Warndu is an Indigenous-owned small business operating from Clare Valley, South Australia. Meaning ‘good’ in the Adnyamathanha language, Warndu’s mission is to regenerate the native culture, community, traditions, health and soils of Australia.
Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples — First Nations Australians — represent 3.3 percent of Australia’s total population. Indigenous Australia is made up of more than 250 Nations across the continent, each with its own culture, customs, language and laws. The native produce company, Warndu, is committed to elevating the vibrant traditions of Australia’s 60,000-year-old Indigenous cultures.
Founded in 2016 by Damien Coulthard, Rebecca Sullivan and Siobhan O’Toole, the company develops products, including bush teas, spices, herbs, nuts and seeds, and home and body products made with wild-harvested and farmed native Australian ingredients. Through their cookbooks and online educational materials, Warndu aims to strengthen support for the native food industry and to spread knowledge about native produce and the environment.
“Strong communities are at the heart of my culture and sharing cultural expressions keeps Aboriginal culture alive for future generations. By sharing stories through food, which is built on observations and experience, we have created an authentic business experience for our customers,” explained Damien.
Utilizing an array of digital platforms, Warndu successfully promotes its products, finds customers and shares educational content. The brand has established an engaged following on social media by digitally sharing recipes and knowledge about native ingredients including a free native food app.
The founders noted that Facebook and Instagram are especially valuable tools in translating ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ into sales. They use these platforms to share images of their personal lives, native plants and products — telling the full story of the Warndu brand and mission. This organic approach to social media helps achieve the goal of increasing brand awareness and spreading information to current and potential customers.
The brand aims to continue growing its community by reaching new individuals in Australia and abroad to continue sparking fresh conversations about Indigenous skills, history and culture.
Currently, the team ships their products internationally to New Zealand, Asia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Siobhan observed that more recently their international demand is increasing with more than 10 percent of website traffic coming from abroad. “Most visitors from abroad come through Instagram and Facebook to our website,” said Siobhan.
“Overseas markets are hugely important to us for many reasons,’’ shared Rebecca. From potential new customers to learning from Indigenous businesses in other regions, a strong export program is critical in supporting Warndu’s future growth.
For Damien, Rebecca and Siobhan, free and paid digital tools are essential for a small business with hopes of further international expansion.
In order to serve customers locally and globally, the team also relies heavily on an assortment of digital technologies to run the day-to-day operations of Warndu, including Dropbox, Shopify, Square, Flodesk, Mailchimp, Zapier and Google Workspace. They also prominently feature payment processor logos and guarantees like PayPal’s Return Shipping on Us program, which help instill consumer trust and reduce incentives for customers to abandon their e-commerce carts.
Siobhan emphasized the importance of being aware of relevant global trends, which can be done with a variety of analytical tools and online platforms. She also highlighted the many benefits of globalization, while noting the importance of local connections.
While growing the enterprise and exploring potential new markets, the trio has experienced a number of obstacles along the way. “The native food industry also has lots of barriers to market because of legalities with the foods not being recognised as traditional foods,” Rebecca explained. Some stakeholders have called for the regional food standard authority to support greater recognition of Indigenous culture and food expertise, citing that a more culturally inclusive framework would facilitate timely entry to market for Indigenous food businesses.
Rebecca also noted that keeping up with demand and intellectual property infringement are frequent business challenges. The concept of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) refers to all of the rights that Indigenous Peoples have to protect their traditional arts and cultural materials.
She emphasized that Warndu can continue to share their local and cultural heritage across Australia and to other global economies because of the social connections built through social media.