A Matthews Steer client since 2006 family bakery Ferguson Plarre dates back four generations to Otto Plarre, an East German immigrant who opened his first bakery – Plarre’s Cakes – in Puckle Street Moonee Ponds in the early 1900s.
Now run by brothers Steve Plarre (CEO) and Mike Plarre (Head of Manufacturing), Ferguson Plarre is preparing to undertake the biggest modernisation in the business’ 120-year history – their $7.3 million ‘Future Bake Project’.
Under the project, the family business will introduce robotics to automate repetitive processes, expand its 80-store network into regional Victoria, increase the size of its factory, develop wholesale lines and its gluten-free and plant-based ranges, and develop interstate and overseas export markets.
The project will be funded in part by a $950k Commonwealth Government’s Manufacturing Modernisation Fund (MMF) grant that Matthews Steer’s specialist government grants team assisted Ferguson Plarre to apply for.
In order to secure the $950k grant, Matthews Steer first helped Ferguson Plarre to secure an AusIndustry Entrepreneurs Program – Business Growth Assistance grant, using the resulting funds to research and prepare the application for the MMF grant.
Modernising Ferguson Plarre
CEO Steve Plarre says in a mature and competitive industry like baking, true, defendable innovation comes from establishing genuine points of difference.
“It’s partly about finding cleverer ways to put flour and sugar and eggs together than we did 40 or 50 years ago, and bringing our products to market faster,” says Steve, “but as a fourth generation family business, it's really trying to step into a start-up mindset, when you’ve grown up in the opposite of that – in what feels like a slow-down mindset.
“It’s asking the question: ‘how do we diversify and de-risk’? The COVID-19 crisis has been a prime example. We got smashed when COVID started, but if we’d had some alternative sales channels, we'd have been beautifully well-balanced to seeing this out.”
CEO Steve Plarre says the Future Bake Project will transform Ferguson Plarre into a cutting-edge business with the capacity to secure new sales channels and potentially an international footprint.
“Our biggest previous modernisation came when we outgrew our old facilities and moved to our current facility in 2007,” he says. “Under this project we’re looking at automation and robotics, sustainability measures through better oven technology, we’re targeting a move to a 100 per cent solar-based energy source directly from our roof, and further investment into sustainability.”
Client testimonial - Steve Plarre, CEO, Ferguson Plarre
“We 100 per cent would not have been aware of the availability of the innovation or manufacturing modernisation grants if it hadn’t been for Matthews Steer. We were at a business breakfast where Ken Matthews stood up and said if you work in food and manufacturing: ‘funding grants are not a bonus, they’re your right’!
“I've been involved enough with grants to know I have zero interest in being the person writing the application - it's such a tailored skill set. The Matthews Steer grants team has been fantastic in guiding and supporting us through the process.”
“Having a trusted set of advisors who are across government business grants, and when they are available, is vital because the application processes is competitive and fast. Matthews Steer’s grants specialists held our hand throughout the application process, helped us validate our manufacturing cost assumptions, helped us analyse how big the market could be and, for the most part, they did the number crunching.
“They worked closely with our CFO, and with my brother Mike, to frame all the information we provided in a way that made it palatable for the government to digest.
“For us, trying to navigate our business through COVID-19, it is challenging to fulfil all the administrative requirements of the grant application process, but Matthews Steer’s grants team is there every step of the way, calling us, following up with us, offering to prepare documentation and provide templates to streamline the process.
“I have absolute faith in our relationship with Matthews Steer - they now know our business absolutely inside out. That support has been absolutely invaluable. Matthews Steer is the reason our government grant applications were successful – we wouldn’t have been awarded funding without them.”
Steve Plarre says the advancement Ferguson Plarre will achieve under its Future Bake Project will improve his business’ resilience and capacity to navigate challenges like those created by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Modernisation, and the consequent expansion, will enable us to protect the business we've got, better, and by default this will enable us to protect any new sales channels we develop.
“Over the next five years, an optimistic view has us potentially doubling turnover, and at least doubling our number of full time employees. We probably doubled turnover in the last 20 to 25 years. If I could do that in five, that would be pretty amazing.
We’re proud Victorian manufacturers and, as much as the economy's going to be under some real pressure in the foreseeable future, we’re hoping our business – and the products we make and deliver - we can be one of those bright sparks of success, and a source of employment and inspiration.
Of the $50-million grants awarded nationally in round 1 of the Commonwealth Government’s MMF, Matthews Steer specialist grants team assisted three clients to achieve MMF grants of $250,000, $800,000, and $950,000 (Ferguson Plarre) respectively.
The Business Growth Assistance grant provides up to half of the cost of engaging a consultant to assist with a range of business improvements. Applications for the majority of government grant programs require a business plan, so the AusIndustry Entrepreneurs Programme provides a foundation for access to many other government grants.
The Commonwealth Government’s $50m Manufacturing Modernisation Fund was launched to support investment in efficient and transformative manufacturing processes by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); encourage job growth and nurture a more highly skilled workforce in the manufacturing sector.