Meals in Minutes

Australian Wholefoods

“We’ve got two core brands under the Australian Wholefoods banner within the retail platform which are Clever Cooks and Banquet,” says Kelly Magor, Marketing Manager. Ready-made meals are not what they used to be in terms of quality and taste. Australian Wholefoods now has fresh pasta makers on site and aims to source ingredients locally. “We use 100 per cent Australian beef and certainly source Australian produce wherever we can,” says Ms Magor. Now, with new but experienced hands at the helm, game changing plans for the future of Australian Wholefoods are already being set in motion.

Quick Cuisine

Australian Wholefoods makes it easy to enjoy home-style cooking without spending hours slaving in the kitchen. “Our target consumers are employed, they’re busy, they’ve got extracurricular activities on with the kids so they want something that is flavoursome, nutritious and can be on the table as soon as possible,” comments Ms Magor. With family sized servings, the Banquet brand offers customers terrific value for money. “Our Clever Cooks brand is positioned as being ‘better for you’, with a number of different sub-brands. “The products are all fresh and can be located in the chilled section of the supermarket.” What has made Clever Cooks products so popular, particularly the Moussaka, is that Australian Wholefoods is innovative with recipes that many people simply do not have the time to cook.

Inspired by traditional recipes, the Clever Cooks Moussaka captures the authentic flavours of Greece with layers of potato and roasted eggplant topped with bolognaise and a moorish béchamel cheese sauce. For a gourmet taste of Italy in a flash, try the Lasagne. With a rich bolognaise sauce layered between sheets of fresh pasta and a creamy béchamel sauce, everyone is going to want to come back for seconds. The hearty Shepherd’s Pie topped with smashed potatoes tastes just like mum used to make. Packed with 100 per cent Australian beef plus carrots, celery, onions and peas, this dish really satisfies growling stomachs. True gourmets will love the Pastitsio made with penne pasta, bolognaise sauce, a hint of nutmeg and a tasty blend of cheeses. There is also a mouth-watering range of quiches made with vintage cheese encased in shortcrust pastry. Clever Cooks products are full of flavour but free of artificial colours and preservatives.

Products have to be tasty, healthy and convenient to do well in the ready-made meals category, and Australian Wholefoods is currently developing some new Clever Cooks products to suit various lifestyle requirements. When it comes to product packaging, Australian Wholefoods is at the cutting edge of the industry. “Technology that we’ve embraced and put into our factory is quite unique in the category. We’ve installed modified atmosphere packaging (MAP),” explains Ms Magor. “What happens there is, as the product passes through the packer it is gas flushed.” This extends the shelf life while improving the sensory and micro qualities of the product.” This process also provides better branding opportunities on the packaging, using fewer materials so it is more environmentally friendly.

Fresh Take

Raymond Khabbaz and Michael Demetriou are the new owners and directors of Australian Wholefoods. The two highly successful entrepreneurs started the Copperpot range of dips and foods in 1983 before selling the brand in 2007 to Goodman Fielder. Mr Khabbaz and Mr Demetriou took a few years out of the game but returned in 2010 when they acquired Australian Wholefoods and Alaska Foods, another food business in Adelaide that owned Banquet brand lasagnes and other portfolios. Since then, Australian Wholefoods has shifted premises, built a world-class factory and developed a five-year strategic plan for success. “We were previously in a suburb called Marleston in Adelaide,” remarks Ms Magor. “In November last year, we began the transition to move the company to our current location of Turin Place in Salisbury.”

Australian Wholefoods has recently undergone corporate rebranding so the company now has a fresh look that is in line with future goals. “We’ve reviewed the corporate branding strategically so now we have a unified approach to marketing and communication etc,” says Ms Magor. We previously had a fragmented identity as a result of the acquisition.” While Clever Cooks has national distribution, with major retailers and independent stores and Banquet is primarily an independent brand, this is set to change in the near future. “A focus of our branded strategy,” she explains, “is that we are looking at diversifying distribution. We are looking at how we get our products available via alternative avenues for consumers.”

For Australian Wholefoods to expand in the ready-made meals category, the time that it takes to move new product ideas from the embryonic stage to commercialisation is critical. “One of our unique points is our speed to market and how flexible we can be which differentiates us from some of the larger companies. We can turn around ideas quite quickly,” Ms Magor explains. The new product development process at Australian Wholefoods is structured but still efficient. The process has five phases, which are opportunity analysis, feasibility, product development and commercialisation before finishing with a launch review.

Comprehensive Process

Does food manufacturing have a place in Australia’s future with the high cost of labour and pressure from foreign competitors? According to Ms Magor, the entire industry is in for some significant changes as private labels become more dominant across the board. “I think there will be a shift in the way manufacturing is approached in the future and it will certainly be a very different story for household names. They will face a very different set of challenges to the smaller, more niche manufacturers going forward. Like any food manufacturer, our current landscape is one with high labour costs and we operate in one of the most concentrated retail platforms in the world.” Tremendous growth is predicted in the ready-made meals category as Australia becomes an increasingly time-poor society – although consumers today are definitely health conscious. “This shift towards eating natural and fresh will ensure ready made meal production will remain within Australia and continue to support local suppliers.”

The future is looking bright for the Clever Cooks and Banquet ranges and Australian Wholefoods has a lot to offer private labels. “We have installed auto-bake ovens which have layers of conveyor belts within to ensure better product consistency and we’re reducing human contact on the production line so we’re improving our hygiene efficiencies,” Ms Magor shares. Contract manufacturing and private label production is a key focus at Australian Wholefoods and a specific private label strategy and proposal for retailers has recently been developed. “We offer each of our customers a bespoke process that we support internally with our quality, production and marketing teams.”

Australian Wholefoods is embracing innovation and change, developing branded and private label products that are relevant to today’s busy consumers. “It’s a complete experience; from the creation of our customer’s brief to having it commercialised, we work through each aspect and have the ability to offer technical experience and advice to customers that need help with recipe development or actual manufacturing.”

Australian Wholefoods is under new leadership and has a fresh approach to business. “We’ve gone through a very diligent strategic planning process in the last six months and we’ve come out of that with a pronounced and clear positioning as the meal solution innovators.” The good news for customers on the go is that there will soon be more Clever Cooks ready-made meals available that they can simply heat and eat. Savour the flavour minus the mess, and take the hard work out of tonight’s dinner with Australian Wholefoods.

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June 19, 2018, 10:25 AM AEST