19/05/2011 - 00:00

Succession plan serves Homestyle well

19/05/2011 - 00:00

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THE death of Homestyle Salads co-founder Tina Merenda after a long illness has spurred the family to continue growing the business in line with her vision.

THE death of Homestyle Salads co-founder Tina Merenda after a long illness has spurred the family to continue growing the business in line with her vision.

“In the production side of things she was the backbone,” her son Joe said.

“Her passion was to be alongside the workers and doing the hard yards with them; she was our best worker.”

The Merenda family hopes to continue growing the business and achieve Tina’s goal of always improving and increasing product lines, reading the market and keeping the business in the family.

“She was the rock for our family and our business and her passion, energy, hard work and her vision, will be sorely missed,” Joe said.

Tina and her sister, Nancy, left Italy for Australia in 1966 and were rarely apart for the next four decades. Not surprising given they each married a Merenda brother before leaving for Australia.

In 1987, they started growing, washing, peeling and chopping potatoes, hoping to save customers some time in the kitchen.

“It was our little hobby; Tina and I would pre-cut the potatoes and sell them into canteens,” Nancy said.

“We were so excited because our first taking for the week was $300.”

Munster-based Homestyle Vegetable Processors emerged from this simple business idea, and the sisters began supplying their pre-prepared vegetables to fast food outlets, hospitals and universities.

Joe Merenda and his brother, Santo, became involved in the business in the late 1980s and now hold the positions of managing director and CEO respectively.

Santo said Tina knew that ‘peeling potatoes’ had a limited lifespan and that the business would need another string to its bow.

“Mum was very visionary, so I went to the US for a food expo and saw what was happening over there and I told my family that our future was in pre-packaged salad,” he said.

“We all agreed that this was the case and the four of us put our energy, commitment and passion towards it.”

In 1992, Homestyle decided to move away from being just a vegetable processor and venture into the world of ready-made dressed or ‘wet’ salads and ‘leafy’ salads.

With hygiene issues relating to open salad-bars in supermarkets coming to the forefront in the early 1990s, the timing couldn’t have been better for the company to launch its packaged salad products.

“When there was a food scare, that was when we decided that there was a new market for our packaged salad, and in 1997 we came out with a sealed, tamper-proof container,” Joe said.

As the volume of Homestyle’s product increased, the Merendas decided to stop growing the produce and instead utilise a host of local growers.

To cope with rising customer demand, the company invested millions into setting up a fully automated processing plant in1998.

“It gave us a lot more diversity in the types of product that we could manufacture, it helped us with the cost of the product and gave us a more streamlined process that delivers a better quality, more hygienic product,” Santo said.

Homestyle now supplies its salads to Coles and independent grocers around Western Australia, as well as to Chicken Treat, Red Rooster, Subway and Qantas.

With plenty of competitors in the state, Homestyle has had to continue to evolve and expand its product range.

“We have quite a few competitors now such as Gourmet Selections, Harvest Fresh Cuts, Zimbulis and Salad Fresh, but I’d say we are number one because we are a one-stop-shop for ‘wet’ and ‘leafy’, but some of the other companies are starting to do both in the last year,” Joe said.

Last month, Homestyle launched a new non-mayonnaise based Healthstyle salad range through IGA stores.

“In the last 12 to 18 months we have seen that obesity-related diseases are an issue for all of us and we want to make sure we continue to develop healthy products,” Santo said.

Santo said the company has continued on a steady path of growth during the past decade and had more than tripled its turnover since 1998.

However, Homestyle has faced its fair share of challenges in recent years, which included the Perth hailstorm in March 2010.

“Weather conditions are the biggest challenge for us; that storm destroyed a lot of the produce and at the time we had to get our produce from over east,” Joe said.

 

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