PEOPLE • QUALITY • ETHOS
Imagine if after a life time of good food, you were forced to endure an endless line of poor quality meals? Sadly, that is the reality for many people in aged care.
Maggie Beer’s passion for good food for all people at all life stages is the driving force behind the Maggie Beer Foundation, a cultural and practical change-maker for a complex issue. The Foundation uses education, advocacy and research to improve the quality of food and life for older Australians. Maggie’s food life has given her the platform to create change and her influence is based on an unconventional business journey.
Maggie Beer Products started life in 1979 as the Farm Shop at Maggie and Colin Beer’s Pheasant Farm in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. Maggie’s love of flavour and tradition were the perfect combination on which to build her business. Respecting the seasons and wasting nothing provides the core business ideal against which all decisions have been made.
In 1984, Maggie’s first commercial batch of verjuice was made to make use of an oversupply of Riesling grapes in the Barossa Valley. The purchase of an orchard with fruit that was too small for commercial sale prompted the production of some fabulous jams, pastes and cider. Most notably, Maggie has rekindled the Australian love affair with the ‘sometimes hard to love’ quince.
Maggie and Colin Beer have created an agile company able to respond to the changeability of seasons. Responding quickly and maintaining a very high quality of produce is paramount.
“It is a continual challenge to work out how we do things better without shortcutting quality,” says Maggie. “We are a middle-sized business with all the overheads, and scaling up without losing quality offers plenty of challenges.
The cost of creating and then pricing in the Australian market-place is problematic. But we are optimistic lateral thinkers and together with our team we always come up with solutions.”
For each stage of growth, finance has been the major hurdle. All financing decisions have been underpinned by the need to protect the ethos of the company, respect the people involved, remain agile and maintain an incredibly high-quality benchmark.
Maggie and Colin’s recent decision to sell-off a 48 percent share of Maggie Beer Products offers a cash injection to improve technology and facilities. It’s a decision that keeps Maggie Beer firmly at the helm of the company. It also allows Maggie the time to throw her infectiously positive energy into the Maggie Beer Foundation.
"Once the leadership of an organisation embraces change, there is so much that can be done"
“We need to help those aged care homes that want to change—applaud them for doing it well,” says Maggie. “We know it is a complex area, but for me there is no reason for anyone to have bad food. For the moment, we have to work within existing budgets.” Maggie runs two masterclasses each year with 30 cooks and chefs from the aged-care sector, involving skills demonstration, expert advice, talking through problems and finding solutions. Each of these masterclasses creates at least 30 new change champions, and a further event, for CEOs, showcases the results.
“Once the leadership of an organisation embraces change, there is so much that can be done,” Maggie exclaims. “We need to show them the difference that beautiful, well-prepared fresh food can make to the lives of their residents and the pride of their staff.”
Adding to the power of the Maggie Beer Foundation is the expertise of its Board members, ranging across nutrition, social behaviour, research, legal, financial and tactical. Professor Wendy Lacey, Dean of UniSA’s School of Law, sits on the Board and is also a member of the Minister’s Steering Committee overseeing the implementation of the Strategy to Safeguard the Rights of Older South Australians 2014-2021.
“With my research expertise, I can ensure that the inherent dignity and worth of older people, embedded in human rights norms, can inform the work of the Foundation,” says Wendy. “A person-centred, rights-based approach can be the catalyst for enhancing the lives of our valuable elders.”
It would seem that Maggie has done to advocacy what she has been doing in her test kitchen for decades—she has taken an idea for change, developed high-quality intensive masterclasses, and then worked on a way to scale it up and increase its reach.