Tradition a powerful motivator

By Helen Twose

Family and Croatian roots have shaped a West Auckland food business.

Anita Butkovic and brother Nick Farac have a team of 27 at their Henderson store. Photo / Dean Purcell
Anita Butkovic and brother Nick Farac have a team of 27 at their Henderson store. Photo / Dean Purcell

Food, family and time-honoured traditions are at the heart of Euro-Dell's business. The West Auckland specialty food supplier has clocked up nearly 18 years in business, but Euro-Dell's roots go back to its owners' Croatian homeland.

Anita Butkovic, 37, who founded Euro-Dell as a teenager with her father, Michael Farac, says the company began by importing a taste of home for the local Croatian community.

Until then her family, like other New Zealand-based Croatians who missed the flavours of the Adriatic, brought back food products from trips to Europe or Australia.

"They were the typical family that got stopped at the border and have a suitcase full of cheese, 30 or 40 years ago," Butkovic says.

It was also a way to create a new strand to the Farac family business, which until then had been focused on the wine industry.

Michael and his brothers Morris and George, with their wives, had built up the Mother's Cellar Winery with a particular focus on port and sherry.

But changes in the wine industry, and the brothers' desire to ease out of the business, prompted Michael to look around for something his children could step into.

"With Croatians and the tradition you're always striving to give something to your family and evolve something," Butkovic says. Euro-Dell's original warehouse and little retail shop occupied a space next to the winery, with the overflow stored at Butkovic's parents' house. Alongside Croatian biscuits, chocolates and puddings were smallgoods, which are still a major focus for the business.

"In the early days me and Dad did everything from sales repping, to slicing for orders, to packing, to doing the deliveries.

"I did all the accounts, all the paperwork, so it was just the two of us running the whole business at that stage."

Today the team is 27 strong, including Butkovic's husband, Dinko, her brother, Nick Farac, mother and two cousins, with her father having stepped out of day-to-day business.

While Croatian food is at its heart, Euro-Dell sources pan-European foods to supply restaurants, delicatessens, supermarkets and specialty food stores.

Sales are split evenly between supermarkets, where it provides sliced prosciutto and salami in retail packs, plus products for the deli cabinets, and the restaurant trade.

"The thing for us is we're trying to be the whole package," says Butkovic.

"We want to have a lot of products that is almost like a one-stop shop for a lot of our customers where they can get a wide range, where they are top quality, where they are at a good price and that obviously we are giving good service to back that up."

Brand selection is important, she says, and they are always on the lookout for new and interesting products to distribute.

"We're very conscious that when we're choosing the brands that we're distributing that they are affordable to the majority of people but we definitely don't do the 99c tomatoes and that bottom end."

But even a big brand like Italian tomato giant Mutti can take a lot of work from Butkovic and her team to get established in the market.

Mutti prides itself on only having ripe tomatoes in its cans, with no added water, and Butkovic says it took five years to educate consumers about the difference in taste with a quality tomato product.

"We've finally achieved that, I think, and it's a well-known brand now that's ticking over some good volumes for us."

Non-performing brands are dropped, which can be a tough call to make when you've built up a personal relationship with a small food producer, she admits.

"But at the end of the day it's a business and you have to move on and do what's right for your company."

Euro-Dell has been on the receiving end of rejection too.

Australian smallgoods producer Primo had used Euro-Dell as its New Zealand agent for 16 years until two years ago when ownership changes and the purchase of Premier Beehive Bacon saw the business take distribution in-house.

Smallgoods were always a passion, dating back to when the family used to produce its own prosciutto, and Butkovic says Primo's smallgoods had always been a big part of Euro-Dell's business.

But losing Primo opened the door to another smallgoods producer, with Euro-Dell signing up Tibaldi from Melbourne.

It also made them realise they shouldn't have all their eggs in one basket, so more focus has gone on selling dry goods.

In the background the business is evolving too.

Appointments are being made to key sales and purchasing roles to ease the load as the business expands.

Having done all the jobs at some point, Butkovic, a self-confessed perfectionist, says it's hard to step back.

"It just gets to a point where you can no longer do everything yourself."

Whether her young family - her oldest is 8 - will continue in the family business tradition remains to be seen but she likes to think they will.

- NZ Herald

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