By Nick Carne
Whatever they say about old dogs learning new tricks, you can certainly do exciting new things with proven skills. Ray Khabbaz and Michael Demetriou are a case in point.
A decade and a half ago they established Copperpot, the Adelaide company that grew to become the biggest Australian supplier and exporter of dips and snack products. When they quit the game, semi-retirement was the plan, until their instinct for opportunity changed all that. What they saw was consumers looking for quick but healthy dinner options.
Four years later, their new company, Australian Wholefoods, is one of the biggest players in Australia’s fastest growing food sector – high-quality, ready-to-eat meals. It supplies Coles, Woolworths and hundreds of smaller independent outlets with everything from slow cooked beef ragu to pastitsio and peri peri chicken, and is already looking at overseas opportunities.
To get there, the partners quite literally revisited old ground. While looking for a new site to merge and relocate two separate businesses they had acquired, they discovered their old Copperpot facilities at Salisbury were out of lease with their current tenants. They snapped them up, then changed them completely.
Around $25 million was spent on refurbishing the building and installing state-of-the-art equipment that allows the company to do everything from making pasta and grinding its own mince to creating, packing and distributing its full range of ready-to-eat and single-serve meals. Central to the innovation was equipment for modified atmosphere packaging, which gives fresh meals a 28-day shelf life without the need for additives or preservatives. They also have the capability to freeze products if required to fill future international orders.
Khabbaz, who travels relentlessly, says he has benchmarked their facilities against one of the biggest companies in Europe and they lack nothing in quality and sophistication. And the Copperpot reputation is still a useful calling card when overseas.