ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
Okay for this one… let’s play a quick game. Close your eyes. Visualise a drawing of a sophisticated, older man with a big long nose, slightly balding head and long-ish flowing hair. He’s the sort of person that’s highly critical and picky about everything. We’d call him a sort of obnoxious food snob.
Great… you’ve got the picture in your mind. Now, turn that thought on its head, because the founders behind the Pepe Saya brand are definitely not snobs. Take Pierre Issa, for instance, who has given himself the title of ‘Humble Buttermaker’ on LinkedIn, and partner Melissa Altman who is affectionately known as ‘Mrs Pepe’... and package that all up into something that stands for quality, hand-made… and dare we say it delicious.
The making of... Series
Welcome to The making of… blog series. Please introduce yourselves.
Hello we’re Pierre Issa (Humble Buttermaker) and Melissa Altman (Mrs Pepe) the founders of Pepe Saya.
First off, can you give us a bit of a background as to how you came up with the idea?
We started with the dream of making a beautiful tasting Australian cultured butter and creating a shift towards using local butter. One Christmas we were about to close down for a few weeks (we had a dessert company at the time) and we had 200 litres of cream left over, so Pierre decided to make butter. The first batch was pretty average, but he kept experimenting and became obsessed with the idea of starting a butter business. There was no-one else we knew in Australia creating handcrafted butter. So he was making butter at night whilst we were making desserts during the day, and then the butter business took over.
Shifting from deserts to butter sounds like a simple plan. So, how did you go about testing the idea with the market to arrive at what you have today?
Our first wheels of butter were sold at Carriageworks Farmers Market (in Eveleigh, New South Wales, Australia). We are still there every week selling our wheels of butter. This is an incredible place to do your research - you are talking to your customers and surrounded by other local producers.
We are constantly exploring and researching. Whether it is chatting to our customers, visiting other producers, speaking to people in the industry, learning to make new products, exploring overseas markets and food halls - it is a constant learning curve.
Pierre Issa and Melissa Altman, Founders of Pepe Saya
We absolutely agree with the constant listening, learning and testing approach because you never know what will come from it. Having tested your product with the market, what were the first iterations of the product like?
The first batch was pretty average, but we kept experimenting and became obsessed with the idea of nailing an amazing tasting local butter.
What about funding? How did you initially fund everything?
We’re a self-funded, family-owned business. So everything has been boot-strapped.
Next, can you tell us about your branding process and how you arrived at where you are today?
Our brand is very much defined by our iconic Pepe Saya head. I (Pierre) wanted a face, I thought, people can relate to a food snob, so I had in my mind this older, sophisticated, balding man with a big nose who would sniff everything and taste it and be very picky about what he likes. Pepe Saya is my alter ego when it comes to food.
We love that you had a picture of a food snob in your head and how that came to life with what you have now. What about awareness? How are you getting the word out there? How are you scaling the brand?
In 2020, we started exploring mainstream advertising, moving into using radio, television and outdoor advertising. We also do online paid advertising and through our own channels. Whilst we’re always exploring new options, we stick to our core way of talking to our customers - at our farmers market stalls.
Finally, what's the biggest challenge or challenges you think you'll face moving forward?
Our everyday challenge is telling more people about our butter and reaching our target market