Monica Meldrum: The entrepreneur taking on the giants of food manufacturing
Monica Meldrum started Whole Kids based on the simple and powerful belief that kids deserve healthy food, and parents need to be able to trust the brands they buy.
It's a belief that occurred to her after returning from a charity trip to Sumatra. She had completed her MBA, was heading up the marketing department at a leading manufacturing business and doing some part-time fitness training.
"Many of my clients were parents. They kept telling me they were having all kinds of frustration finding healthy alternatives for their kids and looking for better ways to feed their kids," says the finalist in the NAB Women's Agenda Leadership Awards. "I started researching, contacting organic growers and realised how hard it is to find genuinely healthy food."
What she found was that mums felt misled by large food companies. While baby food is highly regulated and could generally be trusted, its when kids hit toddler age that healthy eating gets complicated. "All kinds of additives such as preservatives, colours and flavours start creeping into the food" says Meldrum.
Meldrum launched the Whole Kids food line in 2005. Now leading a team of six employees and liaising with numerous suppliers and manufacturers, she says it's a "small business but we have a really wide team". Now selling 22 different food products, Whole Kids was recently chosen as the snacks supplier for QANTAS flights.
"They explained that all the big manufacturers understood this was a golden marketing opportunity and gave it to them at cost. I had to explain as a business I couldn't afford to do that," says Meldrum. "In the end, they went with us because we provided something that was different. We were able to provide a snack that was genuinely healthy, and that's what they wanted."
Meldrum's vision for her business extends beyond the products. She recently launched the 1% for Our Kid and Our Earth initiative, which provides 1% of total sales revenue to fund a variety of health and environmental projects.
She plans to also tackle children's health challenges from another angle, through lobbying. "We want to take on the challenges for childhood obesity and allergies and recognise that food companies are a part of that," says Meldrum. "We want to take on some of the big food manufacturers. They need to be more responsible for the products they're marketing to parents and feeding to our kids."
So how does she manage life as an entrepreneur and as the mother of a three year old?
Meldrum says she's made it work by sticking to her principles, staying realistic and realising the value of support networks. "Women can have it all. When it comes to having a child and a career, it's about planning and getting that support in place," she says. "One of the big challenges of a rapidly growing business is putting support structures in place.
"Start-ups don't have that but it's critical so you need to create them. Good support structures give your team the freedom to drive the business forward and elevate you out the day to day running."
Monica Meldrum is a finalist in the Emerging Entrepreneur category at the NAB Women's Agenda Leadership Awards.
Rose Powell is a journalist with Women's Agenda sister publication StartUpSmart.
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