How Bernadette Eriksen created a $20 million business: ‘I needed to put a roof over my children’s head’

Bernadette Eriksen started her meal replacement business Flavour Creations in 1997 with the aim of putting a roof over her children’s heads and making a difference to people’s lives. 

Today, the business, which manufactures meal replacements for people who find it difficult to eat solid food, employs more than 100 people and turns over well over $20 million. 

Our friends over at SmartCompany spoke to Eriksen to find out how she has managed to thrive in the food manufacturing industry, a sector historically dominated by men.

I started business life in Myer as a cadet. Back in those days, there were two gods in Victoria: one was Myer and the other the AFL.

It was a great place to be in. It was a fully-fledged management course and it had international recognition.

I loved retailing but food was always my passion.

I lived in the United States for three years where I married my children’s father. I was a farmer for three years in Nebraska. Then we moved back to Melbourne, and then to Brisbane.

After my partner died I needed to put a roof over my children’s head. At the same time, I couldn’t sell cigarettes or garbage products.

I thought it would be nice to do something to help people.

I came across dysphagia, which affects about 12% of our population. It’s pretty sad that it’s little heard of.

It’s a symptom of another disease process. If you have a stroke or motor neurone disease, you may have your ability to swallow impaired.

I did truckloads of research. Fortunately, my baby was breastfeeding so I didn’t have much time to do anything else.

By this stage, I was doing a bit of food consulting on the side. It took a solid six months of reading about dysphagia because in those days, there was very little literature about it or studies.

The products available for people with dysphagia were really horrid – starch and guar gum.

What we needed to do was come up with a product range that was a one-stop shop.Patient safety was also a driving force.

So I came up with the most suitable product, which [uses] xanthan gum. It’s proven to be really, really successful and great for patient outcomes.

In those days, you’d ring the residential care industries or hospitals and they’d say, ‘go away’. It was about educating them and chipping away at it.

This is why you don’t ever want to know your future. If anyone hands you a crystal ball, smash it.

I dealt with an unbelievable number of rejections. But you just have to find the silver lining in everything.

I knew my product was the best on the market – I still do. We get our patients hydrated and have people living healthy and happy lives as much as they can within their condition.

Often, your biggest foe can be your greatest friend. Once clients understand you and your product are genuine, as is your company, they will be fierce advocates for your business.

There is no such thing as a bad client – you just haven’t educated them properly.

You’ve got to build relationships and that takes time.

Believe in your product and ask yourself what’s motivating you.

You just have to take the risk. I did the research but that didn’t make the products sell.

I also really believe in gut instinct. It’s that gut feeling that tells you ‘this feels like a right idea’ or ‘this feels like a bad idea’.

If you fall over, pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and get on your feet again.

You’ve got to put your business and personal ethics right at the forefront of any decision you make.

Good company culture comes down to your management team. You need a highly skilled management team.

My biggest problem is that there’s not enough hours in the day. But it’s a great problem to have.

If I was starting over, what would I do? Accept help from people sooner.

You can’t do it all yourself. When you’ve got good people you trust, you don’t have to think about certain things again.

But it doesn’t hurt to be a perfectionist. Keep raising the bar.

We’re proud of what we do here and that’s why good people stay.

It’s wonderful to know you’re doing good things for the community.

This article first appeared on SmartCompany

Broede Carmody

Broede is a SmartCompany reporter who has a knack for covering technology and mental health in the workplace. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

Follow him on Twitter: @BroedeCarmody

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