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Published: January 2016.
A lifelong interest in animals and the land was the catalyst enabling Peter Pryde to establish a business that now provides many of Australasia’s major players in the thoroughbred industry with the latest in equine nutrition through his EasiFeed company. But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Peter and his wife Sharon in the early days as they worked hard to build their now-thriving family business.
COMPROMISE has never been an option for Peter Pryde and his wife Sharon in their 30 years in business. Right from the beginning quality and personal service have been the two most important pillars on which they have founded Pryde’s EasiFeed.
A third valuable ingredient has been developing a family structure, which includes their sons Ryan, Matthew and Mitchell, along with a loyal, efficient, enthusiastic work force. This formula has enabled Peter and Sharon to grow the company from a two-person operation in its fledgling days to a concern that now employs 50 people in Australia and New Zealand.
They now have outlets for their products in 2000 stores in Australia and around 100 in New Zealand as well as having a growing export market. Over the years, as the company was being developed into a significant player, the Prydes have been able to create a dedicated equine facility on 4ha at Gunnedah, which is a town of some 10,000 people 470km north-west of Sydney in the heart of the Liverpool Plains.
“We have four extruders, a pellet press and a blending facility in the plant,” Peter says proudly. “We are the only company in Australia which has these three entities in the one complex, so that’s pretty unique.”
The group’s features also include a state-of-the-art laboratory aimed at improving quality assurance standards and an automatic packaging facility designed to improve presentation and traceability.
“Added to this Pryde’s has a strong nutrition team which enables us to offer full nutrition support to our customers. A very big part of our business is going on to the farms and talking to our customers and understanding their needs. In fact it is probably the biggest part of our business.”
Although there is still a lot of travelling in his life these days, in his capacity of managing director, Peter’s responsibilities centre more around demands in the office than on the road. However, he takes special pleasure in attending sales and major events all around the country.
“I find it very enjoyable and rewarding looking at the results our customers achieve either in the sales ring or during competitions. The way we go about our business has enabled Pryde’s to have six to eight products that are market leaders in Australia and New Zealand, including BioMare Cubes, EasiPrepConcentrate, EasiResult, EasiResponse, EasiFeed Four Old Timer, EasiRide and EasiSport.”
While building EasiFeed has occupied 30 of the 60 years he has been living in Gunnedah, Peter was born in the Riverina town of Cootamundra. This is also the birthplace of cricket hero Don Bradman.
“My father Jack was involved in the meat industry and my mother Betty was a seamstress in her early days. They were from a close family and we’ve always been the same.”
Peter was only a three year-old toddler when, in 1957, his parents moved to Gunnedah, where one of the nation’s biggest rural expos is held each year. The decision to leave Cootamundra and head to northern New South Wales was prompted by the construction of a new abattoir in Gunnedah. This is where Peter’s father gained employment.
“Over a period of, I guess 30 or 40 years, it developed to the point where it was the biggest abattoir in the southern hemisphere but it has since been mothballed,” Peter said.
It was while going to school in Gunnedah that Peter developed a passion for all sports, especially cricket and golf. In later years and into the present time he has also proven to be a capable golfer on the rare occasions he has the chance to play a round or two. “I’ve always loved my cricket and my golf but unfortunately I don’t have much opportunity to spend enough time on the golf course these days.”
After completing his high schooling in 1974, the direction of Peter’s life began to take shape. With his rural background he enrolled at Hawkesbury Agricultural College where he secured a degree, with honours, in food science. At the end of his three years at the college he won the prestigious Southee Award, which is presented to high achievers among those in the practical side of the college’s studies.
“I majored in nutrition and by the time I finished my degree, having a rural background, my interest had turned to stock feed,” Peter said. The results he achieved at Hawkesbury enabled Peter to secure a position with Bayer AG, which is a multinational chemical and pharmaceutical company headquartered in Germany. “I became Bayer’s nutrition pilot plant operator after they built a plant in Gunnedah,” he said.
Importantly, as Peter’s career has unfolded, Bayer became the first company in Australia to utilise extruders, which simply described is a cooking process. “I operated the pilot plant developing the pet foods, cattle feed, pig feed and horse feed ranges based on the extrusion principle. That was how I developed an understanding of extrusion first hand, probably more so than any other person in the country.”
