Naturally Wholesome

Popina Food Services

Popina CEO, Arnold May played a key part in growing Popina from its humble beginnings into what it is today.

This Australian family owned company started thirty years ago when Mr May, having previous manufacturing experience, got involved in a small Melbourne business making toasted muesli. Eventually he found a business partner and moved premises. “We got the name Popina through my partner’s solicitor, which is Latin for a ‘food shop’ apparently.”

It was not long after that Popina expanded its range of cereals and began manufacturing for the health food trade. To further expand the business, Mr May saw the need to get involved with the supermarkets, and began manufacturing for Safeway.

Mr May stuck very closely to what he knew about mueslis and toasted products, later becoming involved with both Coles and Franklins. “We had a brand called Goodness Products, so we were making products for the supermarket chains and then I started doing a lot of private label work – which is the supermarkets’ own brands – as well as getting involved in contract manufacturing,” he explains. The company undertook another couple of moves but continued growing ever stronger in its product categories. “About fifteen years ago we started making products for Carman’s,” comments Mr May. “We put together a bar line and started making muesli bars as well.”

Popina shifted premises to a new ten thousand square metre facility in Southern Dandenong, Victoria five years ago. The modern facility has provision for another five thousand square metres which will be built in due course. Popina still does a lot of co-manufacturing even though the company’s own brands – Heritage Mill, Arnold’s Farm (named after the CEO himself and exclusive to Woolworths) and Goodness Superfoods – are doing well in the marketplace. While the Arnold’s Farm brand of mueslis has approximately fifteen per cent of Woolworth’s national muesli sales, the brand that really has consumers talking is Goodness Superfoods.

What sets Goodness Superfoods apart from all the other healthy cereals on the supermarket shelves? The main difference is BARLEYmax, tiny grains grown by nature with a little help from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). This wholesome grain is causing quite a stir with Australian consumers. While ordinary barley is healthy, BARLEYmax is no ordinary barley and packs a mighty nutritional punch.

About four years ago, Mr May heard about the new BARLEYmax grain that the Australian CSIRO had developed. “I got a couple of the scientists out from there and we had a long discussion,” he explains. BARLEYmax is a natural wholegrain that contains twice the fibre of regular grains and four times the resistant starch. Free of genetic engineering, BARLEYmax also boasts a low Glycaemic Index.

What is even more remarkable than all the nutritional benefits of BARLEYmax is the fact that none of the competition seemed to be interested in it. Mr May saw an opportunity, though. “We’re the only breakfast food manufacturer licensed in Australia by the CSIRO to use BARLEYmax,” he says.

While the CSIRO had offered BARLEYmax to the major industry players and multinationals, they refused to take it up and put it into any of their products. “One of the reasons is the supply chain,” explains Mr May. The supply chain for the BARLEYmax grain had been authorised to one company called Austgrains Pty Ltd. “They’re responsible for having the grain grown and we both pay a royalty to the CSIRO – them for the privilege of growing the grain and us for the privilege of using their grain and the CSIRO brand name which we have on all of our packs.”

Goodness Superfoods follows a philosophy that good nutrition helps the body from the inside out and Fibre Boost Sprinkles made from one hundred per cent wholegrain kibbled BARLEYmax flakes are just what the doctor ordered. The company’s Wholegrain Barley Wraps, made with thirty per cent BARLEYmax, are a versatile, low glycaemic index snack, while Goodness Superfoods cereal bars make it easy to eat healthy while on the go. Made for popping into lunch boxes and handbags, these nutritious bars are perfect for snacking anytime hunger strikes.

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but with Goodness Superfoods, it can also be the tastiest; consumers who are tired of eating healthy cereals that taste like cardboard are in for a treat. With cranberries, honey and a touch of cinnamon, Goodness Superfoods Heart 1st cereal made with 51 per cent BARLEYmax is not just healthy, it also manages to be seriously tasty. Flavour filled Digestive 1st will keep the tastebuds and digestive system happy as it’s made from a specially blended selection of sultanas, apples, honey, golden syrup and BARLEYmax. Another delicious way to start to the day is with a bowl of Protein 1st which contains BARLEYmax, wholegrain Amaranth and soy flakes to repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue.

Consumers in Australia and overseas will be seeing a lot more of Popina Food Services in the future, as Mr May explains. “We are looking to grow our Goodness Superfoods brand to be about half of our turnover. It is about twenty per cent at the moment; I’d like it to be up around fifty per cent eventually. The balance will be made up with contract manufacturing and, in particular, private label.”

Indeed, Mr May is very optimistic about the future of food manufacturing in Australia and about the company’s opportunities for global expansion. Popina has recently exported Goodness Superfoods products into New Zealand and is looking to move into the Japanese market soon. As incomes are rising in China, India and countries in the Asian Pacific region, he predicts that Australia’s food will become increasingly popular. “I really do think that food manufacturing has got a very bright future as long as we tailor ourselves to what people in China and India want to buy and eat.”

Popina has the ability to make muesli style clusters as well as loose grain products and uses around five thousand tonnes of rolled oats a year. The company is gearing up to improve efficiency by installing the only in-line blending operation of its kind in Australia which will begin running in July and will allow Popina to be blending as it goes rather than batch mixing.

Although installing the operation has been a costly process, this mixing method has significant quality advantages for the products Popina manufactures compared to what any other Australian competitor can do. “We’ll have fourteen different ingredients we can add at once to a central conveyor which will get mixed in a very small quantity at a time and travel through and get packed off separately,” explains Mr May. “As well as that, on the same line we will also have robotics, so we won’t have manual packing of any kind which will save us considerable labour costs.”

Operating a food manufacturing company in Australia can be challenging. “The costs keep going up unfortunately,” says Mr May adding that the country’s small population can also be problematic. To succeed, companies need to diversify product ranges, export or do both. That is what Mr May plans to do with Popina.

“We’re actually looking to move into making other cereals in the near future like cornflakes and puffed rice bubbles and so on. That will get us into the private label space in a much larger way than what we are now.”

Popina has been getting much more interest at food fairs from people living in South East Asian countries recently which is fantastic news for Mr May. “I think we’ve got good products to sell and we will continue to be successful in the marketplace.” The journey is far from over for Popina Food Services, which is ready to give not only the nation, but also the world a nourishing start to the day.

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May 14, 2021, 11:30 PM AEST