• The second generation of Poachers Pantry: director William Bruce and general manager Lauren Allen.
    The second generation of Poachers Pantry: director William Bruce and general manager Lauren Allen.
  • During the pandemic years, business boomed for Poachers smoked meats selections.
    During the pandemic years, business boomed for Poachers smoked meats selections.
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Located on the outskirts of Canberra, family owned smoked meat producer Poachers Pantry is now in its 32nd year. As the second-generation begins taking the reins, a refurbishment will see brand new smoking equipment installed for the first time since it began. Pippa Haupt spoke to general manager Lauren Allen.

Poachers was established in 1991 by Susan and Robert Bruce on the family’s property, and over the years has supplied directly to local retailers (supermarkets, grocers) and restaurants in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

Poachers Pantry founders Susan and Robert Bruce with director and son William Bruce.
Poachers Pantry founders Susan and Robert Bruce with director and son William Bruce.

In the early 2000s, Poachers smoked meats were available on Qantas’ business class menus, before taking on a contract to produce snack packs containing smoked chicken for domestic flights.

During this time, an Ulma thermoformer and Trief automatic slicer were commissioned to allow Poachers to produce the large volume of product for Qantas, while enabling improved, more efficient slicing and packaging processes across the whole range.

In recent years, Poachers has been on shelves at Harris Farm Markets, Coles and distributes across the east coast of Australia.

During the pandemic years, particularly 2020, the smoked meat side of the business boomed.

Allen says consumers were seeking luxury, high quality food and beverage items more and more to be able to make quality meals in their own kitchens.

During the pandemic years, business boomed for Poachers smoked meats selections.
During the pandemic years, business boomed for Poachers smoked meats selections.

Post-pandemic, Allen says the Poachers free range smoked sliced ham, smoked chicken breast and the nitrite free bacon remained very popular, and have become staples in households.

“After the product sales grew rapidly during Covid, brand recognition and loyalty was solidified during this time. Fast forward three years, where consumers are said to be reducing their spending on luxury products, it’s really positive to see that our products have become staple pantry items, with the likes of the cold smoked bacon and free range ham remaining consistent.

“Our goal is to continue creating high end meat products that are available, accessible and easy to use every day,” said Allen.

With demand for its products growing, and limitations with the existing equipment starting to reveal themselves, Allen says the business identified the need to replace the current curing equipment and smokehouses – consisting of a gas powered Schroter hot smoker and 40+ year old cold smoker.

In 2022, Poachers was awarded a NSW government Regional Jobs Creation Fund (RJCF) grant, allowing it to upgrade its production facilities, including the purchase of brand new equipment from Germany through CBS Food Tech in Sydney: a new Henneken tumbler and injector, and two Reich Airmaster Ovens which provide the ability to hot and cold smoke.

Allen says the new modern injector and tumbler will allow Poachers to speed up the curing process.

“The goal is to maintain high quality, handmade, artisanal products, all while ensuring there is minimal intervention from the time the product enters the factory to the time it leaves,” said Allen.

Ready for the next generation

The upgrades, improvements and in turn production increases are all part of the plan to prepare Poachers to take on the next 30 and more years of food manufacturing as the next generation in Allen and her partner, Poachers director William Bruce, take the reins.

“The aim will be to see better yields on products, which increases profitability of course, and for us, as part of the succession plan in the second generation with my partner William and myself, really setting this part of the business up now to take us into the next 20 to 30 years of Poachers is very important,” said Allen.

While Poachers already has significant production and packaging equipment in place, the new smoking and cooking equipment will allow Poachers to operate more efficiently, and to move away from gas powered ovens, all while increasing its production capacity.

All Poachers products are 100 per cent Australian meat, and are all cured, cooked, smoked and packaged in-house at Poachers.

Allen says the contemporary Reich Airmaster smokehouses made in Germany will provide shorter, energy efficient cooking and smoking cycles, increase load capacity, and ensure consistency between batches all while increasing yields across the product range.

“For example, a batch of our nitrite free bacon can take two to three weeks to produce, with 3-5 days of that being in the cold smoker. The new smokers will reduce the smoking time to 24-48 hours.

Allen adds that having 130 Kw of solar on the property was a major factor in selecting the Reich electric ovens.

“Poachers produces 80 per cent of our own power. The move to fully electric will allow us to reduce our gas consumption by 90 per cent,” said Allen.

As Poachers embarks on its refurbishment, its products can be found across the east coast of Australia, including Canberra, Sydney, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, with recent expansion into select Harris Farm Markets, IGA grocers, health food stores and independents in Queensland.

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