With just $2,000 in their pocket and a shared vision and interest in nutritional food, two brothers living in Melbourne made a bold decision to launch a health food business.
The year was 1985 and Frank and Max Buontempo had not long finished high school.
Today, their Australian owned and operated business Orgran Health & Nutrition, has become a world leader in innovative gluten and allergen free food.
Orgran boasts the world’s largest allergen free manufacturing site and produces more than 80 products, with exports to 60 countries.
Based at Carrum Downs, an outer Melbourne suburb, Orgran this year celebrates its 30th anniversary – and continues to grow from strength to strength.
With the largest offering of allergen free and gluten free foods in Australia, Orgran is recognised nationally and internationally for its quality natural products.
About 45 percent of its total production is now exported, with the UK, US and New Zealand the biggest markets outside Australia.
Orgran gluten free pasta can even be found in Italy, the international home of pasta.
And Asia’s growing appetite for all-natural food is now firmly on the radar for this family-owned business.
The Buontempo brothers’ interest in natural nutrition began at an early age.
Their parents were born in a small rural village in Italy where you had to grow and harvest your own food including various grains, vegetables and medicinal herbs.
The ingredients they used were 100% natural and their knowledge of growing, harvesting, storing, preparing and utilising ingredients for natural remedies intrigued the brothers. So too did the fact that the modern world seemed to be leaving these important aspects of health and nutrition behind.
“Growing up I always had an interest in nutrition and what natural foods can offer in terms of disease prevention and general heatlh,” explained Orgran founder Frank.
“We quickly began to realise that the modern diet and foods available in supermarkets were void of nutritional diversity and foods were mainly based on refined wheat.
“We began experimenting with some of the nutritional grains and ingredients that our parents talked about. It was not long before we purchased some small machines and set up shop to sell wheat free alternative grain foods.”
Orgran was officially born.
World’s first gluten free pasta
Rice and Millet Pasta was the first product Orgran developed, which also happened to be the world’s first. Millet was a grain that the Buontempo’s parents often spoke about and was revered to have so many beneficial qualities.
Their parents used all of the millet plant and used to talk about feeding Millet to children with upset stomach. After further research, the brothers discovered that millet is an alkaline forming food, essential for a balanced diet.
“The first retail store in Box Hill, Melbourne was also used to develop the products after hours,” added Frank. “The scale was small and products were manually packed and tediously labelled by hand. In the first few years, we had to make huge sacrifices, sometimes working 23 hours straight to ensure we got product ready in time.
“Max and I were responsible for every part of the business, from sourcing and ordering materials, repairing machines, packing, cleaning and invoicing on an old typewriter. We also designed and built our own drying system with exhaust flue and inlet heated filtered air.”
Orgran quickly outgrew its first two premises and the move to the third premises was a greater financial gamble as it was a larger building. “In 1987, an opportunity arose to purchase Roma, a food business in South Australia that produced pasta,” explained Max.
“As part of the purchase, we also received Roma’s old machinery which allowed us to ramp up production. Six months later we moved the business to Roma’s facility in Adelaide and remained here for four years before moving to our current facility in Melbourne.”
The Buontempo brothers always set their sights further afield and initial plans for exporting were ambitious.
In 1990, the first 40ft containers began their journey to New York. Bound for health food stores as well as mainstream supermarkets, the Orgran products went down a treat and orders continued to grow.
Later that year a new production line was added to accommodate the new range of baking products. In 1994, as demand for gluten free products continued to grow a new bakery line was added to the facility producing cookies, biscuits and shortbreads. The following year, Crispibreads took the world by storm and Orgran began producing gluten free alternatives.
In 1992, Orgran began exporting to the UK where the Rice and Millet pasta quickly became a top seller in UK health stores. Orgran now exports to 60 countries worldwide including, Cyprus, South Africa, New Zealand and Japan.
Over the next few years, Orgran continued to expand the product range and introduced grains such as Buckwheat, Amaranth, Quinoa and Sorghum, which were mostly unknown in western diets at the time, but are now recognised as super foods. They were the first in the world to produce gluten free pasta made from rice and corn that was a perfect substitute to wheat pasta. Orgran could now offer a total dietary solution for health and natural allergen free foods.
In 2003, Orgran received the ultimate accolade when the company received its first order to ship pasta to Italy. “Rice and Millet and Buckwheat pasta were the first products Orgran produced and it felt like the ultimate homage to our parents when we received orders to export to their home country and the home of pasta,” added Frank.
Broad range of products
Today Orgran produces pasta, biscuits and cookies, crispbread, snacks, breakfast cereals, premixes, wafer crackers and milled flour from the premises in Melbourne.
It is one of the only brands that manufacture products in almost every gluten free market segment.
All Orgran products are gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, egg free, yeast free, GMO free, vegan and natural. They are also nut free, which is especially important for children with a high degree of sensitivity.
An estimated one in every 10 children born in Australia this year will develop a food allergy.
“The Orgran manufacturing facility is one of very few plants in the world specifically designed with total isolation of individual process lines to eliminate any possibility of cross contamination of dust particles,” explained Max.
“The premises are totally dedicated to producing natural, allergen free and gluten free foods and consists of complex manufacturing capabilities to ensure maximum quality control over all facets of processing, packaging and storage of Orgran products. Customers trust the Orgran brand and can be sure all products are safe, nutritious and pure.”
Having pioneered gluten free and allergen free products 30 years ago, the Buontempo brothers continue to invest in researching health and nutrition and developing foods that will help achieve a healthier society.
Big push into Asia
The family-owned business now employs more than 100 people and continues to be the leader in its field.
“Gluten free is no longer just a diet for people with food intolerances – gluten free has become a personal choice for many health conscious consumers,” said Frank.
Meanwhile, Orgran will continue to expand its offering, with several new products to be launched in coming months.
The company will also continue its push into the Asian market.
“It’s just a matter of finding the most compatible (trading) partner,” says Frank.
“The Asian market is far more health conscious now than ever before – and there is a lot of interest in our products.
“Asians look at brands that are successful and have a following … brands that are regarded as good, natural and trustworthy.
“I think we fit into that category well.”