Now in their fourth generation of business, Melba Fresh works hard to provide quality wholesale fruits and vegetables through the Melbourne Markets. Lou Ponte and his brother inherited the business from their father and grandfather, continuing their traditional operation strategy until they made the decision to expand their opportunities and adapt to the ever-changing produce market. “We essentially were hard produce agents, which were potato, onions, pumpkin, watermelon and garlic,” he says. “In the mid-90’s, that business evolved and we went in a different direction. We opened up different arms to our business, and today we offer a whole range of offerings.”
Melba Fresh, Melba Fresh Organics and Melba Fresh Providore all currently operate under the company’s banner, each providing their own specific contribution towards its success. Melba Fresh provides wholesale vegetables, salads and value-added products to local independent supermarkets, greengrocers and exporters in coordination with brands like Bebe, Nakedveg, Dolcecos, Loovie and Ditch the Kitch; Melba Fresh Organics focusses on certified organic products at the request of retailers, exporters and health food outlets; and Melba Fresh Providore supplies a “whole range of fruit and vegetables as required from customers” in the food service and hospitality industries, along with medical care facilities and event catering. All strands of business are HACCP, NASAA and BFA certified, guaranteeing quality assurance.
Ponte believes that strong relationships with suppliers and customers are “key to the business.” Some of these relationships have lasted for many years, even through the evolution of the business into its fourth generation; his son has also recently shown interest in furthering Melba Fresh, and has been part of its operations for the last two-and-a-half years. “In terms of achievements, I think it’s been the ability to evolve and reinvent our businesses over all these generations, and continue to grow our businesses. Today, we’re probably one of the only companies that sells both conventional and organic produce in Australia. So, it’s quite an achievement, I think, and we’ve been able to sustain, maintain and grow our business over all these years, in different conditions and different circumstances. We’ve lasted the test of time.”
While growing pressure from major supermarkets has been an outstanding challenge for wholesalers in the produce industry, Ponte and his family are confident in their decision to expand Melba Fresh to suit multiple facets within the market. “Changing and developing different strings of the business – I think that’s been quite an achievement. From a pretty sure wholesaler of hard produce to having three different arms of it; that’s been very important for us to continue to evolve our business, and that’s been finding niches in the market. We went into Organics 12 years ago, and we went into Providore in the early 90’s. Business is constantly changing, and you need to change with it. I think that’s a very important part for us to succeed.”