Specialty Food Magazine

FALL 2019

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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FALL 2019 39 Lee Etherington, Wild Hibiscus Flower Company A rowdy dinner party Lee and Jocelyn Etherington hosted one night back in 1998 proved to be life-changing. A red rosella flower, a type of hibiscus grown in North Queensland, Australia, somehow got dropped into a glass of Champagne. "The little f lower sank down to the bottom and then gently, slowly unfurled," Lee, 42, recalls. "We were all rather inebriated but thought it was pretty cool so tried again and it did the same thing." At the time, the entrepreneurial Lee was running a tourism business through Australia's Blue Mountains, about an hour's drive northwest of Sydney. The region's canyons and bush terrain pro - vided the indigenous fruits, nuts, and spices eaten by the tour group throughout the day. Lee was a naturalist, exploring the country's outback, rainforests, and woodlands, and loved the shape and color of the edible hibiscus f lowers he picked. He worked out a simple way to preserve them in a syrup of water and cane sugar, giving him a year-round supply for his tours to conclude with a glass of bubbly f loating with a vibrant hibiscus f lower. "People just went crazy for them," he says. "They would pay $100 to come on the tour and then buy $100 of hibiscus f lowers at the end to take home as gifts." Three months later, he'd see those same people turning up at the tour office to buy $100 more worth of hibiscus f lowers. His passion for the f lowers—and seeing others' passion for them—spurred him to shut down the tour company and focus fulltime on specialty foods. "It was a bit serendipitous," Lee says of founding the fam - ily-owned Wild Hibiscus Flower Company, which was called Kurrajong Australian Native Foods when founded in 1999. "One of the benefits of running the tour company was I had people from Toast of the Town BY JULIE BESONEN A chance event at a dinner party sparked the idea for Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup, which won the Front Burner Foodservice Pitch Competition at the Summer Fancy Food Show. producer profile

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