No stranger to adversity, Diem Fuggersberger arrived in Australia when she was seven years old, a Vietnamese refugee with no belongings or identification.
Surrounded by a supportive family and community, she was instilled with a passion to work hard to help people in need.
Since then, she’s followed her passion to launch multiple successful and authentic specialist food companies, and business is booming at Coco & Lucas, her latest venture for kid foodies.
Substance and purpose
“When I launched Coco & Lucas it wasn’t about the dollar sign, it was about creating a truly authentic brand … with substance, purpose, integrity. It’s about giving back to the community,” she told Women in Focus.
Food is a major aspect of Diem’s ancestry. Growing up in the family trade of butchery, her mother and grandmother instilled in her a love of healthy, delicious food.
So when the time came to food shop for her first child, Coco, in a supermarket, Diem wanted to buy wholesome and nutritious food without the long list of preservatives.
Meanwhile, her nephew, Lucas, was very sick as a baby, constantly covered in rashes and rapidly losing weight.
After a few stressful months, paediatrician results showed that he had food allergies to nuts, seeds, eggs and lupin, and intolerances to lactose and gluten.
Diem left the supermarket inspired to pioneer the reality of affordable, healthy, sustainable, accessible and convenient pre-prepared children’s meals, and Coco & Lucas was born.
“I want to help those mums catering for children with food intolerances. So I put myself in their position and aim to provide what they would look for when food shopping,” she said.
Stay true to yourself, and your vision
Authenticity is a key value of Diem’s, and she won’t accept anything less for her business. Her goals align strongly with her personal values.
“I researched socially responsible food, chemical free food production, nutrition and food intolerances. If it’s not in my pantry, it’s not in my ingredients.”
But when procuring suppliers, Diem discovered that finding all-natural ingredients proved harder than she initially thought.
“A lot of people that work with me say that I’m in a dangerous zone doing something that has never been done before, so they pull me back to zero. So if that is the case, I don’t work with suppliers that don’t understand my vision. You need to believe in me to work with me.”
It is also important to Diem to source ingredients locally.
“About 90% of the raw material sourcing and ingredients are at least 90% grown in Australia. Australia has given my 250 relatives a second chance - a refuge in Australia - and I wanted to create a business model that ensures that the money stays in our Australian economy.”
Innovation and persistence
Realising her vision without making compromises has been no small feat. Diem has overcome the challenges she’s faced with resilience and a willingness to innovate.
“When something doesn’t work, you shouldn’t think - ‘Oh that’s it’. You have to have contingency plans.”
She worked with a dairy company to develop lactose free milk for her brand that she could source reliably in the quantities she needs. Diem also encouraged her husband to use his food science background to develop their own brand of gluten free flours.
“You have to think outside the square, there will always be trial and error.”
Tap into your networks
Diem thinks her secret to success is facing fear front on. She says she doesn’t procrastinate when confronted by a challenge and she embraces new perspectives and seeks input from others.
Diem wanted to support the communities she was involved in, one of those being the connections she had made through CommBank’s Women in Focus.
“The Women in Focus community has a wealth of female entrepreneurs who have extensive and diverse talents and skills and I am a huge believer in collaboration.”
Diem met Gina Lednyak, the founder and CEO of L&A Social, through Women in Focus. They worked together to create Facebook and Instagram channels for Coco & Lucas.
Another community member that Diem has partnered with is Gwen Blake from Boxer & Co. With a high regard for nature, Gwen and Diem produced both beautiful and sustainable packaging in an exclusive partnership for the brand.
When Diem needed fast and effective strategies for public relations, media and marketing, she reached out to community member Kylie Green, managing director for Aegis Media’s Activations.
Diem’s advice for entrepreneurs is that “if you believe in it enough it will work”.
Persistence, purpose and creativity have all contributed to building a truly authentic brand.
Austrade and Woolworths label her products as a 'New Innovation Category'. Diem prefers the term 'Squiggly Line', as she bridges the gap in food products today.