How a little bit of belief and a focus on customer service has inspired a business that’s built a network of hundreds thanks to its trust in traditional values.
In 2009, George Giannakopoulos took a risk. He had a 14-month-old child, a pregnant wife, a mortgage, and was the income earner in the household. After becoming disillusioned with the fading value of customer service in the food service and distribution sector, he decided to resign from his job and put $1000 on to a credit card to start his own business.
“I wanted a business where you could walk up to the café owner, give the barista a high-five, have a laugh with the owner, build some real trust, and not be solely focused on profit and our bottom line. My wife was super supportive in the decision,” says George, Owner and Founder of Feel Good Foods.
What George has created is an alternative food and beverage distribution business that pushes the boundaries and isn’t afraid to explore new things.
“We’re at the forefront of trends in the market,” says George.
“I’ve been a big supporter of mum-and- dad start-up businesses. In the early days, I used to scout emerging products from farmer’s markets, and cherry-pick items I thought looked pretty cool. My biggest question to the stall operator was ‘can you scale if I buy 2000 jars?’. Those that stepped up to the plate have been really great. We have some that have been clients since we started 14 years ago.”
One of its biggest and best examples is sustainable toilet paper company Who Gives a Crap, of which Feel Good Foods was one of the first crowdfunding donors.
“I rang the owner Simon [Griffiths] when he was crowdfunding and I told him: ‘Hey, I’m a distributor and a start-up as well, I’d love to have your brand on our books.’ He said: ‘George, I don’t even have a toilet roll to sell you.’ He had no product, he was just capital raising for the idea,” George says. “But once the first container arrived six months down the track, we jumped on and launched Who Gives a Crap into the retail and food service market. We now supply approximately 600 venues with that product.”
Other brands contributing to Feel Good Food’s success stories are New Zealand’s Antipodes Water; and Australian mixer, mineral water and soda brand Strange Love. Gone are the days of George having to seek out new business to stay on top of market trends. These days, brands approach him, and not just Australian-based but global brands wanting to enter the Aussie market.
Feel Good Foods is selective of the brands it works with. Its prerequisite is to trade with “good and passionate people” who want to sell their quality-driven products. But what excites George most, is dealing directly with people and migrating cultures between both businesses.
“My hairs stand up when I sit in front of a founder, brand owner, or someone who’s really working hard in their business. No amount of money will show you how passionate that person is. If someone loves what they do, or what they’ve created, they come into a room and light it up, and that’s the type of people we want to work with,” George says.
Feel Good sales representatives work hard to navigate the needs of their Feel Good Foods customers, which range from café operators to restaurants, independent supermarkets, organic grocers, bakeries, gourmet grocers, and sandwich shops.
The category range is vast. One of the most popular product lines is Feel Food Foods’ plant-based milk offerings, which has become mainstream.
“Cafés are trying to separate themselves from their competitors and exploring how they can do things differently, and that’s when we come in,” George says.
“We list customer’s prerequisites, such as gluten-free, organic, functional, sustainable, carbon neutral etc, and see if we can match up the product that tick as many boxes as possible. Ultimately, our café clients are guided by their own customers telling them what they want.”
And what they want in today’s market, George adds, is quality products, followed by a growing uptake in vegan and sustainable products.
“We do a lot of vegan cheeses and vegan burger patties, mayonnaise, and aioli. It’s definitely a channel where our customers are leaning on us for some guidance and support around what works and what doesn’t,” George says.
Feel Good Foods is also strong in the beverage category. It runs a Feel Good Fridge initiative that supplies venues with full fridges loaded with prebiotics, probiotics, kombucha, and Lo Calorie drinks.
“A typical scenario for us is going into a café that sells mainstream beverages, and offering them alternative brands that bring added value to the business. We stock their fridge with premium and organic beverages,” George says.
“It’s about getting the venue to see the value in ranging alternative brands, helping them separate from their competition, and having a lasting effect on their customers who will return to the café where it tried an awesome new premium drink.”
Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, George says Feel Good Foods was fortunate to have a growing retail footprint while its café customers turned into providores or worked at restricted levels. With most café operators now back to pre-COVID volumes, George says the company is in growth mode throughout Victoria and Tasmania, especially in regional areas. It also has plans for further expansion to other states in the coming months.
“It’s hard to believe when I literally started this business from nothing. I was knocking on the doors of customers every day, selling three boxes of juice here and three boxes of soy milk there. Within 12 months we had about 50 to 60 customers regularly ordering, and now we have around 40 staff members and approximately 1600 active customers,” George says.
Feel Good Foods is passionate about its customers ‘feeling good’ on the inside, and it’s a message the company embraces internally. It’s for this reason George embraces a company culture that enthuses a strong sense of community.
“About 70 per cent of our staff have been here for more than five years. We have five people hitting long service, and one of those team members has been here from day one. We sometimes spend more time with our work family then our actual families, so it’s important our work culture is a positive experience,” George says, noting that each team member gets their birthday off work, and every Friday lunch is enjoyed together.
“I encourage people to have input, to own mistakes, learn from them, and support each other. The team knows I’m available and approachable. I’m not just a boss, I’m part of the cog just as much as they are.”
It’s this forward-facing team that’s at the forefront of customer needs, which extends to fast and reliable deliveries. That’s why Feel Good Foods maintains a quick and flexible delivery model, works on demand, and supplies customers within 48 hours of ordering.
George’s traditional model of operation pertains that the company has its own delivery drivers and branded trucks for the majority of orders, so that customers become familiar with the same Feel Good Foods driver.
“They get to build a rapport and talk about the footy. It’s a traditional service, pushing the boundaries, delivering alternative products, and shaking up the market. That’s what we do,” George says.
He’s the beating heart of the business and as hands on as ever, driving delivery trucks and visiting customers regularly for coffee catchups.
“It’s not a job for me. I actually love what we do, and we have a lot of fun, but it’s important to stay humble. I still love the customers. That’s what drives me every day. It’s the relationships, the laughs, and the banter,” George says.
“We want them to ‘feel good’ every day through their interactions with us, and that’s where the name Feel Good Foods comes from. If you eat what we sell, you’ll feel good. If you deal with us and build a relationship with good conversation and transactions, it’s going to make you feel good too.”
For more information, visit www.feelgoodfoods.com.au
This article appears in the June 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.