Q&A: Neil Druce (Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory)


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Neil Druce, owner of the Junee Licorice Factory in Junee, central NSW joined us for a short interview.

Why do you do what you do – fundamentally, what is it that really inspires you as an individual?

Ideas, concepts and processes that bring great quality food and hospitality to customers. I am always looking at what’s next, how else can we get people involved? I am always looking for new ways to push the envelope. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but that’s the fun of it.

The beauty of small batch confectionary is we can do that and try new flavours. It’s exciting. Natural flavours inspire me and we’re lucky enough to have an abundance to play with in Australia!  

Where are you pushing things forward to innovate and why?

Working with local ingredients and technology to create completely new products and experiences. I like to look at how we can use new flavours in different ways. There are so many ways we can use local and natural ingredients, such as infusing the chocolate or licorice, creating a freeze-dried dust for coating, or a new gooey centre. Using as many local ingredients as possible is important to me. Australia has so much to offer so why not use it? Using these natural flavours created completely new products and experiences that people wouldn’t think to try together. Take our Pink Almonds for example. Roasted almonds, coated in couverture white chocolate and dusted in strawberry dust. It creates a totally unique flavour and is always a sellout.

What are you learning about at the moment?

How to manage the new workplace since Covid. A lot has changed, especially freight. The cost of everything has risen, it’s a lot more difficult to get products into Australia (and particularly to regional areas). Customer expectations have shifted.

We’re now looking to find a balance to move forward but it has also opened up more opportunities. People want to travel more, they want to experience new places and they want to support local. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to work together in supporting each other. We can create really special experiences when doing that. That’s why I am really focused on value-adding. What else can we do for people? The business started off as a flour mill on a property and has grown because of my passion to value-add.

What’s your creative process (the steps you take to make your ideas a reality) and how to do you apply that to new product development?

Encourage creative thought, refine ideas against company ideals, test ideas on the public, test feasibility, plan logistics and execute. There’s no such thing as a good idea without planning.

For example, we have recently been testing out a salt and pepper chocolate. Some of the staff even thought it was a crazy combination but were surprised when they tasted it. Ideas like this need to be tested with the public and go through the above process. You could have the most delicious product in the world but you need to work out what would make people want to try it and push their thinking of traditional chocolate flavours. What would make someone step out of their comfort zone when it comes to taste? That’s why this process is vital.

In saying that, the beauty of small batch is we can have these ideas and roll with them. We have the ability to test out different flavour profiles, utilising different ingredients. It’s exciting.  

What’s your number one industry resource? What have you found to be the most valuable resource in the development of your career?

Sugar Confectionery by Lees and Jackson. It’s basically an encyclopedia of raw ingredients and materials. The opportunities are endless, but this book teaches us our limitations and how some ideas may be better executed. This is a confectioner’s bible.  

Who inspired you when you started out and why – and who inspires you now and why?

My father. His strength to go against the perceived trends and follow his convictions. He was one of the first organic farmers in Australia, I can tell you it wasn’t popular at all in the 1960’s but he stuck to it; and Johan Bülow, his genius approach to flavours and sales.

What’s your greatest friction point at the moment and what are you learning from it?

Finding good staff. You need to have passion for what you’re doing. We’re learning to give people who are willing to learn a chance because it opens up so many doors for us. We are lucky that we have a core staff who are passionate and who have been with us for a number of years. It’s finding that passion and willingness to grow with the company in more people.  

What’s your most effective tool?

Belief that there is a possibility or solution. I never say something can’t be done. It takes conviction and perseverance. You at least need to give something your best shot before deciding it doesn’t work.   

What needs industry attention that isn’t receiving it?

Regional business development. There is so much potential. Regional Australia has a lot to give but there is a long way to go when it comes to support.  

Who would you like to see an interview with – and what would you ask them?

Johan Bülow. ‘What were the key management strategies that made you so successful?’