Melbourne entrepreneur Lawrence Harris describes the million-dollar grant his ice-cream manufacturing business will receive from the Victorian government as a “vote of confidence” in Australian manufacturing.
Harris is the co-founder of Harry’s Ice Cream, a popular range of gourmet ice-cream and one of the recipients of the second round of grants from the Melbourne’s North Innovation and Investment Fund.
Established by the federal and Victorian governments with Ford Australia, the fund will distribute $24.5 million to local manufacturers. It was developed as a response to Ford announcement that it will cease local production of its cars in 2016.
Harry’s Ice Cream found out last week it will receive $1.25 million from the fund to expand its production facility to include custom engineering production lines and latest developments in freezing technology.
The grant will in turn create 30 new jobs at the Harry’s ice cream manufacturing plant in Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner north.
Speaking to SmartCompany yesterday, Harris says the funds will be provided to the business he founded with his brother David on an allocated basis and this will be based on the set of conditions outlined in the business’s application.
“Our application was about innovation,” Harris says.
“Whilst we are talking about expansion, for us it is along the lines of new machinery that will allow us to make more sophisticated ice cream products than we are currently able to.”
Creating new jobs was also an important part of the application, Harris says. Depending on the time of the year, Harry’s Ice Cream employs approximately 25 employees.
“A very important part of the fund is creating new jobs to help compensate for those lost because of [the changes in] the car industry,” he says.
Harris credits the staff at his local council, the City of Moreland, for alerting the business to the grant.
“There is a close working relationship with the business units at the City of Moreland and they certainly alerted us to it,” he says.
“We also have relationships with different consultants who specialise in this area.”
Harry’s Ice Cream started life as a small ice cream shop that sold by the scoop in Melbourne’s Chadstone shopping centre 20 years ago, before Lawrence and David Harris added more stores to their network.
After the pair was approached by other businesses that wanted to stock their artisan products, they began supplying bigger and bigger companies until their ice-cream caught the eye of the supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths.
Harry’s Ice Cream is now stocked nationally in the major supermarkets Coles, Woolworths and ALDI, and is served in restaurants such as the Pancake Parlour, and the company turns over between $10-15 million a year.
For Harris, government support for businesses like his, in terms of both local council advice and financial assistance, is essential.
“Speaking for myself, it’s the difference in this case of struggling to be able to do exactly what we want and having this financial assistance and local government support, to really complete a project,” he says.
“It will enable us to continue to innovate.”
While Harris has no doubt innovation is essential in all industries, he says in order to continue growing those in the ice cream industry have no choice but to innovate.
“Ice cream is one of life’s great small luxuries; the Global Financial Crisis was good for business,” he says.
“But we’ve noticed over the past year or so, the premium [ice cream] segment has been good and so others have moved in.”
Harris also sees these grants as a sign Australian governments are prepared to invest in “manufacturing in the right areas”.
“The car industry was deemed not to be right for us in 2015, but in food manufacturing, in particularly dairy, there are such great products,” he says.
“We did a trade show last week and there was terrific enthusiasm… the reality is there is a lot of interest in China, the Middle East and India.”