Enterprise Offers Sweet Success
27 July 2016 at 10:00 am
To their customers, both local and farther afield, the Mildura Chocolate Company is a purveyor of fine chocolate, but its purpose is to provide people with disability the opportunity for employment, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
The Mildura Chocolate Company (MCC), created six-and-a-half years ago, is one of the social enterprises run by Not for Profit disability service provider the Christie Centre, which operates in Victoria’s Sunraysia region.
The MCC coordinator Melissa Tucker said the organisation was the brainchild of a “big picture” thinker, who prefers to remain anonymous but also manages one of the Christie Centre’s other social enterprises.
They created a partnership with gourmet chocolate company Kennedy and Wilson to give the centre’s clients the opportunity to train in a highly-skilled occupation and be part of a flagship business.
“As a product-based business we concentrate our gourmet chocolates on using locally sourced goods such as oranges, roasted almonds, sun muscats, quite a few of which are donated to us by very generous companies around the community,” Tucker said.
“We have a big focus on local products, but our actual value proposition – the real reason we’re here – is to provide support and training and employment for adults with disabilities.
“All of our people are supported by the Christie Centre in other ways, but this is their source of employment.”
John has been part of the MCC from its beginning. He had worked at the centre’s other sites, but his unique skills were not being harnessed. John has a memory like a steel trap, amazing attention to detail and high levels of expectation of what he is capable of.
Tucker said the main drive for creating the MCC was to highlight the abilities of their clients, rather than their disability, and to increase community awareness for what people with disability can achieve.
“The guys who work with us, they are probably the people with the highest skill levels, so it’s almost a benchmark, something that people will strive to be involved with,” she said.
“It’s a really great example of what an adult with disability can achieve, and what they’re capable of, so people within our Christie Centre organisation, they usually ask to come here, or if one of our support staff can see that they have the skills or might have the inclination they might suggest it to them.
“Also with some of the younger people coming through from the Mildura special school, we’re trying to bridge the gap that’s been happening in the path where people with a disability haven’t always been given the chance to recognise that they are employable.
“So a lot of the time they’ve gone into systems and haven’t been given the chance to go into supported employment and that’s where we wanted to break the mould.”
Craig has really shone since becoming part of the MCC team. At times being part of a larger group didn’t quite work for Craig, but every step and achievement has been recognised by his peers and brings Craig great pride and increased self esteem.
The MCC sees “equity as being very different to equality” and applies that to the way they support their employees.
Tucker said instead of giving everyone the same opportunities, the staff think outside the box and focus on a worker’s unique abilities.
“Each person is treated as an individual here. So for example, we have a same task but we mould how they go about it for each person.
“Obviously we make chocolate and we work at a machine called a tempering machine, but all of our employees use that tempering machine in a different way, they go about the same job, but in a different way to achieve the same goal.”
She said the values of a social enterprise need to be at the forefront of the organisation, with all decisions and plans approached with a business framework to ensure sustainability is achieved.
“We’re supported by the Christie Centre as our main funding body, but being a Not for Profit you can’t not make a profit, otherwise you can’t exist in the future,” she said.
“So our business structure really is that we take into account the efficiency, capacity of our supported employees, and the level of support that they require.
“We, price things accordingly as to what the market will pay, but also go back to our core value and just remember we only produce things that our people can make.
“Myself and Ali, the other supervisor, we don’t make the chocolate, our focus here is to support our people to be able to do that job in any way that we can, so we change the tasks to enable them to be able to do it.”
Genuine work experience is a key stepping stone to employment for many people with disability. Elizabeth has experience within a safe, structured environment. Her infallible memory and love of structure, routine and consistency means she excels at many aspects of her job here at MCC.
Tucker said community partnerships and philanthropic partners were also key to the success of the enterprise.
“It’s a real balance between having production levels, working with the efficiency of our supported employees, compared to what, number one what the market will pay, and how you can price your products to account for these efficiency levels,” she said.
“We’ve gotten around that by having a very generous community. So quite a few of our base products such as our roasted almonds are donated by Olam, and our sun muscats are also donated by Australian Premium Dried Fruits and we have very strong philanthropic support from the Murray River Salt company.”
She said over the years the MCC has developed significantly, both in terms of size and finesse of operations, and now has its eye on new markets and opportunities.
“We started off as a very cottage-focused business, very small and with a focus on the immediate community here, and over time kind of worked out the products that our people can make without the supervisor being the person to make it, so the product range has kind of tightened to be just what our supported people can make,” she said.
“And another way is that we’ve gone from just the focus on sales to the local community to now we sell all around the country. A lot of corporate sales, it’s one of our sales areas, and we even post overseas.”