Conga Foods celebrates 70 years of family passion

Conga Foods, an Australian, family-owned business, has revealed an updated company image and a long-term, philanthropic partnership with Feed Appeal Rural Grants Series in celebration of 70 years since the Valmorbida family arrived in Australia and launched into Australia’s food landscape.

This family history is a rich story; one of authenticity and passion which began with an Italian, Fulvio Valmorbida, whose love for Australia began in his years as a hard-working tobacco farmer in Ovens Valley, Victoria in the 1920s.  Caught by World War II, while he was back in the Veneto region of Northern Italy,  Fulvio’s constant entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of good product led to the building of two small grocery shops in Australia, setting the scene for an enduring family business when the family resettled in Melbourne in 1950.  It all started with the family taking over a small continental goods store at 508 Swanston Street, Carlton named Frank Agostino, selling continental goods to Melbourne’s growing Italian population. Like so many other migrant stories of Australia, the Valmorbida family brought with them a strong connection to culture and heritage; in particular a passion for authentic and crafted foods that remains the core of the Conga Foods business to this day.

Throughout the last 70 years, the family has pushed the boundaries of Australian food culture through its various companies and branches; launching Australia’s first major bottled mineral water from Hepburn Springs, originating Australia’s love affair with canned tuna (fished from Port Lincoln) and bringing “liquid gold” olive oil from Europe at a time when it was only sold in pharmacies as a health tonic.  Italian canned tomatoes, pasta, authentic cheeses and cured hams, legumes, pasta sauces, sardines and coffee are just a few examples of once rare continental specialties that through the passage of time and in part due to this family, are now commonplace ingredients in Australian pantries.

Seventy years on, the children of Fulvio’s youngest son Saverio continue to pursue the dream of bringing the best products to the plates of Australians with their relentless focus on quality and good value and an understanding of the importance of creating and maintaining strong relationships. These relationships, with family businesses across Australia and around the world, include partnerships which started over 50 years ago. In large part, these form strong foundations and a competitive advantage for Conga Foods with the vast majority based solely on handshake agreements, respect and mutual passion. Thanks to these partnerships, Conga Foods brings high quality brands such as Moro, Val Verde, Zanetti, Latteria Soresina, Saclà, La Famiglia Rana, dc Specialty Coffee Roasters and Squeaky Gate Growers Co. to the market, which have become regulars in many Australian households.

“Family business is not just any business. It is the culmination of collective vision and shared beliefs of our family, our employees and their families, our customer families and the families that have made up our supply partners for many decades. It’s all connected,” according to executive chairman David Valmorbida.

In truth, Conga Foods didn’t exist when the family started out in 1950.  Although once believed to stand for “Continental Grocery Association”, the name has a different origin, yet another example of a story of family partnerships.  A group of five businessmen, each with their own grocery stores, would regularly gather together to establish the supply needs of each store and order collectively from the larger importers and wholesalers. On colder nights they would sit around an elaborate, copper-encased appliance filled with coals.  According to lore, this particular heater was known, in Sicilian dialect, as a “conga”, and one cold night the businessmen decided their partnership needed a name – what better name to represent the partnership than the one thing that they gathered around.  As the Valmorbida family group of businesses grew, they eventually took over Conga, incorporated as Conga Trading Co., but later changing its name to Conga Foods as it became the main business arm of the family’s food interests.

2020 represents a new decade with new horizons and new opportunities.  For Conga Foods, it is also a time of reflection and revitalisation after a number of years of generational leadership transition and company modernisation; an opportunity to celebrate the 70-year family milestone with a sense of pride and renewed enthusiasm for the possibilities of the future.

To mark the occasion, Conga Foods company logo has received a refresh – one that retains the heritage elements of strength, trust and confidence, but that now reflects modernity, innovation and expertise. Conga leads into the new decade pushing forward its vision for Authentic and crafted foods on every plate.  According to the three family directors David, Marc and Bianca, the new logo is “a small, but important reminder that we need to continue to push the boundaries and seek new value with our partners and customers, to deliver best-in-class service that ensures the best experience and best value for consumers.”

