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Cookouts at Oxford and the quest for the ‘best sausage in the world’; how one entrepreneur found his mojo

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David Beak graduated from Oxford with second class honours but says it was at the exalted university that he mostly developed his twin passions – cooking and sport.

When he then turned – rarely, perhaps, for an Oxford graduate but expectedly for the fourth generation of a family in the meat industry– to running Beak & Johnston Pty Ltd., he banked on his experience of cookouts, more than classroom learning.

“As students we lived on tight budgets and that meant us being entrepreneurial in cooking and finding cheap products like ribs, that we were able to add value too and feed friends on,” Beak, 58, told Anthill in an interview. “I used my South American BBQ experiences to change the way students were fed at parties.”

Beak & Johnston‘s is an Australian family-owned and -run gourmet sausage company. It is 25 years old but claims a 130-year legacy when it comes to sausages.

It strongly differentiates its products. Mr. Beak’s sausages are 100% Aussie beef sausages and contain no MSG (mono sodium glutamate), gluten or artificial flavours. The company employs over 600 people at six factories in Australia and New Zealand.

Beak, 58, has led Beak & Johnston for the past 17 years, sometimes exploring the best recipes for sausages and sometimes marching in pursuit of new exciting products to kindle the human palate.

He even ploughed an improbable $2 million on ways to produce the “best sausage in the world.”

Who doesn’t love sausages?

But whatever brought Beak from Oxford to the sausage business?

“I love sausages,” he says, as if there is little else required to explain an Oxford grad’s position at the helm of a meat business.

Strangely, perhaps, Beak never ate sausages in Australia when growing up. He ate them only when traveling abroad – sometimes twice a day. But, obviously, he has developed fine taste.

If his own palate was insufficient, his wife of 28 years, Pippa, is a chef with a business in Japan. Now, their son William is a graduate in Agricultural Economics and a management trainee at The Dawn Meat Group in the U.K., ensuring the family legacy will likely be carried forward.

Beak brings true business savvy as well to his love for food. He has run factories in Holland and Brazil, and also worked in the U.K. In Australia, he has managed business and sales for both Angliss and Elders before venturing with Beak & Johnson.

Beak says “it’s always been about developing great products with great value that wow consumers,” and “surrounding yourself with great customers and a great team that are consistently pushing the boundaries of innovation.”

The $2 million slab of meat!

True to that spirit, Beak set out in quest for the finest ingredients for his sausage.

“As our sausages have over 90% meat we started on getting absolutely the best meat. We searched all over Australia and ended up in the Hunter Valley where we have invested substantially in the abattoir to produce the best possible beef,” he said. This is a reason why Beak believes his “sausages are so different than everyone else’s.”

The next step was to assemble a great recipe that combined a tradition of home-style cooking, exotic flavours gathered from travels and business savvy. Beak says he had some great recipes from childhood. Yet he pumped in $2 million into R&D.

“We started doing market research on the Australian consumers and found out that they bought their cheap sausages in the supermarkets and their gourmet sausages in butchers shops,” he said. “So after benchmarking the best butchers shop sausages and the best supermarkets sausages against these recipes we found we had a huge opportunity to launch our sausages.”

Before signing off, we asked Beak about the horsemeat scandal in Europe, and even the U.S. He calls it a “criminal issue” and asserts that such a scandal would be almost impossible in Australia, thanks to its systems.

“The horsemeat issue is a disaster for industry in Europe. It breaks down the integrity of the whole food chain, it is about ruthless individuals taking risks to make short-term profits,” said Beak. “This is not a science issue it’s a criminal issue.”

Beak, whose hobbies include cycling, powder skiing and ocean racing, continues to show a zest for gourmet food and travels extensively in search of the best techniques and recipes.

And, oddly, now I’m really hungry!

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