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A former IT high-flyer has created a bakery business where fun is paramount and people mean as much as the product.

Bryn Pears heads up a business that, in his own words, “delivers more equality for everybody” – and it’s been worth the sacrifices he’s made along the way.

He left his job in business technology consulting to make inroads into the gluten-free industry with the launch of Silly Yak Foods – a special dietary requirements food company – which also provides employment for disadvantaged job seekers.

“We have quite a few people working here who either had very limited English when they came, or prior histories of substance abuse or long-term unemployment – the things that often destroy people,” Pears says.

“But we give them an opportunity to be part of something that makes them feel valued and worthwhile.”

All staff employed at Silly Yak Foods are permanent – they don’t employ casual staff – which means workers get full access to superannuation, entitlements, and the like.

While 2017 was the company’s fifth consecutive year of compound annual double-digit revenue growth in excess of 10 per cent, in the past 12 months Pears has been particularly proud of two things.

And neither has anything to do with winning product awards or more retail outlets ranging his products.

The first was winning the National Employment Services Association (NESA) Champion Employer of the Year. The second was being featuring in an Austrade brochure as an example of Australia’s food technology innovation capability.

“It’s not every day that the government of Australia holds you up as an example of what Australia does well, particularly when you’re a tiny company with 15 staff,” he says.

The NESA award was for the nominated company making the greatest contribution in 2017 to helping disadvantaged job seekers into stable, long-term, permanent employment.

Old-school approach

Silly Yak products are predominantly handmade at the moment, and the company seeks to maintain an old-fashioned look and feel.

“The reality is that we’re going to reach a point with a number of products where we have to make a decision about whether or not we want to move up the continuum towards food technology a bit more to allow us to automate more,” Pears says.

“But we won’t do that where it degrades mouth feel or if we’re putting things in which are fundamentally not that healthy for people to eat. That would be a philosophical breach of faith with our consumers.

There’s also something else that's important to Pears.

“We put the fun back into the people’s lives,” he says.

“What we do here is give people who have multiple food intolerances and who are spending their whole lives being treated like lepers, the opportunity to be normal for a little while.

"That’s really what we’re selling."

"And we're selling a treat product which is, relatively speaking, healthy and palatable, that won’t make them sick afterwards.”