Entrepreneurs

“Time to stop and smell the roses”: Aussie food icon Maggie Beer sells her gourmet food business for $10 million

Dominic Powell /

Maggie Beer

Maggie Beer. Source: Supplied.

Australian food icon Maggie Beer has sold the final half of her eponymous gourmet products business to ASX-listed food and beverage group Longtable in a deal which marks the end of an era for the much-loved brand.

In its half-yearly update yesterday, Longtable revealed the company was in the process of finalising the transaction with Beer, which is a cash and shares deal worth $10 million.

Beer had previously sold 48% of her Maggie Beer Products business to Longtable in 2016 for $15 million, and said at the time she could never imagine selling the entirety of her company, but selling a part “just felt right”.

But speaking to SmartCompany today, Beer says a walk with her husband and friends on the El Camino trail last year brought about a change in perspective, with the storied business owner realising she wanted more freedom to “smell the roses”.

“I don’t want to say I’m feeling my age, but at 74 I need to be more free, and I need to be able to do all the things a person who has some time on their hands can do. It’s a combination of wanting to have more time to work on the things I love, and have more time to stop and smell the roses,” Beer says.

“But that doesn’t mean retiring — I still have my foundation and that requires a lot of my energy. But now I actually have more time to be in my garden.”

Yesterday’s deal marks the sale of the remaining 52%, with Beer and her husband receiving a total of $25 million for the business, and will see the founder step back from working on the business full time, to working on it just one week per month.

The company will also retain the iconic ‘Maggie Beer’ name, with the founder assuring she was “committed to her legacy”.

Maggie Beer’s business was officially founded in 1979, though at the time it began as a shop on her and her husband Colin’s farm in the Barossa Valley, where they made wine and farmed pheasants.

Over the years, Beer ran numerous different food-related businesses, including a restaurant on her farm, and an export kitchen which sold gourmet products all across the world, which eventually morphed into Maggie Beer Products.

Beer has also had significant success in the media, releasing numerous cookbooks, appearing as a guest judge on popular cooking TV show Masterchef, and even hosting her own cooking show on the ABC for a number of years called The Cook and the Chef.

Succession struggles

While Beer praises Longtable for having a real interest in “high-end, quality brands”, she admits she’d been struggling with a succession plan for Maggie Beer for the last 15 years, with neither of Beer’s two daughters showing an interest in taking up the mantle.

“When I came back from Spain, I knew I needed to sell as my daughters were not interested in coming into the business as they both have their own businesses. But it was very important to me to have a succession plan for Maggie Beer,” she says.

Beer says she’ll be focused now on working with the Maggie Beer Foundation, which improves the food experiences of Australians in aged care. Last week, the foundation received a $500,000 grant from the federal government to create an online video course for cooks in aged-care facilities.

“I’ll be using my energy to help show people what’s possible and to make their jobs more meaningful. But it’s a very complex arena, and it’s hard to make beautiful food for people who can sometimes have difficulty swallowing and chewing,” she says.

In its half-yearly presentation, Longtable revealed Maggie Beer Products were on the up, reporting $1.5 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in the first half of the financial year, compared to a $100,000 loss in the same time frame last year.

“The Maggie Beer team has successfully managed costs to create a profitable, sustainable business with a very powerful brand that is highly regarded by consumers looking for premium food products,” Longtable managing director Laura McBain said in a statement.

“New product development is a key part of our future development beyond the next six months. This will include the expansion of Maggie Beer products to new categories in collaboration with the major supermarkets.”

With her “40 years, one month, and nine days” in business, Beer has learnt a few things about what makes a successful SME. She says business owners should endeavour to surround themselves with great people.

“Find people you trust, and bring in those who have skills where you have gaps,” she says.

“None of this happened by plan — it happened because I was doing something I loved and believed in,” she says.

NOW READ: How James Willis created The Mason Baker, scored a partnership with Maggie Beer, and won over sharks Naomi Simson and Andrew Banks

NOW READ: Meet Australian icon and proud small business owner Maggie Beer

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany. Email him at [email protected].

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