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Family-owned Roma Foods spends up on expansion strategy after riding COVID food boom

Melbourne health food manufacturer is leveraging of booming demand for its gluten-free and plant-based offerings during the pandemic.

CEO OF Roma Foods Sam Schachna with a new line of pasta at the factory in Carrum Downs, Victoria. Picture: David Geraghty

Melbourne specialty health foods manufacturer Roma Food Products is moving into mainstream pasta and snacking products for the first time, leveraging off booming demand for its gluten-free and plant-based offerings during the COVID pandemic.


Roma, which has been owned by Melbourne’s Buontempo family since 1984 and exports its products to 70 countries, had made a major investment in its Carrum Downs production facility in Melbourne’s southeast to ramp up its product offerings.


The Australian-made gluten-free pasta brand Pasta roma! and a plant-based crispbread offering known as Spliits will be rolled out in independent supermarkets in coming weeks, while the group is working on new private label products for Woolworths, Coles and Aldi, including in baking and snacking.


Roma’s Orgran & Buontempo flour and pasta brands are already distributed national wide across major retailers and independent supermarkets.


“During COVID we were able to respond to spikes in demand when many competitors could not.


“All the other gluten-free pastas in Australia are imported, so those companies couldn’t bring their product in. We were getting a month’s worth of orders in a day, so we were able, as a private business, to respond to the demand,’’ said Roma managing director Sam Schachna, a former executive of Filipino food conglomerate Monde Nissan, who joined Roma just over a year ago.


In 2015, the Schachna family’s Menora Foods, which created a range of chunky dips under the Wattle Valley brand and the Peckish rice crackers brand, was acquired by Monde Nissin for an estimated $55m.


Roma’s sales last year grew more than 20 per cent and the group’s headcount expanded by 30 per cent.


“COVID has completely changed the game for Australian manufacturing. It sparked a renaissance and Roma is part of that. It has forever changed the dynamics of the grocery supply chain. Supply chain resilience has become the key priority,’’ Mr Schachna said.


Last year, the federal government chose food and beverages as one of six manufacturing sectors to benefit from $1.5bn in funding in the budget, including accelerated depreciation schedules for big capital investments, from which the government is hoping to stimulate $200bn in business investment in new machinery and equipment.


It hopes this and other tax measures will boost the economy by $12.5bn over the next two years and create an extra 50,000 jobs.


Mr Schachna said government incentives had helped Roma build significant additional production capacity and the firm has applied for a grant from the government’s recently announced $100m Advanced Manufacturing Fund.


“We have significant room for growth. We operate only one to two shifts across seven production lines,’’ he said.


“We could double the size of the business. What our customers are telling us is they want healthier, local products. For us it is taking our products into categories where the consumers shop.”


Max and Frank Buontempo acquired the Roma Food brand in 1984 and originally made the company an early player in the alternative grains space in Australia. The family is no longer involved in the day-to-day management of the business but remains its owner and backer.


Roma does its own milling and blending in-house, employs 130 staff and is self-funding.


“We are a strong, well-capitalised business. We are able to support that investment from within,’’ Mr Schachna said.


“We have an investment program to cover us for three years.”


The healthy and sustainable product category is set to be worth $25bn in the next decade, accounting for 10 per cent of Australia’s food and agribusiness sector according to the CSIRO.

This article was originally posted on the Herald Sun website and can be viewed here.

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