February 13, 2014

The business of kids’ health

Monica Meldrum was named '2013 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year' at last year’s NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards. Here, she discusses the increasing demand for 'clean' food and how her fast-growing business Whole Kids is committed to improving children’s health.

Concerned by the lack of wholesome snacks available for children, Monica Meldrum and her husband James decided to create their own range. Every one of their Whole Kids products is certified organic and free from artificial preservatives, colours, flavours and allergens.

In 2005, they quit their corporate careers to focus on the business of improving children’s health. Today, the company is selling over 1.5 million products a year in Australia and exporting to Singapore and Malaysia. There are 22 products in the Whole Kids range with 14 more in the pipeline. And, in 2013, Monica was named the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year at the NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards – an achievement she says fuelled her passion for the business and her motivation to keep driving it forward. “It’s a prestigious title and I was thrilled to win!” says Monica.

Keeping up with rapid growth

The Meldrums started out selling their snacks through organic and health food stores across Australia. “We had our own warehousing operation and just one sales person, so we were doing a lot of the work ourselves,” says Monica.

Then outside interest started to build. “The first major name to approach us was Qantas,” she continues. “Parents were pushing them to provide healthier children’s meals.” Aquatic centres, play centres and other child-friendly venues quickly followed, with supermarkets close behind.

“This level of growth put quite a bit of pressure on the business,” Monica continues. “When we re-evaluated our logistics and warehousing arrangements we decided it was time to outsource them so we could focus on product development and sales.”

Sourcing organic ingredients was also a challenge. “We had to be sure we could provide a consistent supply for our new clients but, at first the organic supply chain was very fragmented,” says Monica. “We started working closely with the organic certifier and also a lot of growers. It was tricky at first but it’s becoming easier as more growers are converting to organic production.”

Ongoing research

Regular research keeps the company in touch with trends and changing preferences. “At the moment we’re seeing a growing demand for easy, healthy options as parents become increasingly time poor,” says Monica. “Another trend is the rise in the number of children with food allergies. We’ve responded to that by introducing products without nuts or gluten.”

The results of the research can be surprising, particularly where taste is concerned. “We’ve learnt that children’s taste profiles are quite different from adults’,” says Monica. “For example, when we were developing our smoothie range, we had children at a local school taste 30 different varieties. They didn’t like apple and blueberry, which I was sure would be top of the list, but they did like beetroot, apple and banana!”

One Percent for kids

James and Monica aren’t resting on their laurels. They identified a new way to engage with children’s health issues and recently launched the not-for-profit organisation One Percent for our Kids.

“We set aside one percent of Whole Kids’ sales revenue to help improve children’s health, their communities and their environment,” says Monica. “We’re both looking forward to moving more into that space and to developing the projects and programs. The more the business grows, the more we achieve.”

The NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards celebrates Australia’s best emerging and established female leaders, and recognises and celebrates the men and women who help women achieve.

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