Catching up with… Rick Butler
Works at: Butler Market Gardens (Chief Executive Officer)
Location: Heatherton, VIC
Hi Rick, thank you for your time!
Firstly, can you please give us a brief overview of Butler Market Gardens (BMG) and the produce that you grow?
I am very proud of the family history of BMG and to be a sixth-generation vegetable grower. Originally established in 1912, there is a long line of family members who have maintained our commitment to the market garden industry. Our culture as a family-led business, along with a tremendous sense of pride and professionalism about how we go about doing what we do, has had a great deal to do with the success of BMG.
BMG continues to expand its range, while growing, packing and distributing leafy green vegetables and herbs to customers Australia-wide.
BMG has expanded its reach to several locations to grow its products, so as to ensure supply all-year round and continues to use a combination of greenhouse protected cropping and traditional field methods.
BMG has always been innovative in its approach in the production of its product line. In 2012, it conceptualised and introduced herb punnets into Australian retailers. A game changer in retail that has stood the test of time.
Our ever-expanding footprint of land expansion continues to produce and increase crops of spring onions, Asian veg, herbs, rhubarb, and various bunch lines.
What are you up to at the moment? As the business’ CEO, what are your responsibilities?
After purchasing the business from my parents in 2015, my focus moved to building a strong team of senior managers to ensure I had great support to run the day-to-day operations of the business. Forming this team has allowed me to focus my energies on business growth, while exploring and seeking out opportunity.
I make it my business to stay close to my team and meet regularly with each of my senior managers, to stay abreast of all aspects of the business. They have significant input into the business strategy, and we remain a consultative team.
I review metrics around our business on a regular basis to stay ahead of the trends and utilise this knowledge to aid my decision making. It is important to continually have a link across all moving parts of the business.
We have recently made an exciting acquisition of a new farm. We are incredibly positive about its speedy progress to production and expect to see an increase our field production of 30 per cent. The progress has been quite astonishing,
In recent months, my energies have been heavily focused on daily on-site visits to this new site and working closely with my production team. It’s incredibly important to be on the ground with something like this to ensure its set up goes as smoothly as possible.
An enormous body of work has gone into restructuring and strategically building the business. This has come to fruition over the last 12 months and I am very proud to be able to employ all our staff directly, without the need for contract labor.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your business?
We were very proactive about the issues surrounding COVID-19. Being an essential service, we acted swiftly to implement a COVID-19 safe policy. Fundamentally we worked hard to ensure we were able to maintain supply and service our customers.
We were pleased how all our staff embraced the importance of adopting a COVID safe environment. We were pleased to be able to absorb increased demand and pride ourselves on being able to ensure our business could handle any expected demands.
COVID-19 only served to increase our focus on risk management, communication, and implementation of sound governance internally. We addressed the challenges head-on, especially under Stage 4 restrictions.
We have found these challenges have strengthened us as a team and as a business, and I am very proud to say that all BMG staff embraced all the new requirements.
Looking at future farm plans: Where would you like to see the business develop across the next 5-10 years?
Our strategy is for BMG to embark on the acquisition of more land to grow more crops; build more greenhouses to meet the ever-increasing demand of our customers; and expand distribution locations to cater for strategic growth.
We see a significant level of growth in our capital program. We expect to see economies of scale as we grow, whilst seeing increased production as a result.
The launch of our branded herb range – Butler Gourmet Pantry – over three years ago has grown significantly beyond expectations, and we have a view that there are export opportunities that can be explored.
In 2018, we became organically certified in our packhouse, and I foresee growth and opportunity in that sector of our market.
What do you enjoy most about working in the vegetable industry?
I could not think of anything else I’d rather be doing. The business has always been in my blood.
This industry is always a moving beast, and you can never stand too still for too long. I have thoroughly enjoyed the variety and always looking for opportunity.
I enjoy the innovation opportunity that comes with the industry and enjoy always looking at our business for turnkey solutions.
I look forward to meeting the challenges of the future, by not only increasing our production but embracing new technology and sustainability as we adapt to the changing needs of our customers.
I also relish getting involved in the industry via various organisation representation. My understanding of the industry and my 24 years’ experience lends itself to aiding the industry bodies to support Australia’s vegetable growers.
And lastly, where can we find out more about Butler Market Gardens?
On the Butler Market Gardens website.
Further details about Butler Gourmet Pantry can be found here.