Disaster Bay Chillies changes hands after 21 years

CHANGING HANDS: New owners Les, Letitia and Joel Cruikshank with medals won by Stuart Meagher and John Wentworth for their extensive variety of chilli products.

CHANGING HANDS: New owners Les, Letitia and Joel Cruikshank with medals won by Stuart Meagher and John Wentworth for their extensive variety of chilli products.

Disaster Bay's multi-award-winning chilli company is changing hands this week - a family with Bega Valley ties is keen to continue the homegrown success story.

Disaster Bay Chillies began as a partnership between Stuart Meagher and John Wentworth in 1999 when they combined their passions to grow organic chillies

The pair went on to produce what they believe was the world's first commercially available wine made from chilli, and won numerous awards both nationally and internationally for a wide array of products made from up to a dozen different varieties, including sauces, jellies, curries, wine and kasundi.

After 21 years of hard work, the Eden-based business has just been sold, and the original owners are thrilled to have found a family eager to continue production and the original homegrown, handmade approach.

"We did what we wanted to with it and got what we wanted out of it," Mr Meagher said

"It's been a long and interesting journey for us but it's time for some new blood, time for someone else to pick up the baton."

The company have been producing and hand harvesting over 2 tonnes of chillies each season which are then processed and cooked at a small factory in Eden, with up to a dozen different varieties of chillies from the very mild Anaheim Chilli to the fiery hot Habanero and Naga Chillies.

Disaster Bay Chillies have been producing and hand harvesting over 2 tonnes of chillies each season.

Disaster Bay Chillies have been producing and hand harvesting over 2 tonnes of chillies each season.

With longstanding ties to and family in the area, Les and Letitia Cruikshank, together with their adult children Joel and Elita, are very excited to continue and hopefully expand the company, which is situated on over 11 acres of arable alluvial flats.

"It's exactly what we wanted, a small business with personality and depth in a rural setting, something which can offer us the opportunity to be self sufficient to some degree," Mr Cruikshank said.

"Stuart and John have done an amazing job to start it up from scratch and produce to such a high standard, we have big boots to fill."

The pair focused on quality rather than quantity and maintained a philosophy of "if it's not right it's wrong", and their wine first went on sale at the 3rd National Chilli Festival in 2000, where it created immediate interest, winning the award for the Best New Product at the festival.

The Cruikshank family have been in training with the original owners as the settlement day of August 4 has been approaching, and it's envisioned Joel will handle the IT, design and drafting side of things and Elita will draw on her sales and marketing skills to further the business development.

"Stuart has mostly been running the show himself and has done a solid job," said Mr Wentworth who has worked for the business on a more casual basis since 2011.

"It was really exciting, particularly in the beginning, as we had never even grown chilli before."

The awards the company has received over the last few years have created keen interest from a number of countries which enabled them to look at the prospect of small exclusive export deals.

The original owners they feel strongly they have found the right people to pass the business on to and the Cruikshanks plan to try and increase the market and expand to further international exports.

"We've been learning as much as we can about the products and processes and plan to grow as many of the ingredients as we can, and keep the community and existing suppliers involved," Mr Cruikshank said.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it."

SOLD: Old and new owners together with medals and their prized produce.

SOLD: Old and new owners together with medals and their prized produce.

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