By Melissa Keogh
High-tech innovations and a two-fold business growth in 18 months.
It’s been a big past few years for Australia’s leading potato and onion packer, The Mitolo Group, and according to Theo Sasopoulos, it’s still all systems go in the world of spuds and onions.
Theo is the group finance manager for the longstanding family-owned company that built its fortunes on growing, harvesting and packing potatoes and onions.
An accountant by profession, Theo says he’s working in the best of both worlds – finance and food.
“The SA food industry is a key growth area for our economy, especially in the Northern Adelaide Plains (Virginia and surrounds) and traditional food bowl areas like the Riverland and Mallee,” he says.
“As our economy has moved away from traditional manufacturing businesses, food and agriculture along with many renewable (energy) type industries will be at the forefront of economic growth in the future.
“There is no better time to be involved in the food industry or with a business such as Mitolo.”
Shop at any of the supermarket giants for spuds and onions and chances are you’ll be buying Mitolo produce, grown on farms located across the Adelaide Plains, and Murray and Mallee.
Every year, 200,000 tonnes of washed and brushed potatoes and onions are graded and packed at Mitolo’s Virginia base and packing facilities in NSW.
The majority of produce is trucked within Australia to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA supermarkets, greengrocers, and produce markets throughout the country.
Only 5% of produce (mostly onions) is exported to Europe and the Middle East.
Theo joined the Mitolo team almost six years ago after working at Adelaide consulting firm Deloitte for three years.
“I already had a relationship with The Mitolo Group as a client through my time at Deloitte,” he says.
“The variety and opportunities that come with working in a passionate family business is both inspiring and rewarding from a personal perspective.”
The Mitolo Group has come a long way since it was launched as Comit Farm Produce in 1989 by Bruno and Angela Mitolo.
Bruno immigrated to Australia with his parents at the age of 13, while Angela was born in Australia to immigrant parents.
The couple has three sons, Frank, John and Darren, who now run the business.
“When Bruno was in charge of the place, it was all about hard work and determination,” Theo says.
“Now with Frank it’s about building on that with professionalism and innovation.
“They (the three sons) have taken a good business with strong foundations and made it great.”
Some of The Mitolo Group’s latest successes include the acquisition of large vegetable supplier Oakville Produce, which went into receivership in mid-2016.
“We’ve doubled in size in the last year and a half – we now have 750 staff across our farming, packing and administration,” Theo says.
“From a production point of view we’ve doubled the amount of produce we dispatch throughout the country.
“Similarly, both costs and revenues have increased substantially.”
Also in 2016, The Mitolo Group invested $5m in near-infrared sorting technology to X-ray onions at a rate of more than 1000 per minute.
The X-ray process detects onions that are damaged or rotten on the inside.
Despite the successes, Theo says working in agribusiness comes with its challenges.
“There are so many variables that can change from one day to the next because the weather conditions have such a big impact on the quality and yield of potatoes and produce in general,” he says.
The father of two says he’s proud to be able to pursue his career within a prosperous industry while calling SA home.
“I am a born and bred South Aussie with a proud Greek heritage,” he says.
“This will always be home.”
Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.