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Beef brand turns to paddock-to-plate products after export business ground to halt during pandemic

It started as a way to ensure a bright future for their daughters, but Karen and Dan Penfold's Four Daughters Beef brand has had to shift dramatically in the past year in order to survive.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still rippling through the family's premium black angus beef brand and export business, which began exporting directly to Wuhan, China in 2019.

Starting Four Daughters Beef that same year, the Penfolds were looking for a way to ensure they had a strong succession plan in place for their daughters, Bonnie, Molly, Jemima and Matilda.

Then, when exports were halted and bans on processing hit during the pandemic, the family refused to back down and instead pivoted to the domestic market.

Matilda, Molly, Jemima and Bonnie in cattle yards
Matilda, Molly, Jemima and Bonnie Penfold working together in the cattle yards.(

Supplied: Karen Penfold


"It's just so hard, it's been so difficult," Karen Penfold said.

"Usually the easy option would be to hang up your boots and walk away, but we just go back to why we're doing it, which is succession and building business opportunities."

So, while the family was unable to send product to China, they created a paddock-to-plate beef box for the south-east corner of Queensland, filled with their 150-day grain-fed black angus beef products and hand-delivered by a member of the family.

Birds eye view of cattle in yards being herded by workers
The Penfold family working in the yards of one of their properties.(

Supplied: Four Daughters Beef


And while it has not been as profitable as their export business, it has been extremely rewarding, Ms Penfold said.

"However that's really small numbers of our whole program, but little steps and we'll see where that leads us."

Export uncertainty

In October, the Penfolds' clients in Wuhan asked for more beef in preparation for February's Chinese New Year celebrations.

It was the first shipment overseas in around seven months.

Three young women in hats stand at the side of a ute at sunset
The Four Daughters Beef brand was started by Karen and Dan Penfold for their four daughters.(

Supplied: Four Daughters Beef


It was subjected to more processing bans, but eventually made it to the client.

"They'd called in September and said, 'Can you go to Shanghai to the International Food exhibition?'" Ms Penfold said.

"We reminded them that at that point we couldn't actually get into New South Wales, so we couldn't go to Shanghai."

After that shipment, they were told they did not need to send any more of their beef until at least April.

The four daughters inside their home, sitting at the kitchen table talking
It has been a stressful 12 months for the family, but they all work together to ensure the business succeeds.(

Supplied: Four Daughters Beef


But, the Penfolds are not putting all their eggs in one basket, and while their export journey has "pretty much come to a halt", Ms Penfold said they were still working hard to get that side of the business up and running as soon as possible.

"We're still having lots of conversations," she said.

'Anything is possible'

The Penfolds currently deliver monthly to the south-east corner, recently adding more locations to their list of where they can deliver to.

Each month, four out of the six members of the family hit the road delivering the boxes direct to their customers' doors.

Five women stand in front of a truck wearing pink shirts
Karen Penfold (middle) with her four daughters on a delivery trip.(

Supplied: Karen Penfold


The two left at home "stay behind to keep the home fires burning and the cattle fed".

The interest in the beef boxes in the past year has seen the Penfolds field interest from around Australia, despite only delivering in the south-east corner.

"Interstate are very keen," Ms Penfold said.

"But we're still working through that and we just don't have the answers as yet, but we're still talking."

Drone shot of people mustering cattle along a laneway
Karen and Dan Penfold's four daughters all work at home on the property to help with the business.(

Supplied: Four Daughters Beef


The quick rise of the boutique brand had taken the Penfolds by surprise, but they were excited to see where it took them.

"It's just all about how we work through the logistics of the supply chain.

"There are just so many parts involved."

The Penfold daughters Jemima, Matilda, Bonnie and Molly walking in a yard
The four Penfold daughters Jemima, Matilda, Bonnie and Molly Penfold. (Supplied: Four Daughters Beef)

Even with all the stress and turmoil of the past 12 months still impacting upon their family business, Ms Penfold said one important lesson had come from it.

"We had to work out the difference between needs and wants," she said.

"I think that everyone has worked out that they really do need food and then hopefully, in that chain, that we really do need farmers."

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