From farmhouse venture to a very big cheese
French-born cheesemaker Franck Beaurain was brought in to expand the cheese range in 2009. Photo: John Woudstra
In just three decades, Jindi Cheese has gone from farmhouse operation to being acquired by a multinational dairy group for the next phase of its expansion.
Earlier this week, Jindi’s current owner, the family-owned Menora Foods, announced it would sell the business to Lactalis, the world's largest dairy products company. Following the Lactalis purchase, the premium cheese business will have had three owners, all of them family businesses, as it passes through different stages in its life cycle.
Lactalis plans to continue to invest in the business, and despite its size – it earned revenue of €14.7 billion in 2010 – Lactalis remains a privately-held company, owned by France’s Besnier family. Lactalis operates in 150 countries and in Australia it owns Parmalat, a producer of milk, dairy products and fruit-based beverages, and Lemnos, which makes fetta and haloumi cheeses.
Jindi Cheese was founded by the Ronalds family in 1985 on their farm in the Jindivick dairy region of Victoria’s West Gippsland. Its small, four-room factory produced its first white mould cheese in 1986.
Menora was involved with the business from the early days, distributing and introducing its products to consumers around the country, says assistant manager Sam Schachna. “It was the trust that we build with the Ronald family that allowed us to grow that brand and take that brand and take it on to the next level,” he says.
In 2005 Menora Foods bought the Jindi Cheese business, seeing the opportunity to expand the business and grow its market through investment. It built a new factory and plant which doubled its output to 2000 tonnes per year and doubled its workforce to 100, making it one of the region’s major employers.
“We expanded the product range. We took Jindi from what was predominantly white mould [cheeses] and expanded it into blue mould,” says Schachna, who is son of managing director Ely Schachna.
“We’re constantly looking at new opportunities. Being a family-run business we pride ourselves on speed to market.”
Introducing blue cheese to a wider audience wasn’t easy, says Schachna, and the company held education campaigns and tastings to raise consumer familiarity with the product. It also put labels on its cheeses indicating the strength of their flavours, making it easier for shoppers to choose a cheese they would be comfortable with and would like.
“You need to work hard. It’s a matter of knocking on doors and getting people to try products,” he says.
In 2009 Menora brought in French-born cheesemaker Franck Beaurain to help expand its product range. Beaurain had over 20 years’ experience in cheese making across Australia, England, New Zealand and France.
Under the new ownership, the company also introduced the Old Telegraph Road brand, which is aimed at restaurants.
Despite Menora’s entry into the cheese making business, it is predominantly a food sales and distribution company. The Victorian-based business employs more than 350 people and owns and represents familiar brands including olive oil producer Cobram Estate, Maille Dijon mustard and Tasmanian Salmon producer Huon.
Earlier this year the company held a strategic review and decided that it should concentrate on expanding its core distribution business. So eight years after it bought Jindi Cheese, it decided to sell. The sale price was not disclosed.
“It was a matter of us looking as a family-run business at how do we continue at what we do best and that was a matter of focusing on what we do best...and continuing sales, marketing and distribution,” says Schachna. “Being a family business it’s important to remain focused on what you’re doing.
“It was a matter on how we could continue that phase of growth.”