The success of Brad Anderson’s vegan-friendly food manufacturing business wasn’t guaranteed.

The vegan food truck Noo Moo Foods and hemp-based ice cream offering Hemp Soft Serve, both based in Melbourne’s north, have survived a pandemic, rising inflation and changing consumer confidence.

But these days, business growth is better than ever.

After setting up Noo Moo Foods (pronounced ‘no moo’), Brad took out a Prospa Small Business Loan to partially fund the fit-out of a commercial kitchen. In 2020, he was keen to expand the business’ offering further, and took out a Prospa Line of Credit.

With the help of additional funding, The Hemp Soft Serve Company was born.

“Hemp Soft Serve was a height-of-COVID project,” Brad says, who runs the business with his wife Lorraine. “We wanted to produce a plant-based ice cream that didn’t use coconut. Our point of difference was using a combination of hemp and soy milk.”

That point of difference proved a hit. When we spoke with Brad and Lorraine in mid-2021 about their plans for growth, those plans were grand – including seeing their ice-cream in IGAs and other grocers. Now, Brad estimates the business has grown by 200 per cent – and that IGA dream is a reality.

“We’ve got a distributor now,” Brad says. “Our ice cream is available nationally at small independents like IGAs and at up-market grocers.”

The business has brought on two extra staff to help cover for expansion, doubling the total number of employees, and has even secured a trademark for Hemp Soft Serve.

Brad is adamant that their success would not have been possible without financial assistance.

“We wouldn’t be in the position we are now if it wasn’t for Prospa,” he says. “We’d still be two years behind. We’re in the marketplace now, and that’s due to Prospa.”

Brad has recently topped up his Line of Credit that had previously been used to help fund the development of retail packaging, among other things.

“That’s been quite an easy process,” he says. “Prospa is sensible with their lending. The banks never offered us any finance, but Prospa did.”

See how Brad used a Line of Credit to help build his vegan food business:

Surviving when times are tough

The nature of change in the small business world is that things can go down as often as they go up. Recently, Brad has been feeling the pinch.

“Business has changed a lot,” he says. “Consumer spend is down, inflation is up, interest rates are up. When that happens, hospitality always gets affected straight off the bat.

“We’re a niche product as well. Why would customers want to spend $16 for a tub of ice cream when they could buy another product for $13?”

The increase in employee numbers that comes with growth also means more staff to pay, greater superannuation contributions, and PAYG.

The business has adopted new tactics  to stay agile in a challenging business environment.

Brad isn’t buying stock he doesn’t need to buy, and is clearly setting expectations of payment terms with suppliers and customers.

“We’re really strict with our payment terms,” he says. “When an order is placed, we don’t release it until the invoice is paid.”

One thing he has not done – mark his products down to compete with the discounts presented by rivals, preferring to have confidence in his offering.

“Small businesses have to protect themselves,” he says. “Food manufacturers have to stand by their product.”

Find out more and apply for a Prospa Line of Credit.

Firm plans for the future of soft serve

Brad is keen to leave challenging times behind and continue with the next stage of expansion.

“We’re looking at the franchise model, either storefront or mobile,” he says. “We need quite a big site, about 300 square metres. That’s something we would like to organise sometime this year.”

There are also still some issues around awareness and branding.

“Hemp is still a demonised product,” he says. “That’s a challenge, but people’s perceptions are changing.”

Despite the potential obstacles that lie ahead, Brad is standing strong in the face of hardship – knowing that investment in the future has its reward.

For fellow business owners in a similar predicament, his advice is simple: believe in the product.

“Go into negotiations with an open mind, but always use your gut feeling. Stick to your integrity. Don’t get caught being romanced by a big distributor or company that’s interested in your product.”