Winning Woolworths 2013 Supplier of the Year

Montague Fresh fought off tough competition to win the prestigious Woolworths 2013 Supplier of the Year Award. Ray Montague and his son Scott discuss the key to their success and how things have changed during their 50-year relationship with Woolworths.

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Founded in 1948, the Montague Group is a family-owned Australian business consisting of three distinct divisions: Montague Orchards, Montague Fresh and Montague Cold Storage. Montague Fresh provides sales, marketing, packing and distribution services for the apples and stone fruit produced by Montague Orchards and a network of over 400 growers.

“Everyone who works here has a passion for what they do,” says Scott Montague, Business Manager, Sales and Procurement, Montague Fresh. “I believe that the more passionate you are, the better service you provide– and this lies at the heart of our success.”

A major win

Montague Fresh was named Woolworths Overall Supplier of the Year 2013 and Supplier of the Year in the produce, bakery, meat, deli, seafood and dairy category.

The Woolworths supplier of the year is scored against an established framework which reports quarterly on supplier performance. “You’re rated on everything from the way you interact with the local and national buying teams to warehouse delivery, quality assurance, marketing support, finance and administration,” says Ray Montague, Managing Director, Montague Group. “We were thrilled to win in our division but, when they announced that we had also won the overall award, I don’t think any of us could quite believe it because we were up against more than 3,500 other suppliers of all sizes from every supermarket sector.”

“We couldn’t have won these awards without our growers’ support,” adds Scott. “And the award not only brought them recognition, it’s given them confidence to grow more product for us, which could also be an important boost for parts of regional Australia.”

A long-standing relationship

Montague’s relationship with Woolworths began almost half a century ago, when Rays’ father and brother were trading at the Melbourne Market. They became friendly with supermarket-owner Bill Pratt and, when Pratt sold his businesses to Safeway and became Managing Director, he asked them to supply fresh produce. Eventually, Woolworths and Safeway merged and the arrangement with Montague continued.

It has been a period of unprecedented change.

“In the early days, we delivered once a week, on a Friday,” says Ray. “They’d take 2,000 to 3,000 cartons and distribute the fruit on a daily basis from their warehouse. Now we deliver seven days a week and, as the produce is normally packed the day before, they’re getting fresh produce on the shelves every day.”

The ordering system has evolved from phone calls and notepads though faxes and emails to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). There has also been increasing interest in developing new varieties.

“Food companies have their staples but you also need a constant flow of new things to keep people interested,” says Ray. “Consumers are always looking for new taste profiles and, these days, they also want better-keeping qualities in fresh produce so they waste less.”

Scott, along with Rowan Little, General Manager of Montague Fresh, is constantly travelling the world in search of different varieties as well as insights into consumer preferences.

“Developing new varieties is a long process – it can be 10 or 15 years before they finally get on to the shelf,” says Ray. “But we’re committed to helping Woolworths anticipate and provide what their customers want. Over the years, Woolworths have come to trust our skill and judgement in this area and now they recognise that we’re specialists with the best interests of their customer at heart.”

They also know that Montague is there for the long haul.

“We’re a third-generation family business,” notes Ray. “Our executives are outstanding, but the family is the constant.”

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