From little things ...

HARD work, strong family ties and good timing have turned what started as a hobby 14 years ago into a multi-million dollar business for an Italian migrant family.

Sisters-in-law Nancy and Tina Merenda, who started peeling potatoes in 1987 for $300 a week, now employ more than 50 people.

Turnover at their Munster Vegetable Processing business has increased by more than 30 per cent in the past year to about $8 million a year.

Homestyle Vegetable Process-ors now supplies prepared vegetables and salads to most major supermarkets, KFC, Hungry Jack’s, Pizza Hut and Kallis & France.

Hospitals and nursing homes are on their client list as well.

The family capped off their 14th anniversary of operation this week, receiving a Family Business Australia Ethnic Business Award.

Nancy Merenda said it would have been impossible to grow the business without the support of their husbands, the Merenda brothers, although the men kept out of the day-to-day operation of the business and left it to their wives and children to run.

The Merendas are always looking for new methods of supplying the growing ready-to-eat market, with trips to Europe and the US providing an insight into what the future will bring for their business.

And it’s extremely bright.

“People live too much in a hurry,” Nancy Merenda said. When people go into a shop they want everything ready-made.”

She believes Australia is about five years behind other countries in the market.

“I would say in five years time, 95 per cent of produce will be ready-made,” Mrs Merenda said.

She said the business had just spent more than $4 million on new machinery and already were preparing to invest in more capital.

The family is also looking at the potential of adding meat to their packaged food and are keen to source new markets in Asia.

“WA is a great market, but it is very small,” Mrs Merenda said.

“There are not enough people here. The Asian market has more people.”

Any thoughts of retiring and handing full control to Tina’s sons, general manger Santo and brother Joe, are still a long way off … they are having too much fun and still have big plans for the business.

The likelihood of publicly listing the businesses also is a long way off. Mrs Merenda believes this would restrict the growth of the company because the family would be answerable to shareholders, who do not necessarily share a similar vision to their own.

“I like the family business,” she said.

“We are still growing. We are always thinking of new ideas.

“If we come up with an idea we can discuss it with the family and we can do it.”

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