Monica Meldrum is a tenacious businesswoman and co-founder of the profit-for-purpose business Whole Kids. Founded in 2005, Whole Kids has grown to become Australia’s favourite range of organic, additive-free, allergen-friendly foods and snacks for babies, toddlers and kids.
Today Whole Kids is expanding into Asia but the trajectory for growth has been a rollercoaster ride. We spoke to Monica to learn more.
- How did you come up with the idea of Kids?
Monica was delivering an aid program in north Sumatra with the Department of Foreign Affairs when she first experienced real poverty and underprivilege. It was confronting to see children starving. It made her question her values and fuelled in her a desire to do something more meaningful and to make the world a better place.
Monica and her husband James are both from a very large family. “Between James and I, we have 19 nieces and nephews and one of them had severe food allergies. We had a discussion with their mum to understand some of the obstacles she faced in feeding him well and the closer we looked, the more we could see that children’s foods were being overprocessed, loaded with additives and marketed by big food companies using tactics to hook kids and mislead parents” says Monica. Inspired to make a difference in children’s health, the couple then spent three years researching the market.
But they also wanted to do things differently. “We both had done the whole corporate thing with jobs in big companies, and we were a bit fed up with the stress, politics and lack of time for our family and friends. We also felt many of these companies focused more on the health of their profits than the health of their people or their products.”
Monica and James agreed from the outset that they would create a business that really cared about what it did and the impact it made in the community and the world
With all the money they saved to buy a house, they manufactured their first run of Whole Kids certified organic products and headed off to the inaugural Organic Expo held in Sydney in 2005. “We’d just spent our entire life savings and poured it into this business in the hope that parents would appreciate what we were creating but there was a moment of worry that no one would even visit our stand!” Thankfully, the response they received was overwhelming. Mums and dads appreciated what Whole Kids stood for and kids loved the variety and flavours of snacks they had created. “Seeing so many happy, smiling faces at our stand and the impact we had made at that expo alone, along with the business we had secured, we decided to resign from our jobs and we launched headlong into the business. Whole Kids was officially launched and there was no turning back!”.
- What makes Whole Kids Different?
The company was launched with a clear and strong vision with the purpose to create a healthy, happy world for children. Determined to build a credible organic food business based on the principle of profit for purpose, Whole Kids later became a founding member of B-Corporation and the first food business in Australia to certify.
- How did you scale the business?
Within the first two years, Monica had landed their first big deal with Qantas and scaling quickly became critical. Their relationships with their key stakeholders have been a key factor that has contributed to their success and enabled the business and their stakeholders to grow together. Monica’s advice to anyone looking to scale their business is to “develop relationships with key suppliers that are capable of scaling, share your vision with them and work closely together as a key partner to support and share in the journey.”
- Equity crowdfunding is a moderately new funding option for startups in Australia, can you tell us about your experience and how you went about it?
COVID provided Whole Kids with huge challenges as the lack of travel saw their major customer Qantas cease ordering. Faced with the dilemma to replace millions of dollars of sales the team decided to turn to equity crowdfunding.
“Our experience was an incredible one. As a B-corporation it made sense for us to give our customers the opportunity to come on the journey with us and to be a part of our business”, says Monica. Embarking on the process was a huge unknown, the result was overwhelmingly positive with over $2.4M raised. “I found the process incredibly empowering. So many of our stakeholders stepped up to support and invest because they believed in our vision and what we were achieving”.
The campaign had a couple of unexpected benefits. It generated a huge amount of interest which led to an increase in sales. The team was able to connect more closely with their community which also supported discussions with major retailers to further support their investment in the range with such a huge crowd behind them.
Driving a business like Whole Kids requires tenacity, resilience and focus. Over the years Monica has been presented with many opportunities to grow faster but has ultimately relied on her purpose and values to guide decision making and stay true to her vision. Along the way, there have been a number of lessons learned such as the importance of embedding purpose and values in the business and firmly positioning the brand in the Australian market prior to taking on international expansion. You can learn more from Monica Meldrum when she speaks at the opening of the Borderless Business Solutions Summit on May 12th.