Charlie’s Fine Food Co: riding the wave
It’s amazing what hard work, determination and a little luck can achieve. Melbourne-based biscuit producer Charlie’s Fine Food Co was born in a bankrupt bakery, which Charlie’s founders Jacky and Ken Magid had purchased from the previous owner. Learning the biscuit business on the fly, the couple managed to turn the company into a multi-million-dollar success story. But Charlie’s was predominantly focused on foodservice, including a lucrative contract with Qantas. And so in 2020, when COVID arrived to play merry hell with our lives, the business found itself in a rather tight spot.
“Early 2020 was a really difficult time for our company,” Jacky says. “Being predominately foodservice, when lockdown came and airlines stopped flying, pretty much everyone that we sold to was closed. We had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock sitting in warehouses, and trucks with Qantas stock were being turned back.”
What happens now?
As the company’s Sales and Marketing Director, Jacky was determined to save her family’s business. She also wanted to save the jobs of her 40 employees, many of whom had mortgages and families of their own. But when turnover dropped to almost nothing, the company had no choice but to stand its staff down.
“But when JobKeeper was announced, we brought them all back,” she says. “Those who worked in the bakery stayed home because there was no baking to be done. But the executive team started working as hard as we could to work out where we could go.
“We were fortunate that I’d been working on a deal with a major US retailer in China. Their purchase orders started coming through in April 2020, which is completely uncanny. So we knew that we had that. Then we had a couple of other contract manufacturing jobs for brands that were going into supermarkets, and that helped us to reopen.”
The business began making private label products for Coles and Woolworths, and then, in August 2020, Woolworths came to the table to discuss Charlie’s cheese biscuits.
“As part of the fallout from Qantas, we had a million cheese biscuits,” Jacky says. “I asked Woolworths if there was anything they might be able to do with them. They said there was an opportunity in premium crackers to launch our biscuits as a bite-size product.”
Charlie’s Fine Food Co Mini Cheese Bites are now sold at Woolworths and Coles supermarkets nationally. Charlie’s Melting Moments and Plant-Powered Cookie Dough are sold in select independents. Out of a dark time that threatened the survival of the business, Jacky and her team had managed to find a new path that helped Charlie’s grow once again.
Success is sweet, but giving back is even sweeter. So Charlie’s Fine Food Co also works to support charities across Australia. Over the last 10 years, the business has donated almost $80,000 in cookies to local organisations and charities to help them grow their impact in the community. Charlie’s has also partnered with Qantas to create “Proud to call Australia Home” snack boxes. This initiative has raised more than $100,000 for national non-profits.
Moving forward, Charlie’s Fine Food Co will continue to supply foodservice, but has also redoubled its focus on retail products. And in true optimistic style, Jacky views the impact of COVID on the business in the glass-half-full sense.
“At the beginning, we were thinking strategically about where we wanted to go,” she says. “We wanted to land Qantas, we wanted to do this, we wanted to do that. Then things just started to happen organically. But before you know, it, you’re being pushed from pillar to post, agreeing to do all types of things. We’d become this amorphous business with lots of products. COVID gave us that chance to say, ‘Hold on a second. Is this an opportunity to take a breath and think about where we really want to be?’
“We’re still a family business. We’ve got 40 staff who are like family. So during lockdown, especially when JobKeeper came, we felt we had a job to do. To say, ‘Thanks government for this help. We’ll repay you by looking after our staff’. It really was a silver lining in that sense. It gave us the chance to refocus, and we came out better because of it.”
To find out more about Charlie’s Fine Food Co, head to charliesfinefoodco.com. Charlie’s is just one of the awesome Australian food producers you can find on the newly launched EATIVITY Local Food Directory. The EATIVITY Local Food Directory is on a mission to support the local food movement by connecting consumers with local, sustainable and artisan food producers, growers and farmers right across the country. Are you an Australian food producer who’d like to sign up or find out more information? Just head straight to the directory today or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.