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Taste Studios is Disrupting the Food and Hospitality Industry

30 April 2021


Venture Catalyst Alumni Ricky Chau, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Taste Studios (centre-left) and Charmain Ooi, Co-Founder of BYO Foods (centre-right).

Venture Catalyst Alumni Ricky Chau, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Taste Studios (centre-left) and Charmain Ooi, Co-Founder of BYO Foods (centre-right).

Venture Catalyst and UniSA Business alumni Ricky Chau and Charmain Ooi are making it their mission to seek out revolutionary marketing and retail innovations to disrupt the food industry with their start up, Taste Studios.

Working out of UniSA’s Innovation & Collaboration Centre (ICC), the food innovation company, took part in the ICC’s Venture Catalyst business incubator program in 2019 and now assist hospitality and retail venues in improving their margins, nutritional options and quality through innovative food products and solutions.

Founder Ricky Chau describes Taste Studios as an incubator within an incubator and Taste’s philosophy of ‘growing our business by working together to grow yours’ imbues each and every one of their projects.

“We’ve got so much talent in South Australia – you've got a lot of passionate chefs, food producers, independent local cafes, family run businesses – but they don't necessarily have the skills and expertise to market themselves and differentiate from competitors,” Ricky says.

“That's where we come in to help and assist them on their journey. To not just create stuff for the sake of it, but to create products and solutions, and the sales and marketing of those products, that are valuable for the retailer, manufacturers, producers, and ultimately the consumer.”

Their first project involved a joint collaboration with the state government and SA Health to develop a range of products for kids to essentially target childhood obesity.

In fact, collaboration has become a keystone of Taste Studios’ success.

Founder Ricky Chau has seen the benefits of bringing together business and marketing expertise from the University, the Innovation & Collaboration Centre, and industry professionals, along with energy and entrepreneurial talents from students, to harness different skill sets to help the industry innovate.

Making it easier for families to eat better

Read more about Venture Catalyst startup Taste Studios.

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Charmain Ooi has been a beneficiary of Taste Studio’s commitment to foster a new generation of marketing and business savvy hospitality and retail professionals, with their dedication to supporting a number of university interns to work on real-world business problems and test their ideas in an actual market.

After a successful internship in her last semester of the Bachelor of Marketing, Charmain joined Taste Studios as a Marketing Coordinator and began heading her own food and hospitality innovations.

A particularly fruitful venture has been BYO Foods (Brand Your Own), creating small-batch, high-end food and beverage products for hotels, cafés and restaurants under customisable packaging and labelling.

You may have tried a range of organic cold pressed juices from your local café – the juices have been a replacement solution for restaurants and cafés wanting to appeal to a more health-conscious consumer, whilst reducing the hassle of juicing inhouse.

Charmain explains the idea was born from her own experience as an intern, seeing firsthand the challenges cafes faced when it came to promoting their own brand and finding new ways to better their food and service offerings.

“Hospitality venues thrive on products that are fast and easy to serve, sell well and more importantly, are profitable. It’s not just about branding a product, but ensuring the quality is at a level that cafes would be proud to put their name on, and that their customers would return to buy,” Charmain says.

“They really value seeing it as their own as well. It’s a really important way they themselves can market and get their brand out there too.”

Both Ricky and Charmain grew up in entrepreneurial families – both sets of parents still have their own businesses – and this enterprising environment has invariably had a positive an effect on both their career aspirations and success.

Their environment at Taste Studios – working and collaborating out of UniSA’s Innovation & Collaboration Centre – has proved just as important, particularly throughout this past year, with the support and strength they have received from the incubator program, the facilitators and contacts they’ve met along the way.

While COVID-19 has delivered one of the biggest blows to the local hospitality industry, and subsequently many local suppliers, Taste Studios has turned this challenge into opportunity harnessing the creativity and expertise of University of South Australia graduates, the ICC’s experts and staff, interns to create new revenue streams for the manufacturing industry.

“To the ICC's credit, they've just done a phenomenal job in creating a community where everyone is open to helping, sharing, and we're all learning from each other – whether we do something right or do something wrong,” Ricky says.

“It's good to be around people from other industries. In the ICC there are like many space start-ups – not to say we will be sending food to space, but you never know – it just makes you look at your business in a different lens and ask ‘what if’.”

“We’ve learnt so much about ourselves and how to operate lean and agile. We’ve also been able to grow from our mistakes and pivot. Every setback is really a learning opportunity – you've just got to have the patience.”

Charmain also reiterates the impact being surrounded by similarly innovative entrepreneurs and businesses, and the energy they draw from such an environment and way of thinking.

“We are quite fortunate to be in this space being able to put our ideas into place, and even seeing them in market and on shelves,” Charmain says.

“It’s special. Especially with the guidance of our mentors and colleagues around helping us through our downs, but also having fun and celebrating with us during our ups.”

Since 2015, UniSA’s Innovation & Collaboration Centre (ICC) has supported early-stage startups through providing workspace, mentoring and funding. Read more about their entrepreneurs in residence, Venture Catalyst programs, and other startups via the ICC website.

To find out more about Taste Studios and how you can get involved visit their website.

Read the original story via the UniSA Alumni Network.

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Introducing Taste Studios

New to the Innovation & Collaboration Centre, Taste Studios co-founders Ricky Chau and Nigel Khoo have spent over a decade in the food industry.


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