A trust in producers to grow top quality lamb, and then taking control of the supply chain at the boning room stage and through to end market is the innovative system set up by Flinders and Co directors James Madden and his father David.
The success of their "Roaring Forties" premium lamb brand also relies on a close partnership with Geelong-based processor M.C. Herd.
This allows the Maddens to fill orders for specific cuts as these come in from customers, without needing to find markets for all carcase segments.
M.C. Herd sells the remaining cuts through its own channels.
The Roaring Forties brand evolved from an investment by the Maddens in an abattoir on Flinders Island, where they processed locally-grown lambs and sold the meat as "Flinders Island Saltgrass Lamb".
The brand inspiration came from the powerful, wild storm waves experienced in the Bass Strait, separating mainland Australia from Tasmania.
These Antarctic-driven swells are magnified in the strait and this area of sea is known as the Roaring Forties.
James Madden said the cleanest air in the world was carried by the Roaring Forties winds, and the coastal pastures of Flinders Island, Tasmania and southern Victoria benefited from the minerals that the airstream brings.
"The farming land in these regions has some of the most nutrient rich and well managed pastures on the planet," he said.
"Combined with a temperate climate, these regions are perfect for growing top quality lambs with a delicate meat "saltgrass" flavour."
Mr Madden said Flinders Island Saltbush Lamb was the ultimate paddock-to-plate story, handling the lamb product from farm to chef.
But he said Flinders and Co decided to sell its abattoir in 2017 and focus more on developing and marketing its lamb brand in Australia and key export markets, mostly in Asia and the Middle East.
The Roaring Forties brand was born.
From humble beginnings involving door-knocking at top-end restaurants with a cooler bag of samples, Mr Madden now liaises with buyers in some of the world's biggest cities and key tourism-focused nations.
These include Dubai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Maldives, Thailand and the Philippines.
On home soil - and now based in Victoria - Mr Madden has put Roaring Forties lamb on the tables of some of Melbourne and Victoria's best fine dining restaurants - including Vue de Monde and Stokehouse - and is expanding into markets in Sydney, regional NSW and Queensland.
A unique partner
Flinders and Co developed a partnership with M.C. Herd, which processes about 1200 lambs per day at its Geelong plant.
This is a third generation, family-run, medium-sized meat processing operation that shares the same values as the Maddens in terms of business ethics, product quality and integrity of systems.
"We now start our lamb supply chain at the boning room and it ends with the food service distributor, restaurant or chef," Mr Madden said.
Flinders and Co takes cuts from M.C. Herd as needed, depending on when orders are placed by its customers.
The processor sells the remaining cuts through its own brands and systems.
"We learned from our Flinders Island project that it is very difficult to have a profitable full paddock-to-plate premium branded supply system when you need to sell the whole carcase," Mr Madden said.
"It's much easier when we don't need to pack every cut into the brand.
"Instead, we only pack the cuts that we actually have orders for.
"It stops us needing to discount product to move it, which can happen when you are forced to balance all cuts across a whole carcass."
M.C. Herd is responsible for sourcing lamb for the Roaring Forties brand from producers, who are primarily based in southern Victoria and Tasmania.
Selection is based on a set of size, weight, muscle and quality specifications.
The aim is for a carcase of 25-28 kilograms, with fat scores of +2 or +3 and that meets a range of other specifications to suit the fine dining and food service sectors.
An assessor checks carcases in the cool room to ensure they meet the needs of Flinders and Co based on meat colour, fat levels, fat distribution and muscle.
"It is the higher quality loin, forequarter, backstrap and boned-out cuts that our customers are primarily seeking," Mr Madden said.
"But we are also noticing a trend toward some of the lower cost cuts, such as rumps, ribs and shoulders, that chefs - especially in Australia - are experimenting with to create innovative dishes."
First and second-cross prime lambs are exclusively used for Roaring Forties product lines, but all meat sheep breeds are eligible.
"We don't want to tell farmers how to do their job," Mr Madden said.
"We recognise they are providing us with the highest quality stock from the best breeds and crossbreeds that are most suited to their environments and seasonal conditions.
"We regularly receive feedback from restaurants, butchers and international distributors that Roaring Forties product is the best lamb they have ever worked with.
"That was always the goal for us.
"We know that a world-class product is produced in these regions.
"So, lets showcase it."
Mr Madden said, from the outset, the philosophy of the brand was that quality must be of the highest level and priority.
"It is about stripping back the fancy box, the nice packaging and the slick photos - and lining the product up against all it's competitors in a blind taste test with a customer," he said.
"If it doesn't win every time, we have failed."
Mr Madden said Roaring Forties was also covered through the company's world-first carbon neutral program.
He said emissions from every kilogram of meat produced and sold was calculated and offset.
"This allows us to provide customers with a product that has another sustainability tick on it, which they can then sell to their consumers," he said.
Flinders and Co launched the Roaring Forties lamb brand in early 2020.
The timing could not have been worse, according to Mr Madden.
"COVID-19 hit the world just as I returned from a food fair in Dubai in February that year," he said.
"It then became very difficult to export product for many months."
Despite the challenges thrown-up by the coronavirus, Flinders and Co was able to set up supply relationships in Dubai, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Maldives and Singapore.
"We started with low volumes, but I am confident these key markets will grow in future as world economies pick-up after lockdowns and restrictions," Mr Madden said.
"I see a lot of potential for a premium lamb brand in these - and many other - countries.
"I think if you look at the success of so many branded beef programs, the Australian lamb industry lags behind beef in this area.
"There is a clear space and opportunity to increase sales of premium lamb in these major export destinations."