Beyond a passion for food, the new generation of the family believe that supporting other small businesses and communities is an important part of the purpose and opportunity of being in business at all.

Launched in 2014, in consultation with and in support of a number of Australian olive farmers who needed long-term partnership, Conga Foods created the Squeaky Gate Growers Co. brand of olive oil.  “We saw an opportunity to consolidate quality produce under a national brand, at the same time providing a fair price for many olive farmers who would otherwise not have market access to sell their oils.  A win-win for farmers and consumers”, explains David.

More recently, after a number of Conga Foods projects with products of other Australian businesses, the family launched Pakval Business Solutions, led by David’s brother Marc. Born out of an opportunity to leverage Conga Foods’ national distribution footprint to provide warehousing and logistics services to Australian entrepreneurs, Pakval Business Solutions enables trade access that allows these other businesses to thrive.

Since 2018, Conga Foods and its parent, Corval Group, which incorporates dc Specialty Coffee Roasters and Pakval Business Solutions, have published an annual Corporate Social Responsibility review, which has highlighted the family’s significant investment into renewable energy generation, the pursuit of ethical business practices in their supply chain (with regards to labour, environmental impact, raw material sustainability as well as packaging sustainability), workforce diversity and philanthropic and charitable activities of the group and its employees.

Identifying and acting on business opportunities runs through the culture at Conga Foods. From a Philanthropic point of view, Conga Foods understands the role and responsibility of being a good corporate citizen. “Being a family business, we may not have the scale or impact of other, larger companies, however we have a continued focus on both environmental and social projects at the centre of our CSR agenda.  Our solar energy plant in Coburg North is a good example of this, being one of the largest in the region” explains Marc.

Yet the family and company employees desire to give back more, and in 2020, in line with their 70-year celebrations, are proud to announce a new philanthropic partnership, with Squeaky Gate Growers Co. becoming the Principal Partner for the Feed Appeal Rural Grants Series.

This partnership between Squeaky Gate Growers Co. and Feed Appeal will focus on generating awareness, community engagement and much needed funding for rural areas of Australia.

“We are very excited about this partnership.  Squeaky Gate was a brand born out of a community need in 2014, and now we hope to use its reach with Australian consumers to give back to the many communities and their families around Australia who are in need as a result of droughts, floods, fires and the long-lasting consequences of these and other hardships, long after the initial impact.” says Bianca. “With more than four million Australians going without meals each year, Feed Appeal provides an invaluable community service we are proud to lend our support to with a long-term focus.”

As a part of its partnership with Feed Appeal, in addition to supporting the Rural Grants governance itself, Conga Foods will donate to the Rural Grants Series Fund and also feature Feed Appeal to drive awareness of this important cause through Squeaky Gate’s general marketing and media for its “The Way It Should Be” campaign.  Consumers should look out for 3L tins of Squeaky Gate Growers Co Extra Virgin Olive Oil with a Feed Appeal branded tag that commits to an equivalent Rural Grants donation of a meal for someone in need in rural communities.  Aptly dubbed as a “Meal for a Mate” pledge, the concept is founded on a common goal in providing food relief for fellow Australians doing it tough.  Grants may be awarded by Feed Appeal to community meal programs such as funding the purchase of kitchen and storage equipment to help charities make the most of the rescued and donated food and keep up with demand.

Katherine Gokavi-Whaley is the CEO of Feed Appeal. “We are thrilled to partner with Conga Foods and Squeaky Gate Growers Co. for the Rural Grants Series.  Our congratulations to Conga Foods and the Valmorbida family on a wonderful 70-year story; we are excited about working together with your family into the future in this new partnership that hopefully will last many years.”

Feed Appeal’s Rural Grant Series raises and shares funds with local, rural communities to provide hope and nourishment for people going hungry.  “It’s a simple concept, but so perfect and so important.  My family and our teams are proud and humbled to be invited to be a part of this great initiative,” said David.