Thursday, March 21, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

40 Years Of Fabulous Food! Whitsunday Foodservice Celebrates Huge Milestone

 What began as a light-hearted conversation between some long-term entrepreneurial locals during the Christmas of 1983, has since blossomed into one of the Whitsundays’ most successful and long-standing businesses. Originally the milk depot in Proserpine, this humble and fledgling company has constantly diversified and expanded over the years, its name now synonymous within the foodservice industry. In 2024 Whitsunday Foodservice celebrates 40 years in business, an impressive milestone, steeped in history.

Back in 1983, the milk depot in Proserpine was owned by Arnold and Denise Legg, but following discussions, Alan Murray, along with Dick Dray and his brothers Edward, Geoffrey, and Michael, decided to purchase the business. With the brothers coming from a farming background and Alan having already owned milk runs in Brisbane, the team believed they had the skills and experience to make the business work.

Almost half a century later, and they have definitely proved this the case.

Proserpine Milk Distribution Company began with just a handful of staff - Alan Murray, Noleen McDonald, Fay Milne as bookkeeper and Andrea Ruge. Robyn Murray recalls that, back then delivery vehicles were not air-conditioned, let alone refrigerated. She remembers Rob Blanza delivering supplies to the Airlie Beach area in his Ford 100 and Larry Meygel servicing the Proserpine town centre in a Toyota Dyna. Rusty Crane was a Semi Driver who picked milk up from Mackay three days a week and Proserpine Carrying Co, owned by John Bowman, would oversee island deliveries to Shute Harbour.

Meanwhile, Allison Lucas, who was an up-and-coming junior tennis player, cleaned trucks and worked in the convenient store on a Saturday morning, her mum Peggy, filling in when Allison was playing tournament.

At the time, the convenience store was located at the front of the Milk Depot and had cool rooms out the back. And while operations were expanding in Proserpine, Alan noticed the Airlie Beach area was also growing, in fact it was looking to become as big as Proserpine. Wanting to be at the heart of this growth, Alan began hunting for a suitable piece of land where they could build a large warehouse and several cool rooms. In 1989, they moved to their present site where a brand-new facility had been constructed with steel work by Carlo Raiteri, which included a roof that had a hip in it to incorporate a large ice making machine.

Throughout the 1990’s the business continued to expand and diversify, most significantly with computerised systems replacing paper. In addition, Whitsunday Foodservice supplied ice to the entire region, plus TipTop bread and a parcel delivery service called IPEC. At the same time, the business was constantly looking for more avenues to expand foodservice offerings and, when they managed to gain Countrywide Membership, this new buying power allowed product lines to increase dramatically.

From the mid 2000’s Whitsunday Foodservice experienced significant growth. At the time they had a team of approximately 12 employees, operating four trucks, stocking around 2000 lines and servicing Airlie Beach, Cannonvale, Shute Harbour, Dingo Beach, Proserpine, Midge Point, and the Whitsunday Islands. By 2022, they were stocking over 4000 lines and had grown to a team of 60 people, with 11 trucks that enabled them to expand the service to Bowen, Collinsville, and the Mackay region. 

“Throughout this time, we continued to innovate and introduce technology wherever we could,” explained Pat Morrissey, General Manager of Whitsunday Foodservice.

“We went from taking orders off an answering machine at ungodly hours to introducing online ordering platforms. We also continued to broaden our product range by giving our customers access to thousands of specialty and imported products.”

By 2015, Whitsunday Foodservice started planning to build a new facility at their current site, expanding further to enable them to operate at a larger scale more efficiently. For the next five years, however, the business would overcome a series of unexpected challenges that hindered but did not prevent this expansion. As they approached the final planning stages, Tropical Cyclone Debbie hit in 2017 damaging the existing structure. Forging ahead, by late 2018 the team started moving into the new warehouse with completion in January 2019.

Unfortunately, just three months after the move, the world came to a halt when the pandemic came along. Changing the nature of both global and local business significantly, Whitsunday Foodservice experienced some dark times, but due to the resilience and determination of the team, managed to pivot and prevail, allowing them to come out stronger the other side.

“We introduced a Warehouse Management system which took us from paper pick slips to voice picking headsets, we introduced scanners, vehicle monitoring software for safety and efficiency and started working on a paperless invoice process called sign on glass,” shared Pat.

“When the borders finally reopened, the Whitsundays, like the rest of Queensland went berserk - the hospitality industry in the Whitsundays went from a standstill to the busiest period we have even seen.”

Celebrating 40 years in business is a result of incredible innovation, dedication and overcoming challenges head-on. From the early days with Alan at the helm to the modern era with Pat managing the business, each member of the team is highly valued and an integral part of the broader company’s success.

1: The old depot at 40 Chapman Street in Proserpine. L-R: Noleen McDonald, Alan Murray, Fay Milne, Matt Dray and Richard Dray


2: Robyn Murray outside the old depot

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