Brisbane, Queensland, Australia / Colorado Springs, Colorado

COO Peter Gordon has a vision for big growth in the U.S. for the longstanding Australian food manufacturer.

Photos Jonathan Castner

The Tristram family started Trisco Foods in Queensland, Australia, in 1875. “We’re a family-owned business, fifth generation,” says Gordon. “It started in a garage, and the business grew and grew and grew until it became pretty much the dominant supplier to the Queensland state.”

The company started with soft drinks — “sweet fizzy stuff in bottles,” says Gordon — and ultimately sold that part of the business to Cadbury Schweppes in 1976.

The remaining operations were focused on milkshake ingredients and flavors, and the company found a ready market in multinational soda manufacturers and fast-food chains. The catalog evolved to manufacture sundae toppings, fruit fillings, and glazes — “anything sweet and wet,” says Gordon. “We will make product for customers and put their labels on it. We have a research and development team led by degreed, qualified food scientists. I’m actually one — I am a food scientist.”

In 2012, the company underwent another reinvention when it introduced Precise Thick-N INSTANT, a liquid thickener for people suffering from dysphagia, a swallowing disorder that can lead to pneumonia. “It’s a major cause of death in aged-care facilities,” says Gordon.

A big innovation over the status quo thickening powders, PreciseThick-N INSTANT “allows the body to engage the esophagus and it goes down to the stomach.”

The product was a hit. “It went crazy in the Australian market,” says Gordon. “It took over the market. We are the dominating market leader in that sphere.”

With about 80 employees in Australia, the company continued with its co-packing operations, then agreed to supply a U.S. brand, Simply Thick, with its proprietary thickener. As a result, Trisco Foods opened a facility in Colorado Springs in late 2019. “It made obvious business sense, being close to the customer,” says Gordon. “The plan for Colorado: establish the beachhead with this [liquid thickener] product, and then make ourselves available for contract co-packing and development under that same model here in the U.S. We see some incredible opportunities for that.”

The 40,000-square-foot facility — a former Intel plant — has plenty of room for growth as the company expands into co-packing for U.S. customers. Trisco Foods is operating hot-fill and bottling lines with plans to add capabilities based on demand. “We’ve built the plant in a modular fashion,” says Gordon. “As we bring on new products, we’ll build onto that first room. . . . If anyone comes to us and says, ‘We want to make this,’ we can easily put that equipment into our factory and make it.”

Colorado has turned out to be a perfect fit for Trisco’s U.S. operations, