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Business bliss

The team from Metro Food Co. Image source: Metro Food Co.

When I first met Metro Food Co CEO Tom Paton some time ago on an ANZ Opportunity Asia Delegation, I was interesed to see how this business would grow. 


I’m so pleased to see how it has gone from strength to strength. Tom tells me one of the keys to success is surrounding yourself with a good team.


Tom’s done just that, establishing the Keep it Cleaner” brand with Stephanie Claire Smith, Laura Henshaw and Jim de Fegely in October 2017 and has seen a huge amount of growth over the past few years.


“No one's really stepping on anyone's feet, and I think we started with a solid team from day one,” explains Tom, in our recent catch-up for the Customer Conversations podcast.

Behind the scenes: Chatting to Tom.


Recently, Metro Food Co appointed Greg Ellery as chairman, to help “steer the ship” as the company enters a new period of growth.


Growing pains is a common theme among many of our business customers, whether it's trying to find growth they can't get, or growing too fast, or even overreliance on one big customer which can put a business in jeopardy if they pull out.


“We were taking every opportunity to grow and we probably didn't model that out all that well,” Tom says. ”We almost grew ahead of our own means. And that's exciting. But as we started to grow more, we realized that the working capital pressures were increasing.


“We launched more products - you have to build up your inventory - and as you do that you almost forget the cash requirements that are there,” he says.


I was interested to hear how as a bank we can better support businesses like Metro Food Co, and Tom expained that understanding what models are required with your bank is crucial and he says Metro Food was fortunate to have the right support: "but you can see how some companies would come unstuck if there wasn't enough sophistication behind the scenes to manage that cash flow component."





Community response


From one small product, ‘Bliss Balls’ (an all-natural and vegan protein ball), the “Keep it Cleaner” range has expanded to 85 products. Tom is hoping to expand to 100 by the end of the financial year.


Both coming from modelling backgrounds, Steph and Laura started the journey with their e-book, Keep it Clean, consisting of healthy recipes. From there, they wanted to give young women a holistic program they could follow, promoting healthy living in mind and body. To support this, they wanted to make sure healthy products were easily accessible.


 “[Steph and Laura] are passionate about developing a range of grocery products so they could make healthy living more accessible to everyday Australians,” Tom says.


To do that, they need to balance keeping costs affordable for consumers as well as ensuring manufacturing and packaging are sustainable. This helps strengthen the trust between the brand and customers.


Innovation can be tricky, and Tom admits there are occasions where products have hit the shelves and received negative feedback from their online community.


“[The community’s] feedback is very black and white. And as painful as some of it is, it's really helpful. It guides us in the right direction,” he says.


“We listen to that community on a daily basis and we take their advice on board.”


Looking to the future, Tom wants to strengthen the brand in Australia and look to neighbours in Asia for further growth, an idea strengthened by his attendance on ANZ’s Opportunity Asia Delegation earlier last year.


“Those trips are fantastic because it opens your eyes to how other markets behave and the cultural barriers we're going to face when we try to enter those areas.”


It’s a lot of work, but together Tom, Jim, Steph and Laura have made it a success.


Tom’s final words of advice to those looking to start a business are: “strap in.”



Listen to the podcast above to hear the full conversation.



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