After a fourteen-year career in the corporate world as a business and technology consultant, Managing Director of Silly Yak Foods Pty Ltd Bryn Pears, decided that it was time to embark on a journey that would change lives. So what did he do? He developed a range of 100% gluten free products that were not only suitable for those with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity but is also suitable for those allergic to eggs, nuts and yeast, dairy intolerance and behavioural conditions. These products are now available throughout Australia and beyond! We sit down with Bryn to learn more about the mission behind Silly Yak Foods. Are you ready to become an insider?
ygf: Hi Bryn! Thank you so much for your time. Tell us about Silly Yak Foods.
Silly Yak Foods is a boutique manufacturer of a range of 100% wheat, gluten and nut free bakery products. We do not add artificial colours, flavours or preservatives to any product in our range. Our products are predominantly handmade and are at the super-premium end of our market. We had a bit of fun coming up with the name as it’s a common play on words, phonetically approximating the word “Coeliac”.
ygf: We love that they suit so many dietary requirements. How and when did Silly Yak Foods begin?
The original business was the Silly Yaks Café which was established in Northcote, VIC in 2001.
Back then the vision was coffee and cake in a 100% gluten free environment. Driven by customer requests and feedback we morphed rapidly into a full-service restaurant offering breakfast and lunch six days a week, dinner three nights a week and retailing a wide range of bakery products from the café.
In 2002 we started to get requests from health food stores and specialty retailers to purchase our products for re-sale. In 2003 we set up a separate bakery facility and began our journey from hospitality to food manufacturing. The café was sold in 2008 and Silly Yaks is now a pure food manufacturing business with an international reach.
ygf: We are not surprised you grew so quickly. Quality gluten free products are in high demand! What was the inspiration to include gluten free products?
At the time that Silly Yaks was established there was very little gluten free bakery product available in Australia and what existed was of very poor quality. In looking at the market in 2001 I formed the conclusion that most gluten free products were developed on the basis that the customers had no choice but to buy them and so it didn’t matter what the quality was! I decided that there must be an opportunity for a company whose mission was to treat its customers with respect, not contempt. Thus far, it looks as though I was right. By creating delicious and high quality products, we get the opportunity to make the lives of our customers better every day. There are not many things that you can do for a living where you can honestly say that.
ygf: Even though the market may feel saturated to a manufacturer these days, consumers are still on the hunt for high quality products. That’s what we love about Silly Yaks. How do you take care to ensure your products are gluten free?
We source our ingredients carefully, only dealing with those suppliers who can guarantee us a gluten free product.
We maintain a strictly gluten free manufacturing environment. All products are manufactured and packed in an environment which is 100% wheat free, 100% gluten free and 100% nut free.
We conduct regular random batch testing using an independent laboratory. In 17 years of operation we have never failed a gluten test.
ygf: Those of us with coeliac disease and nut allergies can breathe a sigh of relief! Congratulations on these amazing results! What is your interest in the health industry?
I am personally very interested in health and fitness and maintain a strict vegetarian diet. I believe in the old cliché that “One should let food be one’s medicine and let medicine be one’s food.” I think that the vast majority of chronic health issues in the Western World (and increasingly in the rest of the world as well, as we continue to export the Western lifestyle) are related to what people eat and drink.
This is why we try to make our products as simple as possible: no additives or preservatives. As few food technology tricks as we can get away with and as little processing as is practical. If your grandmother wouldn’t have recognised it as food, you probably shouldn’t be eating it!
ygf: We couldn’t agree more! Tell us about a day in the life of Bryn Pears.
My little son wakes me up sometime between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. We have breakfast as a family and I drop him at childcare at 7:30 a.m. to be in the office by 8:00 a.m.
From 8:00 a.m. to the end of my day it’s meetings, discussions, emails and telephone calls. I’m in the fortunate position nowadays that I don’t have too much of a role in the day-to-day operations of the business which leaves me free to focus on strategy, business development, marketing and communications, etc.
As we continue to develop the business I am also travelling a lot more, both Interstate and internationally. This year I’ve already spent time in Dubai (for Gulfood) and Singapore (for Food & Hotel Asia), with additional trips to both destinations likely in the second half of the year.
At least twice a week I try to be out of the office by 3:30 p.m. to be in the gym at 4:00 p.m. This gives me an hour for exercise before I pick my son up from childcare and head home.
ygf: Above and beyond all else, it’s absolutely inspiring seeing how you juggle a business as well as an ever-growing family. Congratulations! The question is now… what is YOUR inspiration?
I am inspired by people who have built good businesses that deliver for all stakeholders – the shareholders, the employees, the suppliers, the customers and the community in which the business exists. People such as Richard Branson, the folks at Jasper Coffee, they inspire me.
In 2017, Silly Yaks won the National Employment Services Association (NESA) Champion Employer of the Year for the work that we have done in taking people with disabilities and the long term unemployed and working with them to overcome their barriers and integrate them into meaningful, permanent employment at Silly Yaks. The night of the awards ceremony, when we discovered that we had won, was one of the proudest moments in my business career.
ygf: Absolutely incredible, Bryn. We love supporting brands that go above and beyond to develop the community, all while continuing to grow and improve your brand. With that in mind, do you have a motto to share with us?
I quite like the quote from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Ultimately in life the only things that matter are what you actually do. Aspirations, dreams, goals, expectations, beliefs – they’re all great to have and they motivate you and shape who you are, but ultimately you are what you do. Nothing more, nothing less.
ygf: What is your vision for the future? Anything exciting in the pipeline?
For the rest of 2018 our focus is international – we are keen to bed down our operations in Singapore (as a springboard to the entire South-East Asian region) and Dubai (as a gateway to the MENA – Middle East and North Africa – region).
For 2019 we are planning to revisit our existing product range, weed out products which are not “best in class”, sell slowly or are otherwise not relevant to the current market conditions. We’ll then launch some new products to replace them.
ygf: That sounds very exciting, best of luck! You’ve lured us in, Bryn… Now how do we access your product?
Silly Yaks products are sold in quality independent retailers around Australia. They are also sold in selected retail stores in Singapore and Dubai. We also sell a lot of our products into the food service markets, particularly the catering and conference trades and the pizza bar market.
ygf: How do our readers stay in touch with you?
You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (though we don’t really use Twitter that much). You can contact us through our website or you can email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to hear from you, whether you have good feedback, bad feedback (which is way more useful to us than good feedback, as it helps us to identify things that we could and should be doing better), a request or just want to chat.