Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, we will look into small businesses in Australia—their humble beginnings, their growth story, and the lessons that we can learn from them.
Today, we will look into the story of Whole Kids, a family-owned organic snack small business based in Melbourne.
Whole Kids launched their first organic snack range in 2005 in response to a gap in the market. The couple, Monica and James Meldrum, who at that time were not yet parents, could not find delicious and healthy snacks to buy for their nieces and nephews. They found that the range of “healthy” snacks available in the market at that time were not necessarily healthy—they thought many of them were filled with potentially harmful preservatives and were poor in nutrients.
They decided to create their own range of snacks that focused on nutrition and also making sure that they were free from common allergens. The Meldrums spoke to organic growers in Australia and worked with a dietitian at the Royal Children’s to understand what some allergies were.
They also decided early on about what kind of business they were going to set up. They wanted a business that focused on healthy products, on having an impact in the community, and on sustaining a small, family-run business that is fun, friendly, and fulfilling.
In the beginning, the Meldrums worked more intuitively. As the business expanded, the couple wanted to articulate their purpose and values in a statement, and so they engaged a consultant to help them formalise their statement.
Their values and purpose reflect on how they recruit talent and how they source suppliers. They recruit and source based on how they fit with their values and align with their purpose. This, in turn, helped them focus on what they are best at, which is product development and marketing. By working with competent employees and by outsourcing work to suppliers who share their values, they are able to keep their operations small, nimble and family-run—the kind of business they set out to build and nurture.
Today, after using AU$100,000 in savings meant for a deposit on a house, Whole Kids is Australia’s largest certified organic snacks manufacturer for children with an estimated annual turnover of at least AU$6 million. It exports to the Middle East, South East Asia, and most recently, China.
Monica Meldrum is considered as one of the country’s most influential female entrepreneur. And yet they still consider themselves a small, family-run business competing with large, multinational corporations. To date, they supply large orders of kid snacks to large airlines, such as Jetstar and Qantas.
What we can learn
Their business model—that is, small operations catering to large corporations—presents unique challenges, which I think that small business owners, such as you, would be able to relate to and even appreciate.
Here are three lessons that the Meldrums share about running Whole Kids:
(1) Be honest with your customers
Any business will run into supply issues—but because Whole Kids work with organic and seasonal ingredients, ensuring a stable supply of raw ingredients makes it even more challenging.
Whole Kids work with fresh natural and organic ingredients, taking into account not just overall nutrition but also common allergens. Some items are seasonal and some items need to pass certain standards—so they can run into supply challenges. This means that they may not always supply the same product in every flight or that they can deliver large batches of particular product units all the time.
What do Whole Kids do? They communicate closely with their clients.
“With any supply issues you think you may run into, give your customers a heads-up – it’s much easier to work through that than be caught out last-minute.”
(2) Do the research
When launching a business, especially one that tries to cater to gaps in the market, it is important to understand what the market truly wants in order to create and supply the right product or service. In the case of Whole Kids, the founders spent a lot of time and effort in understanding not just their market, but also ingredients and processes that may affect their product offerings.
“Because I spent two to three years researching the market, I understood what ingredients were available and what product gaps there were. It enabled me to launch the product and minimise the risk.”
(3) Focus on what you are good at and delegate the rest
The founders of Whole Kids are parents to a young family. The operations of Whole Kids remain family-owned and small. In the early stages of the business, their impressive growth stretched them out too thinly. So the couple decided to focus on their core competencies, product development and marketing, and to delegate to other people who specialised in warehousing and distribution.
“We immediately thought we needed a warehouse and needed a good distributor and took that on ourselves but it stretched us really thin. We realised there were other businesses that could oversee that side of the operation better than we could. At the five-year mark, we realised we could do things smarter so we could focus on the marketing and the products and leave distribution to someone else."
One other notable thing that Whole Kids focuses on is their vision. They are an example of a small, family-owned business that has a clear vision of what they want to be, what they want to do, and where they want to go—and one that keeps to that vision to drive their growth.
If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.