Rosella, the iconic maker of tomato sauce, soup and condiments that went through tough times more than a decade ago, is chasing a new generation of shoppers in the $320 million soup category as it accelerates a revival of the brand.
Rosella chief executive Michael Bartholomew said sales across the business were up about 30 per cent through the pandemic because of the rise in at-home consumption, and consumers’ renewed focus on Australian brands.
“We’ve seen an uplift in the pandemic. People are eating at home so much more,” he said. The long history of the brand, mixed with some nostalgia in the stressful times of lockdowns and restrictions, had helped too.
“A lot of people have that history,” he said.
The company is stepping up investment in the brand and bolstering its green credentials by putting soups in a Tetra Pak carton, which is 60 per cent lighter than a can and takes up 20 per cent less space in trucks transporting the goods.
“There’s such a big demand for more eco-friendly products,” Mr Bartholomew said.
The company pulled its canned soups from supermarket shelves for almost 18 months as it made the transition. Mr Bartholomew said Rosella had high hopes for the range in big supermarket retailers Woolworths and Coles, and in IGA stores.
But like other food manufacturers across Australia, it is facing serious inflationary pressures. Mr Bartholomew said the cost of glass bottles for its tomato sauce had doubled and there had been substantial price increases for ingredients. “Some of that is driven by a shortage of crops,” he said. Shipping and transport costs had also jumped.
The company imported glass bottles for its sauce, but has signed a contract with Anthony Pratt’s Visy Industries to be supplied by a local manufacturer.
Mr Bartholomew said the first range of soups in the new Tetra Pak form were being put together in Italy, where a manufacturer had expertise in the packaging. But the group wants to shift that soup packaging to Australia. “We’re certainly looking for a manufacturer in Australia who can put in one of the new lines”.
The group has a co-manufacturing model, where it doesn’t own any plants but contracts out the work. The group’s sauces are made in Barooga in NSW, chutney and pickles in Adelaide and other products on the outskirts of Melbourne. Energy price inflation was a worry across the industry, he said.
Rosella is owned by the Presser family through Sabrands Australia, a company that also operates fruit juice group Sunraysia Natural Beverages, Blue Banner pickles and Devondale sparkling apple juice.
The Presser family bought Rosella in 2013 after it had been through several owners. Rosella was owned by multinational corporation Unilever for 40 years from 1963, and was then acquired by trading group Stuart Alexander in 2003. Rosella was sold in 2006 to Gourmet Food Holdings, but the new owner was put into receivership and then the Presser family acquired it.
Mr Bartholomew said the extra investment in the brand was welcome after some lean years under previous owners.
“It’s not had a lot of love over the years,” he said. When it was part of the Unilever stable, it didn’t have the investment behind it because it was an Australian-only brand in a stable of global brands.
Extracted from AFR