Jeremy Haws has built his business from a small horticultural packaging and supply operation to an innovative, fully integrated business with six farms and high-tech processing facilities. He says the secret to his success has been ensuring every facet of the business is highly measurable, so he’s always clear on his position and ready to jump on opportunities when they arise.
Jeremy owns and runs Hussey and Co, a Victoria-based business which grows, packages and supplies gourmet baby salad leaf mixes for the food service and retail sector across Australia and into several international markets. He has invested heavily in acquiring farms in different regions to support year-round supply, and he has installed state-of-the-art processing technology including optical sorting, a triple-wash system and air drying that improves shelf life and ensures only the most premium product reaches consumers.
While coronavirus has seen the food service market decline sharply, Jeremy says it’s been a blessing of sorts, giving him a moment to catch his breath after years of strong growth, and allowing him to think about where his next opportunity might come from.
“We’ve been growing quickly since I bought the business about a decade ago,” says Jeremy. “Since I bought the business, I have kept the focus on quality and just kept investing.”
About six years ago, the business bought a 140-acre farm in Victoria’s Gippsland, around the same time Jeremy invested in the first optical sorter, which assesses leaf quality on the conveyor. A year later, he introduced air dryer technology from Holland.
"Previously we used centrifuge to dry the baby leaves but by introducing air drying technology we have been able to increase output and more importantly control the moisture and bruising, a critical component for overall baby leaf quality. This technology has significantly changed our quality proposition and the market has recognised this by growing demand.”
Soon came the second, third and fourth farms and an expansion from Victoria into Queensland, with the business now running 1,000 acres of land across the two states. A fifth and sixth farm and joint ventures in various countries throughout Asia have been added since.
By the start of this year, the business that had started with just 40 employees now supported 350 full-time equivalent jobs and was making sales into supermarkets, airlines and food service across a global market.
Revenue came from a 50:50 split between food service and retail – so when coronavirus arrived, sales dropped by 40% almost immediately.
“Because every part of the business is highly measured, we could watch what was happening and implement changes,” Jeremy says. “We’ve looked at ways to make every role more accountable and the whole business more efficient, and we’ve shifted the way we market some of our products.”
As an example, Jeremy says his business data showed that a lot of the 1.5kg boxes of leaves they had been selling into food service were now going to green grocers. Instead of continuing to supply the bulk packs, Jeremy worked with the grocers and their agents to supply flow wrap boxes – cartons of smaller portions ready for sale. The grocers were happy to support the change, there was upside for the agents and it allowed Jeremy the benefit of selling a value-add product. He’s also introduced a new 500g salad bag for door-to-door delivery services, which have grown dramatically in the past few months.
“We’ve now recovered 50 per cent of the lost sales,” he says.
“We’re ready now for when the next opportunity comes, and it will, 100%. When you have a clear intent to grow your business, you need to be able to move when the opportunity comes. We’re looking to link with great brands, considering joint ventures and consolidations. It’s important for agribusiness to be in a position to take up opportunities to sustain the global food supply.”
Jeremy says working closely with CommBank has meant he has been able to act quickly when the opportunity is right.
“The bank can see that we are highly focused and measured and that we are always looking ahead, and they’ve been able to support us at each step,” he says.
For more about Jeremy’s operation visit www.husseyco.com.au/company/