Pioneers of the Australian native food industry, Ian and Juleigh Robins have worked tirelessly to support Indigenous communities with their Outback Spirit brand. As expansion continues, they now have their sights on overseas markets while maintaining supply chain integrity. By Samantha Schelling.
Cooking jam one night for their catering business, Robins Food Store, Juleigh Robins began wondering what she could make that would be truly Australian.
It was 1986, and it seemed nobody in the food industry knew about native foods.
“Everything that I could think of came from somewhere else, not Australia. Then I came across an ethnobiologist at Monash University. I went out to see her, and she had a native food garden. I fell in love with what she showed me, and took some back to [business partner and husband] Ian, who thought the flavours were amazing.
“Being chefs, we came at native foods very much from a flavour perspective, and I can still say today, those flavours are just as amazing; they still get me every time because they’re unique.”
In the early 1990s they closed their catering business and started producing artisanal native food products under the Outback Spirit label. Products include chilli sauces, chutneys, infused salts, barbecue rubs, marinades, herbs and spices in single packs and gift packs.
Building an ethical supply chain
Robins was trying to get hold of some bush tomatoes, eventually connecting with an Indigenous community in Australia’s northern-most desert, the Tanami. It was the relationship the Robins built with them that made the couple realise the issues Indigenous families and communities face.
“That’s when we thought it would be great to try, from our own business, to see if there was a way we could develop an ethical supply chain that would give something back to our partners."