw this as the opposite of what we should do.
Instead, we focused on brand and quality so that we couldn’t be compromised by another large organisation like I&J.
Fast forward now more than 30 years later, and we’re still focusing on brand and quality to this very day!