How Indigenous culinary brand Warndu leveraged Facebook to build a dedicated customer audience


Damien Coulthard and Rebecca Sullivan in their Flinders Ranges kitchen.

Indigenous-owned culinary brand Warndu was created with a multifaceted mission — to regenerate community, tradition, health and our environment through the promotion and sale of native foods. 

Based on Adnyamathanha land in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, Warndu was founded in 2016 by teacher and Aboriginal artist Damien Coulthard; food writer, sustainable farmer and entrepreneur Rebecca Sullivan (Damien’s partner); and consultant Siobahn O’Toole. 

Warndu means good in the Adnyamathanha language. Through the sharing of recipes and information on native ingredients, the team hopes to spark conversations about Australia’s Indigenous culinary prowess and encourage people to support the native food industry.

The business has established a small but highly engaged audience across Facebook and Instagram. Here, Sullivan and O’Toole share strategies for using social media to curate a loyal following of repeat customers.

Growing an audience: Slowly but surely

Warndu is a part-time operation and only needs to grow as quickly as the embryonic native food industry, says Sullivan. Growing their audience patiently — but attracting quality followers who become loyal customers — is key.

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“We are OK with growing the business slowly and organically,” she says. 

“We can’t rush into being this big, huge business because there’s not enough ingredients out there for us to supply it.”

Sullivan says social media is an invaluable way to share the philosophy of Warndu. 

“It’s more about the connection and the learning and the sharing,” she says. “We’re still all novices in this native food space. The only experts are the Indigenous elders, not us.”

A personal approach to Instagram

Sullivan is at home on Instagram, and regularly shares inspirational images of plants, seeds and food she has created using native ingredients with Warndu’s 5600 followers. She and Coultard made the decision to be the faces of the business (including their gorgeous baby Mallee) in an effort to make Warndu more personable.

“Instagram is about sharing what we’re up to — it’s a bit more personal… There’s more with Mallee, with Damien, with his art, with my other work,” she says.

O’Toole says Sullivan’s tactic of opening her personal life to customers and adopting a very authentic and conversational tone with her Instagram and Facebook posts has proven to be a very successful marketing strategy from a business perspective.

“It’s the language that Rebecca uses that helps to convert people [from passive viewers of social content to customers] because it makes them feel as though they are part of her journey,” she says. 

“Instagram and Facebook are where we get the vast majority of our buys. 

“She recently posted a beautiful picture of Damien and his family on the farm which generates clicks through to the website. People browse, sign up to a list, come back — we see three to four visits — and then people usually commit to a substantial purchase.”

Using Facebook to start conversations

In terms of organic content on Facebook, Sullivan says the platform is best used for driving brand awareness and engaging in more big-picture topics including sustainability and the importance of Indigenous-owned businesses.

Joining native food groups on Facebook and interacting with members has boosted branding and engagement. The team joins discussions, shares recipes and information, industry updates and answers questions using Warndu’s profile.

“People ask questions like, ‘What are the Indigenous owned companies?’ and so it’s good to be able to reply as Warndu, “Yes, we’re Indigenous owned and here’s a link to our page and to our website’,” O’Toole says. 

“That helps because then people like and comment on those and a lot of people see that. Then that helps to drive people to our website.”

Content posted on both Instagram and Facebook is deliberately educational and content-driven rather than pushing products.

“We didn’t want to just be constantly ‘sell, sell, sell, sell, sell’,” says Sullivan.

How paid advertising can help

Warndu doesn’t boost posts but has used paid Facebook advertising to drive e-news sign-ups and web visits, which resulted in a dramatic increase in both. 

O’Toole used conversion ads linked to a blog, recipes or the business’s e-news sign-up page rather than products. Warndu’s monthly newsletters are a primary tool to convert new customers and inspire existing customers who may not have purchased for a while.

“I focused on the conversions and how to land someone on to the website so that we can get an email address,” she says. “Our email list has grown 100% in the last six months. We have a 45% read rate and 14% click rate so that is well above the industry average for food.”

O’Toole says social media tools, such as those available for Facebook and Instagram users, are imperative for small businesses to both grow an authentic consumer audience and to attract partners to create profitable co-ventures.

“We have seen substantial growth and brand awareness and major collaborations are coming our way and people are chasing us rather than us chasing people,” she says. “Plus we have an increasing number of return customers,” she says.

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