There's been no shortage of bad headlines for the food manufacturing industry in recent times. A number of high profile companies have hit the wall (think Rosella, Windsor Farm Food Factory, Darrell Lea and Byron Bay Cookies) and the high Australian dollar, labour costs and cheap imports have also taken their toll on the profitability of local brands.
It's so refreshing then, to hear Sean Garlick, managing director at Garlo's Pies, talk about the strength of the 12 year old pie business.
Family-operated, Garlo's Pies has gone from strength to strength since opening its first retail pie shop in a 60 square metre premises in Sydney's Maroubra.
With Sean an ex-football player, Garlo's launch was promoted through the television show, The Footy Show, giving the brand an enormously valuable push in the right direction.
Twelve months later, Garlo's opened a second store in Mascot, followed by one in Parramatta, one in Coogee and another in Blacktown.
In 2004 production was shifted from the back of the Mascot store to a 250 square metre bakery in St Peters.
"That was our first step into big bakery thinking," Sean says. "But for the last two years of our existence [at St Peters] we were just busting at the seams. We couldn't swing a cat. We couldn't operate effectively and we couldn't take on any substantial new business because we physically had no more space. So that was the motivation to move into a new place."
About four weeks ago, production started at Garlo's Pie's new home - a 1,350 square metre facility just 900m down the road from its predecessor.
"This move represents capacity and potential. We've always had potential and everyone's always spoken about how good our product is, but while we've been thwarted in our growth because of the physical limitations of our last premises, over the last couple of years we've learnt where we wanted to go in terms of operations and logistics," says Sean.
"We really took a long time planning the flow of the premises, how the product would come in and come out and now it allows us to really take on all markets."
A very lucrative deal with Coles was another reason Garlo's Pies had to step up its production capabilities. The supermarket giant approached the company back in 2009, and while Sean was originally reluctant to sign on the dotted line, concerned Coles would push pie prices down too far and threaten the brand's premium pie reputation, Sean says Coles is onboard with theGarlo's strategy.
"We're now supplying to every one of their stores in NSW and we have 14 lines in most of them, which is huge," he says.
The Coles contract meant Garlo's had to become a more "sophisticated" business, says Sean.
"They've really provided us with an education in terms of what's needed to be done to service the big guys. It's now positioned us to speak to Woolworths ... and we've also been supplying to Metcash for the past six months, which is IGA. We're available all over NSW in IGA stores, but we've also secured big contracts with the Australian Navy."
Despite these game-changing contracts and interest from export markets including the UAE, south east Asia and the US, it's those who helped build Garlo's Pies from the ground up who are still pushing its growth today.
"You've got to market your product. What we learnt very early on is that it's one thing to be available in Coles, but unless you're supporting your product, it just doesn't sell," Sean says.
"We really invested heavily in doing in-store demonstrations, in merchandising and in advertising. There's no point being there if no one's heard of you or no one knows about you.
"[When launching in Coles] we underwent a big advertising campaign and relied on family - as we always do - to go out to the stores. Our wives, sisters, our mother, were all out there in the stores demonstrating, making sure we were on the shelves and trying to get relationships with store managers, going to meetings and just putting our brand in front of people and pushing the brand," he says.
While exporting is a big opportunity for Garlo's Pies, the company is more focussed on establishing a national presence here in Australia, where the humble meat pie has an iconic status not seen anywhere else in the world.
And the new St Peters facility will certainly help to achieve this.
"When we first opened our doors in Maroubra Nathan and I looked at each other and said 'How many pies will we make?' So we made 100 and they all sold out by lunch the next day. The next day we made 200 and they sold out by 2pm the next day. Then we made 500 and that was about as many as we could make."
After moving to its first St Peters location and investing in a pie machine which deposited filling into the pies, as opposed to filling them by hand with an ice cream scoop - production at Garlo's Pies jumped up to about 8,000 pies a day.
"Now, in this place, we can make 12,000 pies in a shift, which is from about 6am to 5pm. And we'll be able to do about 6,000 pies in an hour when we have two machines running," Sean says.
"We can now supply in a much bigger scale to the supermarkets. And of course that's not forgetting the small pubs and clubs and schools and cafes and lunch trucks that we supply to on a daily basis. Those guys are very important in maintaining the strength of the business.
"We can't allow ourselves to have our eggs in too few baskets."