Hard work brings its rewards
Succession planning is a challenge if no one wants to stay on the land; thankfully, that’s not a problem for second-generation beef producer Daniel Penfold and his wife Karen.
Their four daughters Bonnie, Molly, Jemima and Matilda have been working on the family properties since they could walk and are determined to continue.
“When the girls were smaller, I used to colour-code their work shirts so that when Dan was mustering in the helicopter, he could tell who was on the motorbikes in the paddock,” Karen recalls.
“They’ve all grown up capable – driving tractors and loaders, learning how to fence by handing the clips to Dan and I, working the cattle in the yard, studying for their pilot’s licences… like every young person from the land, they learnt to work very young and to put in long days.”
Building a family brand
Further strengthening their connection to the land, in 2019 the girls became the faces of a marketing campaign to sell ‘Four Daughters’ premium-branded beef to discerning diners in China, Saudi Arabia and several places in between.
The Penfolds sell around 9000 head a year from their three cattle runs and two feedlots in Central West Queensland’s Meandarra district. They’ve enjoyed steady trade with a major supermarket chain for the past two decades, but securing other income streams became imperative when all four daughters – now in their late teens and early twenties – declared their eagerness to stay on the land after spells away from home to study.
“In this day and age, [parents] can either encourage that or not,” Karen says. “A couple of years ago, we looked at ways to grow the business sustainably, through e-commerce and finding an export market, so we could pass it on to the next generation at a scale that’s large enough to support all four of them.”
Since then, the Penfolds focused on building domestic and export markets for the 150-day grain-fed premium Black Angus they sell under the Four Daughters label. The family-focused branding highlights the girls’ distinctive red hair – a perennial talking point for customers in the overseas markets.
The product was warmly received when it launched in Wuhan in 2019, but following China’s imposition of abattoir and beef bans in 2020, the family has since entered talks with distributors in Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.
Establishing an international presence as a small family business has been no small undertaking, Karen observes.
“Every other brand that’s doing this is corporate,” she says. “They’re all big companies and we’re a small family battling away. The easiest option is to quit, but we’ve come a long way and have a product that’s truly world class.
“We know we have to keep an open mind and be willing to talk to different buyers from different markets to see if we can provide our product to them. It’s not straightforward during these times, but we’re committed to exploring opportunities to tell our story and grow our label.”
Closer to home, the Penfolds are using digital marketing and radio advertising to create demand for their Pink Beef Box (a selection of choice Black Angus cuts, premium mince and gourmet sausages), delivered direct to Queensland customers.
The support to keep growing
The Penfolds are long-time NAB customers and the backing they’ve received has helped them get the Four Daughters brand off the ground, expand and adapt to changing circumstances.
“Dan’s family has been with the bank forever and now so have we,” Karen says. “NAB has always been open to creative thinking and different ideas. We like the fact that our banker is willing to come and sit down at the kitchen table and go through things, to nut them out with us.
“NAB is supportive of our family’s business ventures and adventures, whether that’s expanding a feedlot, making an off-farm investment or branching out in a new direction.”
All eyes on the future
While the events of 2020 created immense uncertainty for Australian farmers and agribusiness owners, Karen believes toughness and teamwork will ensure the long-term success of the Four Daughters brand.
“Being a successful farmer means being a problem-solver and the younger generation are so positive and proactive when it comes to doing that,” she says.
“Our girls look at every challenge that arises with a different set of eyes and attack it with enormous energy and vigour because they know it’s their future we’re all working towards.”