After the nation's borders snapped as firmly shut as a tin of Milo to expat Australians last year, Ben Le and Scott Cruttenden saw a Cherry Ripe-for-the-taking market in their own Manhattan midst.
The New York-based duo established Dinkum, a burgeoning online start-up which packs and dispatches scores of morale-boosting foodstuffs such as Tim Tams, Twisties and, yes, Vegemite, to the legions of increasingly homesick and stranded Australians overseas.
So successful a venture has this proved to be that Le and Cruttenden are looking to open a second warehouse in New York to add to the main factory they operate in Melbourne, and there are now plans to target the expat-rich UK and Singapore markets.
"There are clearly many Australians who are struggling right now with the travel restrictions that make it so difficult to return home," says Ben Le, 36. "We've been inundated with orders since we launched the business last November.
"As Australian expats in New York, we knew first-hand there was a demand for this service. We know what it feels like to be homesick and unable to get back to Australia. But the demand has certainly surprised us and we are expanding the business in ways that we didn't expect to occur.
"We're so pleased that we've been able to create something positive out of this experience that gives people a sunny slice of Aussie life wherever they are in the world."
Dinkum is just one of several US or Australian-based online companies, some which existed before the pandemic, to specialise in the care packs for Australian expats. Admittedly, the packs do contain some authentically Australian treats that are now manufactured by foreign conglomerates.
A couple of companies in the US, such as the Los Angeles-based Aussie Pies and Sausages and Aussie Food Express, located in Cincinnati, even bake fresh pies, sausage rolls and crumpets which are dispatched frozen to customers dying for an authentic taste of Down Under.
Although the Dinkum founders still maintain full-time occupations separate to their fledgling company, on NSW's Central Coast, the success of the Australian Food Shop since the pandemic has allowed its founders, Nathan Stanbridge, 33, and Guy Steinbeck, 26, to give up their day jobs.
Their company allows care packs or separate items of Australian goodies to be ordered by expats or to be sent by their loved ones at home. The Australian Food Shop, which sends to 92 countries and has a staff of 11, also stocks such unapologetically kitschy items such as koala magnets with embedded thermometers, green and gold sun hats with corks and even Bluey-branded reusable drinking straws (four-pack).
For Nathan Stanbridge the pandemic-driven fortunes of the Australian Food Shop has been a "bitter-sweet success story" as the company's eclectic range of Aussie treats offer an emblematic connection with Australia for expats at a time when Australians stranded overseas are uniquely disconnected from home.
"We feel their pain that is reflected in the sometimes sad messages sent with the care packs to Australians overseas," he says. "But they're receiving a piece of Australia with the taste of each item evoking memories of the food they loved back home."
Of course, one of the fringe benefits of running such a business is the ready access to homegrown goodies. Ben Le admits he's obsessed with Australian lollies, specifically anything under the Allen's (Snakes Alive) or The Natural Confectionery Company (Fruity Chews) trademarks, while Scott Cruttenden nominates his homesickness-staunching favourites as Vegemite, Cheezels, and on a more upmarket note, anything from the South Australian-based Haigh's Chocolates.
It may be a while before the mates are able to buy their favourite snacks on Australian soil with no plans to return home, particularly with Dinkum doing so well. But, like most of their fellow expats they would "jump at the chance to return to visit family and friends "if things were easier."
HOME SWEETS HOME: EXPATS' TOP 10 REQUESTS
- Arnott's Tim Tam (original chocolate)
- Cheezels cheese box
- Arnott's Shapes (original BBQ flavour)
- Cherry Ripe (share pack)
- Burger Rings
- Arnott's Shapes (original pizza flavour)
- Twisties (cheese flavoured)
- Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramello Koala sharepack
- Allen's Snakes Alive