It was while playing cricket during his years with Bayer that Peter met Sharon Scott, who was from Curlewis near Gunnedah, and in 1980 they were married. Their boys, Ryan, 34, Matthew, 32, and Mitchell, 28, are all now playing a significant part in the company along with Sharon, who is a director.
“Ryan is involved in production and quality assurance, Matt looks after New South Wales in the sales area and Mitchell looks after south-east Queensland in a sales and marketing role. They all have their individual roles to play, which is nice when you are running a family business. I like working with family and I have worked alongside Sharon for 35 years now. We are never too far away from each other and I think we have a very special relationship.”
“In the mid 1980’s I resigned from Bayer to follow my own ambitions. I had a few ideas of my own, especially with extruded cereals and proteins, by then and I got my thinking cap on,” Peter said. This led through, in 1985, to Peter beginning to make dog food in a very humble way on the garage floor of his and Sharon’s home.
“We did a couple of trial batches with some cereals, which were fed to a few working dogs and greyhounds,” he said. Although the business was in its infancy Peter soon realised a decision on the operation’s future was needed.
“We decided to sell the house we lived in during the Bayer days and put $30,000 into the business. We bought an old dairy mixer, rented a shed, bought a ute and an old pellet press from a place at Beaudesert.
“Dad had retired from the abattoir and he became the best labourer I have ever employed because he was pretty cheap to run. We’d sift the dog food by hand through a gravel sieve and he would hold the bags open while we shovelled in what we had made. Then we’d shut the doors of the shed and go out and cold sell and fortunately the results were soon quite encouraging.”
With the dog feed gaining support Peter, with his background in nutrition, found that after a couple of years farmers were asking whether he could mix cattle feed and pig feed. This interest resulted in Peter revolutionising the pig industry by producing a cooked feed that reduce the post-weaning scour problems associated with feeding unprocessed feeds. At the height of its popularity he was consulting with more than 300 pig farmers but when the industry began going into a decline the Pryde family was forced into making another decision.
“We knew we had to change direction to survive and so in the late eighties we started making a little bit of horse feed. We bought our first extruder around then and, using that, we introduced a range of cooked horse feeds into the Australian market.”
It was a few years later, in the early 1990s, when the EasiFeed brand first appeared. However, this presented its own problems because Peter and Sharon quickly came to appreciate that the next obstacle was developing brand recognition.
“It’s not easy to get a brand established,” Peter said. “The general response from stores was to say ‘you go out and make it work and then we’ll have a look at it’. We didn’t have any reps so I’d go out on the road for two or three weeks at a time. Whenever there was an inquiry or some interest was shown I’d follow up face-to-face and that meant travelling from Queensland through New South Wales to Victoria to follow up the leads.
“Our brand slowly came to be known but trying to make it work when you have a young family is not easy, I can tell you. It was pretty taxing but that’s how we got our brand into the market place.”
Several more years went by before the rewards for the effort Peter was putting in were becoming evident. “From day one we’ve always been about quality and service and once people used our cooked feed the word-of-mouth response was encouraging. This enabled us to keep building our distribution network and by the beginning of the new century we started building a business connection in New Zealand.”
As the business continued to grow Peter was able to upgrade the EasiFeed plant, employ sales representatives and other workers as well as putting a sound financial structure into place. “Having the right team around us has always been important. Because we have employed the right people we have had longevity of service. We have a lot of 10-year plus employees so I am very proud of having that type of support. Obviously we have a good understanding with those long term people but we also have a lot of young people in key positions.”
Peter believes a very important part of the business is giving back to the industry by supporting a variety of major events. These feature Scone Race Week, the Great Southern Harness Star Series, the Warwick Gold Cup campdraft and equestrian events conducted around the nation. Pryde’s also sponsors riders across all disciplines and has a “great riding team” with many of them competing at a national and international level.
“We are a proud family company and we have operations in Australia and New Zealand. The three pillars, of quality, service and family, continue to be the foundations of our business.”