Every successful company has its stories. Recounts of achievements, of awards, of triumphs over competitors, of surmounting the seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
But at the core of every well-polished corporate legend, there is another story – the people who took a dream and made it possible through sheer, unrelenting drive and determination.
These stories are not glamorous.
They are not perfect.
They’re tales of mistakes made and lessons learned.
They showcase the ups and downs, the one step back and two steps forward.
But, most importantly, they’re an insight into why the founders did what they did – why they spent years of their life building an idea into something tangible, something lasting.
This is Bernadette Eriksen’s story, but it’s also the story of Flavour Creations – where we began and why we’ll always keep pushing the boundaries of innovation in nutrition.
On Easter Monday in 1997, Bernadette Eriksen became a single mother.
A new arrival to Brisbane, Queensland, she was suddenly the sole provider for her 17-month-old son, Sean, and was pregnant with her next child, Laura. She had no job, no relatives in Queensland, and no money to support her small family.
For most people, the overwhelming responsibility would have been terrifying. For Bernadette, it represented an opportunity for change.
With nothing left to lose, she chose to be bold, to try and make an income from her lifelong passion of helping people.
Bernadette had previously heard about dysphagia and, as a passionate foodie and cook, the nutritional problems it presented continued to intrigue her. How were people with dysphagia getting the food and drink they needed?
Dysphagia seemed like a good starting point for Bernadette’s new dream, so she started researching. In a world without internet, gathering information and learning about new ideas wasn’t easy.
She spent months talking to speech pathologists, dietitians, nutritionists and food technologists, but, piece by piece, she started to understand dysphagia and the severe shortage of high-quality dysphagia nutrition products.
One in five Australians lived with swallowing difficulties, but, for the big nutrition companies, people with dysphagia weren’t a high-value market – R&D funds were reserved for the growing markets of supplements and sports nutrition.
The only dysphagia nutrition products available were so unpleasant that they actually deterred the people who they were designed for from eating and drinking, leading to health conditions like malnutrition and dehydration.
Bernadette realised something needed to be done.
She didn’t have degrees in health or nutrition. She didn’t have dysphagia herself. All she had was a dream: to build something that helped other people, and to support her family.
But that was all she needed.
Guided by expert advice from members of the Queensland health community she’d befriended, Bernadette started experimenting in her home kitchen, trialling solutions and ingredients she’d found during her months of research. Development accelerated, and she started conducting quality tests – taste, mixability, viscosity and shear rate.
As the year crawled to an end, she had a viable product: ThickPlus™, a powder designed to thicken fluids and make them safe for people with dysphagia to drink.
As the head of a one-woman operation, Bernadette did everything. Production, testing, packaging, marketing and sales all took place in her rented five-metre-square kitchen, but ThickPlus was a product innovative enough to overcome the inherent business barriers she faced.
By the time 1998 rolled onto the calendar, Bernadette had made a series of successful sales to pharmacies and aged care homes, and her newly formed company, Flavour Creations, was starting to gain a reputation.
The next four years were marked by ongoing success. Through refinement of ThickPlus’s formula, and gruelling sales and marketing efforts, Bernadette built up Flavour Creations’ client portfolio, creating a brand well-known Australia’s dysphagia community.
From 2002 onwards, she was no longer a team of one – a growing team of dietitians, food scientists, microbiologists, marketers and salespeople were now part of Bernadette’s ‘Flavour family’, and the company moved from her home kitchen to a rented factory in Seventeen Mile Rocks, then to an acquired production facility in Tennyson, Brisbane, and, eventually, to our corporate offices in Acacia Ridge.
The products devised by Bernadette continued to go from strength to strength. Dysphagia brands Instant Thick and Ready-to-Drink Cups became market leaders in Australia, and they were quickly joined by brands with mainstream nutritional appeal, like Recover, SCREAMIES and AdVital.
In 2016, a project she’d been working on for six years came to fruition: the patented Dysphagia Cup. Ergonomically engineered for people with dysphagia, the Dysphagia Cup design began by modifying existing cups and bottles, before moving to plasticine models, and then to CAD-modelled prototypes. One of the earliest commercial 3D printers was even used to produce prototypical models.
It was a turning point in Flavour Creations’ evolution.
2017 saw Bernadette receive the Telstra Queensland Business Woman of the Year, the Telstra Entrepreneur Award, and the Greater Brisbane Women in Business Award – recognition of how much she’d achieved across the past 20 years.
Over the next three years, she published research papers, spoke at conferences, and became a globally recognised leader in dysphagia nutrition.
Today, Bernadette is still at the forefront of Flavour Creations. She is our founder, our CEO, and our leader, and the culture of innovation she started in 1997 is an inextricable part of who we are.
There are over a hundred people in the Flavour family now, and we’ve grown across continents and oceans, but we’re still driven by the same things we were when Bernadette was the only one in the kitchen: a love of good food, and a passion for helping others.