Dr Hazel MacTavish West, CEO and cofounder of Seedlab Australia has created waves in the FMCG sector with her business accelerator and incubator program for Australian and New Zealand producers.

Seedlab is a company that was created exclusively for Australians and New Zealanders who produce specialised, sustainable food products. It also offers non-alcoholic beverages, personal care and homecare items, as well as high-quality and value-added foods. Hazel West founded Seedlab in partnership with her husband, Darren West. The goal was to help innovative businesses grow and provide consumers with high-quality, unique products.

Tasmanian-based Seedlab was founded in 2021 and is Australia’s independent incubator and accelerator program focusing on early-stage FMCG startups. Seedlab Australia, which has already supported over 100 food startups in Tasmania, has now expanded its successful pilot program. The accelerator program is divided into three stages: start, scale, and grow. It helps businesses of all maturity levels.

Shaking up the Industry

Hazel is an experienced business developer and has always looked for ways to expand Seedlab’s reach and influence, whether it be in Australia, New Zealand, or elsewhere. Hazel gave an interview to dynamic business in which she shared her insights on the program and its more than 300 founders.

Hazel explained they invest with intelligence, not capital. They support startups to launch, scale and grow, to become retail ready, with a proven program of training and support. “We support them with proven training and support programs to help them start, grow and scale to become retail ready. We invest with intelligence (not capital). “And they find us”.

Seedlab’s success is measured in a variety of ways, depending on the goals and needs of each startup. “Our startups’ success can come in many forms. They may realise that they do not have a unique (or protectable proposition) or there isn’t enough margin on their products to turn a profit. We help them address major issues such as this or realize that they need a fresh start.

Hazel said that the company uses several metrics to measure success. These include unique value propositions and competitive landscapes. They also consider cost of goods, pricing appropriate for retailers, and communication with them. “Success is for some people getting listed in a large number of stores they can service and supply. Some people find success by helping them to scale up their business and locate contract manufacturers. There is no one-size-fits all solution.

Hazel explained that the program helped participants identify their current position in the process of becoming retail ready and the next steps they need to take.

FMCG: Overcoming the challenges

Hazel stated that when asked about challenges, the biggest obstacle for FMCG startups was the stiff competition from established players on the market. Hazel stressed the importance of developing unique and valuable products, while maintaining production standards and volumes required by national retailers. She also suggested pricing the products appropriately to meet the consumer demand.

“Developing products which are different and valuable, and managing production to standards and in the volume required by national retailers at a price consumers will value.”

Hazel said that in order to overcome these obstacles, it is important to identify and articulate what the product will do for a certain consumer demographic. Understanding their competitive landscape, and how to stand out. Understanding the unique selling points of the product and how they can communicate them.”

She continued, “We help them understand the cost of their goods and price their product appropriately.” How to explain all this to the retailer, and how to make it profitable for everyone.

It’s tough to compete with the global FMCG giants that have huge advertising budgets. It’s important to not try to please everyone.

The Cultivate Accelerator Program

Cultivate, the accelerator program offered by Seedlab, provides comprehensive mentoring and networking opportunities. Hazel stated that the Cultivate Accelerator program provides participants with comprehensive mentorship and networking opportunities.

Mentorship is provided through monthly group meetings, as well as individual sessions with the mentors when needed. The representative explained that Seedlab offers networking opportunities, explaining, “We use everything from formal online Masterclasses, to help connect communities, by having people share who they are, what they do, and where they are.”

Seedlab offers Bootcampers and Cultivators private Facebook groups to help them connect and answer questions. There are also informal online Cuppa & Chat sessions where participants can share information or talk about their business, family, and pets.

Seedlab also offers the opportunity to meet with participants at trade shows and consumer shows, where they can speak with them. They also host informal dinners, debriefing sessions, and other networking events during the Australia Woolworths EXPOs held every six months.

We have seen many Seedlabbers meeting up at markets or as friends. Hazel continued, “It’s an amazing village to be part of.”

Bring regional and artisanal producers on the table to national retailers

Hazel responded to Hazel’s question about how Seedlab prepares its startups for the changes in the FMCG sector over the next decade. “We give them tools, techniques and systems that they can use to get support when the situation changes.

“People understand that it is important to ask for clarification, to be responsive and to have an alternative plan. All we can do is that. “They are all connected to a local village, a national village and a global village that offers support and safe places for questions and help.”

Hazel responded to a question about Seedlab’s impact on the FMCG sector and how it fits in the wider ecosystem. “Seedlab Australia builds a funnel for hundreds of small businesses ready to sell to the public, who will be able to sit with the big players and have confidence, knowing that they have the information and the solid foundation to their proposition.

“We provide national retail with a pipeline that is responsive, nimble and reflects the market trends and, in some cases market fads. We bring regional and artisanal producer to the table, making it easier for Category Managers to deliver innovation and interest to consumers.”