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Kehoe’s Kitchen: Fermenting the way to success

Kehoe’s Kitchen is proudly Australia’s first certified organic producer of fermented vegetables, cashew dips and spreads. Established in 2013, the brand is based in Brisbane, Queensland, and operated by devoted husband and wife team Brenden and Katrina.

Like many small businesses, Kehoe’s story began with a personal health journey and a passion for fermented, wholesome food. After a long-term illness while pregnant with their second child, Katrina started her family on the GAPS diet (a modified paleo diet) to help her gut to heal.

B: “We all went on the diet and our kids thrived and we thrived. We saw a huge change in ourselves; we were more energised and healthier.”

This positive change in health for the whole family spurred Kehoe’s love for fermented foods in promoting a healthy gut and overall wellbeing.

K: “We had a fortnightly stall at Northey Street Organic Markets selling fermentation crocks and equipment, books and just teaching people how to ferment and eat healthy food. We were only given a fortnightly stall as we weren’t selling organic produce. The market owners said, ‘make your own sauerkraut then you can have a weekly spot.’ I said, no way that’s too hard! I can’t make sauerkraut for everyone!”

Unable to ignore the increasing demand for their recipes and the need to start making their own products, the couple decided to convert the lower storey of their Carina home to a fully functioning commercial kitchen.

“A month later we had our food business licence, and a year later we were Australia’s first certified organic producer of fermented vegetables, cashew cheeses and dips.”

Cauliflower being prepared at Kehoe’s Kitchen

The business grew exponentially from there, and it wasn’t long before they expanded to their second fit-out and engaged a local distributor, when delivering directly to wholesalers and independents themselves became too much to handle.

B: “We decided we would either need to employ people to help manage that side of the business, or we’d need to get wider distribution through a distributor. That’s when we went to United Organics. Martin and Ross from United Organics came into our kitchen, tried some samples and then laid out a plan to help us grow our distribution.”

K: “They took us from 25 stores to 130 stores over night. Within about 6 months of getting our certification, we were selling nationally in about 500 stores.”

B: “There was a real buzz about our product which was fantastic because it all happened so quickly.”

Kehoe’s Kitchen Founders, Brenden and Katrina

Getting their foot in the door a Woolworths, however, took a little longer. After several meetings with Category Managers across Sydney and Brisbane, their perseverance paid off.

B: “We originally took samples to a face-to-face meeting with the then Category Manager at Woolworths in Sydney. He was pretty excited about the product and had a million ideas about what we could do with it.”

K: “We said to them ‘we have this really great product, similarly priced to what you already have on the shelves, but it’s Australian made and it’s selling well.

“Eventually, Woolworths agreed to do a trial of 4 products in 14 stores in Brisbane, for 14 weeks. We delivered directly to the stores ourselves.”

With a little help from Woolworths’ Local Sourcing Manager in Queensland, Kehoe’s Kitchen expanded their trial and quickly found their full range in over 270 stores.

“Our Local Sourcing Manager was really helpful in our journey with Woolworths, especially since we haven’t worked with retail before. We had only worked with wholesale, so he has been able to provide advice on retail specific things such as acronyms and sales and promotions. Generally, we’ve had a really positive experience with Woolworths.”

When it comes to organic certification, the couple agree that it has helped to secure their spot on the shelves and help to create a unique selling point for the brand.

K: “Getting the certification was our key to getting that shelf space. Many stores were already selling sauerkraut, so if you have two brands and one is certified organic it makes you stand out.”

Kehoe’s Kitchen classic certified organic jars

For the future, Kehoe’s are hoping to see more events to provide opportunities for consumers to try their products and learn more about the benefits of fermented, organic food.

B: “Last year we did Regional Flavours at Southbank in Brisbane with over 80,000 people there. Events like that are great exposure. The month following that event, stores couldn’t keep up with demand for our products. We need more events like that where people can taste and try our products to drive demand.”

Kehoe’s have now expanded their range to include more affordable pouches which are available in Woolworths stores nationally.

K: “Our new pouches we haven’t labelled as organic – we want people to understand the difference. The pouches are a more affordable, non-certified option that will be available in Woolworths. Whereas Kehoe’s traditional certified organic range in the jars is still available in over 1,000 independents nationwide.”

For the future, Kehoe’s are looking to expand their range of spreads and products made using 100% Australian ingredients.

To learn more about Kehoe’s Kitchen and their range of certified organic products, check out their website here.

Photography by Louise Wright