Melbourne mum launches start-up during COVID-19 crisis and a personal health scare

by Emma White 16th of February, 2023
Melbourne mum launches start-up during COVID-19 crisis and a personal health scare

Emma White faced monumental health struggles on her way to successfully launching her range of plant-based sausage rolls into Woolworths stores nationally.

Remarkably, the launch was undertaken during the turmoil that was the 2020 COVID lockdowns in Victoria. As the founder and consultant of Food Specialists, Emma was already ‘flat-out’ in her thriving consulting business, assisting her clients in the Food Manufacturing industry, supporting Australian manufacturers in the challenging endeavours to supply food, in the retail market.  

With the news of the COVID Lockdowns, school shutdowns and her clients facing intense stress, the pressure cooker of life was set to maximum. Her husband Ashley was working in his day job at the time and his role required attendance at work. In the chaos of home schooling, managing COVID crisis talks as a consultant and planning the launch of her new start up The Why Meat Co. needless to say, something had to give.

While at home, Emma unexpectedly suffered severe pain in the head and was quickly rushed to hospital for scans and treatment. Hours later, drugged up and in immense pain, she was diagnosed with severe head trauma with a dangerous condition that had the potential to take her life, namely a Subarachnoid Haemorrhage on the brain. This is an emergency condition in which a blood vessel ruptures near the brain and causes internal bleeding on the brain. Due to the serious nature of her condition, she was rushed to the specialised neurological ward at the Austin Hospital, the day after being admitted to emergency at Box Hill hospital.  

Extremely painful, this illness requires the patient to undergo many brain scans and tests, including weeks of monitored supervision in a specialised neurological ward. Mostly on her own, with nurses as companionship, visitor restrictions keep family visits to a minimum. A victim of extreme circumstances and sadly not isolated during the 2020 COVID lockdowns, in Victoria.

Emma was warned by the leading neurologist that patients with this condition were often incapacitated for weeks. The nurses were amazed when she was sitting up from day three. Her release from hospital was fast-tracked with strict instructions. Miraculously she was picked up the day of her daughter's 7th birthday, testament to a mother’s will not to miss her girl’s special day. 

Informed that full recovery can take months, the first week out of hospital was tough. She had to be isolated from her children due to her vulnerable state and was bed ridden at her parent’s house, her caregivers during this recovery stage. The mounting pressures of running a full-time consulting business, building a new branded venture to supply the largest retail chain in the country and adding to these stresses, financial leading to businesses was drying up therefore Why Meat had to be fully self-funded. On top of all this, Victorian parents were obligated to become teachers in a home-schooling program.  As they say, this was the final straw and took an immediate toll on Emma’s health.

Three weeks after being released from hospital, and still in recovery mode, she receives the news that her plant-based sausage rolls under The Why Meat Co brand had been accepted by the behemoth, Woolworths Retail Group.  

A crossroad moment, to say the least, and a monumental decision had to be made! ‘YES’ she can supply Woolworths or ‘NO’ it’s not possible to proceed with the COVID 19 restrictions fully in place and Emma’s health, taking its toll. With total commitment to delivering on her promises to Woolworths, Emma simply said ‘let’s do this’! Ash her husband resigned from his steady day job and the family put everything into making the start up a commercial reality.

COVID-19 created casualties along the way and a month before The Why Meat Co. products were set to be stocked into Woolworth stores, their supplier for the Gluten Free product pulled out of the manufacturing contract, citing massive disruptions to business operations. 

This meant Emma and her team had to urgently search for a new supplier that could meet her strict product quality and quantity supply standards. With travel restriction in place, this search was limited to the local Melbourne metro area, as interstate travel was not an option. 


With all hands-on deck, problem solving a ‘no supplier’ issue from every angle, The Why Meat Co. explored all avenues and pulled off a deal at literally the final hour, comprised of two weeks of intense fast-tracked negotiations. The Why Meat Co. was able to deliver on its contractual obligations, in-spite of all the external obstacles and personal drama that was 2020. 

The team delivered above and beyond, even extending on the original agreement of 608 stores, increasing store ranging to over 900, for their Wheat Pastry Plant-based Sausage Rolls.

Emma’s advice for business owners, specifically in the food sector, to tackle the year ahead is to try and localise as much of their production as possible. 

“When food production and supply is kept as local as possible, communities benefit economically from the increased employment opportunities. This also reduces the chance of extreme weather or staffing shortages that may be happening far away having such an intense impact locally,” says White.


Tags: covid-19 career entrepreneurs success small business melbourne vic

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