Meet Sarah Qian from Compassion Creamery – this year’s 2022 Pitch Fest Winner
Demonstrating a care for others – and for the individual with a unique product – was at the heart of an impressive pitch from Sarah Qian – founder of Compassion Creamery and winner of this year’s 2022 Naturally Good Pitchfest competition.
Sarah’s business, which produces the world’s first oat creme cheese, beat out fierce competition from Good Edi, Pacific Harvest, San Elk and Teffkers by the Bakery Lab, to take out the expo’s coveted annual prize.
A valuable prize pack
Held on the main stage at the expo in partnership with Kadac, each year Pitch Fest elevates innovative natural, organic, sustainable and healthy start-ups by growing industry awareness and connections to help accelerate growth.
“Esteemed judges from industry, retail, and investment provided instant feedback to each of the participants on market opportunity, packaging, viability and the pitch,” says Naturally Good Product Manager Sinead Kavanagh. “Sarah was a really worthy winner this year and receives the title of Naturally Good Pitch Fest Champion, invaluable feedback and connections, and a prize packaged valued at more than $10,000.”
Based in Sydney and originally from New Zealand, Sarah said winning the competition had been a great thrill – albeit a surprise.
“All the other pitchers were already established brands in the retail market, so I had no expectations at all,” said the 25-year-old. “In fact, the program manager of INCUBATE – the Sydney University accelerator program I was a part of – sent me the Pitchfest link to sign up with the message, ‘I know you’re going to count yourself out of this already but why not just give it a go?’. I’m so glad I took the plunge.”
From humble beginnings
A vegan for almost eight years, Sarah said her idea for the business was motivated by a steadily increasing number of non-vegans asking her for good vegan cheese recommendations, as they had never found one, they liked. “These were the same people who were raving about how amazing their morning oat milk lattes were so thought there may be an opportunity to combine the two.”
However, for years vegan cheese took a back seat to Sarah’s former career. “I’m a chemical engineer by background and did my thesis in cancer research but then ended up working as a management consultant. I was working on the business formulation in my spare time before deciding to pursue this full time in the midst of Covid. I was feeling a bit burnt out from the corporate world and needed to take a step back and prioritize myself.
“It’s been a scrappy bootlegged start-up since the beginning and I’m only bringing on my first part-time staff member this week!”
A unique product
Sarah says the uniqueness of her vegan oat crème cheese is what helps set it apart. “We use traditional dairy cheesemaking methods and combine it with our innovative oat base which is cultured and fermented. Not only is it made with oats, unlike almost all vegan cheeses, it doesn’t contain coconut oils or starches, nuts or soy.
“It is stocked in mostly food service outlets in Sydney – cafes such as Buddha Bowl in Newtown; Oh My Days in Glebe; catering companies such as Radish Events; and for corporates functions such as one recently for Canva.”
The winning pitch
Sarah outlined her pitch as such:
- “The pitch was five minutes long with a Q & A session afterwards. My pitching style has always been more geared towards storytelling but also positioning each point towards the audience. In this case, it was the buyers but also the general audience who I knew were already at least interested in healthy products.
- “I brought the audience along on my journey of how I accidentally stumbled into plant-based eating after suffering from health issues and realized my symptoms had improved dramatically after cutting out dairy.
- “I also outlined the meaning of the business name. When people see Compassion Creamery, most people associate the “Compassion” with veganism and environmental custodianship which is 100 per cent true. But I also wanted the brand to represent care for others, as well as all important self-care. That each of us need to take a stance in prioritising ourselves and honouring our own self-worth because nobody else can do that for you.
Sarah’s tips for a great pitching session
- Be prepared: This was the first time I’d pitched in front of buyers and though I’d brainstormed all the questions I thought might be asked, responding in real time definitely throws you off! All the judges were extremely generous though in their feedback and help post-pitch so I’m very grateful for that too.
- Rehearse your speech: People only give you three seconds in the very beginning before they decide to switch off so make that first sentence unforgettable! As for the rest of the speech, memorising helps immensely in keeping it tight so practice. Also remember to add variance to your voice in pitch and tempo.
- Keep slides simple: Less is more with slides, as when it’s a pitch, the focus is on you. You want the audience to be trained on you, not trying to read the slides. It’s also much easier to make simple slides look more professional than something that is too cluttered.
- Make the content clear: Have a master pitch deck but always pivot the words and slides used to fit the audience. A buyer’s pitch is very different from an investor pitch, so know your audience and speak their language.
Sarah now says she’s looking to build the business’s next growth phase. “We’re planning to enter the market as a soft launch in a few months so looking for the perfect retail partners to achieve this with. I’m open to hearing from anyone who would love to partner with us, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at compassioncreamery.com.au and follow our journey on Instagram @compassioncreamery.”
Pitch Fest will return to Naturally Good in 2023 – stay tuned for more information closer to the event.