Service, quality, commitment
M & J Chickens is a respected supplier of fresh, high quality poultry products to the hospitality, foodservice and retail markets in Australia. They began in 1984 as a family business, operating out of a single facility in Marrickville, Sydney. 25 years and four facilities later, M&J now supplies the hospitality industry across Australia’s eastern seaboard. General Manager Sam Phylactou attributes three things to their continued success – the same three things he sees as synonymous with the M & J name. “I want the brand to be known for Service, Quality, and Commitment,” he says.
It has been those qualities that have caused M & J Chickens to grow from a one-building operation to a major, multi-site food solution company with a commitment to superior food quality systems and a program of continuous improvement. In the last nine years, that program has seen the addition of millions of dollars worth of new processing equipment and an improved delivery fleet.
Additionally, each of their five locations now features a state-of-the-art processing facility, and their cookhouse enables them to produce a range of fresh poultry, cooked meat, value added and specialty gourmet foods. It uses the latest automated technology for efficient assembly and dispatch of customer orders six days a week. M & J Chickens’ customers include clubs, fine dining establishments, and commercial catering organisations. At M & J, they subscribe to the philosophy that customers are the decision-makers of what products best suit their needs.
Phylactou himself entered the business approximately 15 years ago. Before moving into the food industry, he worked in the banking sector, clocking in time at companies like Westpac Commercial Banking and Barclays. He ultimately found his way into M & J through his wife, who at one point worked with the company as an office manager. “Basically as the business grew, I found challenges here which I enjoyed, particularly in the issues of tendering and quality assurance. I brought quality to the business which enabled me to grow with the job.”
The biggest competitive advantage a company in M & J’s position can have, Phylactou believes, is a reputation for reliability. “And we have that. We’re someone to be counted on,” he says. In adverse situations, like supply shortages or an outbreak of bird flu, M & J strives to maintain the strong relationships they have fostered with their supply chain. They both want and need to be able to meet their clients’ needs on a day to day basis. “We don’t like letting people down, and we strive to never do that.” As a fresh food operation, the product that comes in one day has to be able to be shipped out the next, so product has to be available to customers as they order.
“I think one of our strong assets is that we strive to not only meet, but exceed, client expectations,” Phylactou says. Over the decade-and-a-half he has been in the industry, he says what has changed most is client expectations relating to quality assurance – in the way they package their product, the way they store their products, and the way they deliver these products. “It doesn’t matter which chicken supplier they’re dealing with,” he says. “Over the years we’ve seen an increasingly bigger demand for quality.”
The biggest challenge for M & J Chickens at this stage in their development is being attuned to changes in the marketplace, and then reacting to those changes – preferably before they even happen. One trend Phylactou is currently paying attention to is a shift towards free range chickens, rather than the traditional barn-raised kind. Another trend is the rising importance of portion control. “We see that people in food service have a lot bigger requirement for portion controlled product. There are a lot of different grading specifications and product specifications. As opposed to people just thinking that a chicken is a chicken, there’s actually a lot of work behind meeting portion control sizing and specifications, particularly when you service airline caterers.”
Another challenge M & J Chickens has to face is one of flexibility. Because they serve such a diverse range of industries, from cafes to clubs to corporate catering, they have to make sure they can satisfy a diverse range of needs.
Forefront of the industry
M & J Chickens plans to continue to grow, invest and continuously improve through partnerships with suppliers and customers and, most importantly, by staying at the forefront of product development. Free range chickens are one area they are looking at in that vein. “Another area is our cook/chill facility here in Marrickville, which we’ve invested 10 milliondollars in over the last five years. That’s a growing part of our range of up-valued products that we sell into the marketplace. It means we can sell a product that is pre-cooked, and as a chilled product,with a shelf life of 42 days. That basically provides the impetus as to how we grow in the future.”
In about an eight year period M & J has increased the amount of value added product they send to the marketplace from zero to over 100,000 kilos per month. The versatility of having a 42 day shelf life means M & J can supply their product throughout the whole country. To that end, they have facilities in Townsville, Brisbane, Melbourne and a recently installed one in Adelaide. They also have plans for another one in Perth. “Our plan is to have a national footprint, which gives us the ability to deal with national clients.”
Five to ten years down the road Phylactou sees M & J Chickens having cemented their sterling reputation, and having brought that reputation to the international market. “I’d like to think that M & J Chickens would have established itself as a strong, national second tier player. And through our value added chain of products we’re hoping to be able to breach borders.” Phylactou says he would like to tap into the growing Asian market in particular, and towards that aim he has had discussions with potential offshore partners.
Additionally, M & J Chickens is planning a foray into the retail environment; a move Phylactou says is only three to five years off. “I think our products are particularly suited to that market,” he says. As long as they continue to deploy their three core values – Service, Quality and Commitment – M & J Chickens is likely to be successful at whatever endeavour they pursue.