Creating a wildly successful global business wasn’t exactly the career path Lee Etherington planned after completing his Bachelor of Applied Science (Environmental Management and Tourism) – but life has never been more flourishing.
Lee was running a tour company focused on Australia’s native flavours when the tourists started showing a growing interest in the native food, even wanting to purchase some to take home. This was the spark that began Lee’s internationally successful brand, the Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. What began as a dessert garnish, turned into the flagship product and the company’s namesake – ‘Wild Hibiscus Flowers in syrup’. Years later, to meet the increasing demand from restaurants, cocktail bars, and other retailers, Lee was forced to think in new ways. Over time, he devised proven techniques in farming and production, as well as a natural preservative – a mix of spring water and Australian cane sugar – to ensure the decadently delicious flowers remain perfectly candied and ready to eat for over 36 months.
‘I was more passionate about the food, so I shut the tour company and switched my focus,’ says Lee.
With a commitment to an ‘all natural’ production processes, Lee is proud that Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. is focused on chemical-free, pesticide-free goodies, with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. But sustainable farming means more than just being environmentally aware. ‘I believe that farmers are the basis of our entire society,’ Lee says. ‘They take water, sun and soil, and turn it into something they can sell. The most important part of the chain is getting products in to consumers’ hands, a relationship to be treated with care.’
Expanding his business, Lee says, is like building a house.
It includes looking after his suppliers, being fair, paying ethical rates and fostering loyalty. ‘It has to have a solid foundation,’ he says. ‘The farmer’s families depend on me to provide that work and the retailers depend on me to look after the farmers who supply the ingredients which our products need.’ Although so much of his business began with face-to-face meetings with key buyers and in-person attendance at international trade shows, in recent times there has been an increased reliance on digital technology. ‘So much information can now be given and shared online, and it does help with those international relationships where face-to-face contact is not always possible all the time,’ he says. And with a future that includes the upcoming release of a ground-breaking new blue flower, Wild Hibiscus Flower Co. is sure to blossom even bigger than ever.