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Crowning achievement of the clever food kings

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In December 2014 Australian Wholefoods Directors Ray Khabbaz and Michael Demetriou featured in the “Silent Achievers” section of the Business liftout in the Advertiser newspaper. This article outlines the success experienced by duo since entering the ready-to-eat meal market.

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Experienced food duo Ray Khabbaz and Michael Demetriou are leading the charge to fill the rapidly growing gap in the national ready-to-eat meal market through their Australian Wholefoods factory at Salisbury South.

The pair bought Australian Wholefoods at Marleston in 2010 then added Alaska Foods in 2011, after previously running the highly successful Copperpot Dips before selling out to Goodman Fielder in 2007.

Since then they have built their new business up to produce six million meals a year and employ more than 130 people on a full-time equivalent basis, nearly all from northern Adelaide.

Mr Khabbaz said they were poised to capture a greater share of the fast-growing food sector through the sale of their generic products at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets and through Clever Cooks, Banquet and Alaska labels in independent chains such as Foodland. After reaching a turnover of $27 million in 2013-14, they believe they are poised for rapid growth and expect 2015 to be a really big year as the company heads towards a projected $78 million turnover by 2018.
“If we are successful in expanding the business to that extent it will mean another 160 employees,” Mr Khabbaz said. “We think we can put another 1000 jobs into the supply chain by 2018.”

Australian Wholefoods ships out many semitrailer loads of meals each week from its world-class factory. “We have the potential to employ a lot more people in the northern suburbs across various categories,” Mr Khabbaz said.
“The food industry is under recognised in South Australia and we believe it can achieve far more here than it can in many other parts of Australia.
“We’re the only privately owned Australian company in this field, competing against multinationals.”

Apart from organic growth, they are also poised to buy more small local food companies and build them into national businesses, to help their expansion to a target of at least 13 million meals a year. Mr Khabbaz said they were also about to launch a new range of desserts such as apple crumble in February-March.

Australian Wholefoods’ focus is on innovative branded and private label baked meals, underpinned by quality and excellence. Mr Khabbaz said there were also opportunities to move into health, aged care, defence, mining and other industries, while export markets were also on the horizon.

The business partnership between Mr Khabbaz and Mr Demetriou is a key to the success of the business. Mr Demetriou started Copperpot in 1982 and Mr Khabbaz bought 50 percent of the business in 2001. They turned it into the No.1 dip brand in Australia with national sales of close to $60 million before selling out for big money in 2007.
They then enjoyed a lengthy break, while examining opportunities to get back into the food industry.

Their development of the Clever Cooks brand includes a range of freshly baked ready-made meals including lasagne, pastitsio, moussaka and quiches that are free from artificial colours or preservatives.