Argyle Australian Saffron: Business of the Year, 2021

Argyle Australian Saffron: Business of the Year, 2021 Angela Argyle receiving her Mummy Award trophy and prize for 2021 Business Of The Year

It may have raised a few eyebrows when Angela Argyle and her husband Brendon decided to pack up and leave Sydney to start an Orange-based saffron business in 2016, but the somewhat risky decision is certainly paying off, with demand for their premium product growing stronger by the day. 

Earlier this year Argyle Australian Saffron won a gold medal at the Harvey Norman Delicious Awards, and they’re now the winner of the Central West Mummy Awards’ 2021 Business of the Year! We had a chat with Angela to find out the secrets to her success. 

How did you get started in the saffron business?

We moved out here from a corporate life in Sydney and bought a property just out of town. We have always wanted to grow something, but we wanted something a bit unique. I was looking at Landline one afternoon and there was a story about saffron down in Tasmania. I didn’t know anything about saffron, but the climate here in Orange is quite similar to Tasmania. So, the next day I just called and asked them a little bit about it. From there, we gave it a bit of a trial; we planted a few thousand corms [corms are similar to bulbs] to see how they went. We sent out the saffron that grew from those corms to chefs and industry people to test. Then we decided to go all in, and we bought maybe another 25,000 corms from there. Saffron reproduces in the ground, so we think we’ve got about 100,000 in the ground now. I was speaking to the business in Tasmania the other day and I was a bit shocked when they told me that we’re now the second biggest saffron business in Australia. 

Was saffron a risky choice?

It really was. And it continues to be. We lost a lot of corms this year, close to 50% because of all the rain we’ve had. So it continues to be risky for us, but we love to do it so we keep doing it. Every step of doing this has been a step in having to research, or trial and error, because so few people do it.

Did you have your eye on Orange as a place to live before deciding you wanted to grow saffron?

Yes, absolutely. I was in financial services in Sydney, I still am actually, I work remotely. We always wanted to move to a regional town once we had kids. Both my husband and I grew up in regional areas, so we wanted to get back to that. We chose Orange for a few different reasons, but initially we were going to set up an accommodation business for fruit pickers and backpackers, but there were some issues with that. In the end we had to choose something else; we decided to start growing. 

Who are your customers and where are they located?

For the first 2 to 3 years we’ve really focused on direct to the public retail, just through our website, and we sell a lot doing that. Most of our customers are spread right across Australia to be honest. But in the last 12-18 months we’re getting a lot of chefs starting to use us. We’re getting more corms in to try and meet demand; it’s a great problem to have! 

So in addition to running your business and working remotely in finance, how did you find the time to write your cookbook, Cooking with Saffron?

[Angela laughs] I really don’t know! We’ve got a 5 year old and a 3 year old, too, so we’re constantly busy. The cookbook I wrote in the COVID lockdown, I enjoyed doing it and I did it more for our customers than any other reason. But someone did give me a bit of advice very early on when I started growing saffron, they said, “When it’s something like saffron you really need to market it out of the pantry”. Many people don’t really know what to do with saffron. So I thought I’d write a really simple cookbook, and it’s gone so well. I’m actually close to publishing a second one. I’ve never loved doing anything as much as doing the saffron business, and the learning that comes with it. If there comes a day when I don’t love it, I just won’t do it, because it’s a lot of work. 

As the world’s worst cook, can you tell me what saffron goes with – sweet or savoury?

Everything! It goes brilliantly with dairy, like cheesecakes and custards. Also cakes, anything like that… and of course it goes in curry, rice, and so many other dishes. In the last 12 months we’ve had a lot of customers who take it medicinally. Saffron’s now been through finalised trials for ADHD, we’re getting a lot of customers who use it for that. It’s used very extensively for things like depression, brain injury, macular degeneration, and Alzheimers. Saffron’s also used in beauty creams – anything that evens skin tones usually has saffron in it. I started posting on instagram that I put saffron in my face cream and everyone got interested, so we ended up taking 12 months to develop a facial oil. You can use it for a lot of things. 

Finally, what do you like most about Orange?

It’s amazing how much Orange has changed over the last 5 years, there’s a surge to regional which is so lovely. It has everything we need in terms of facilities, support and services. I just think it’s a really exciting place to be. I’m on the Orange Food Week committee as the Treasurer, even through being part of that you can really see the amount of interest and passion that’s happening in this region. It’s really infectious, we absolutely love it. 

Denise Mills

Denise Mills is a writer and accountant based in Central West NSW. Her words have featured in The Guardian, Brevity, Epoch and more.

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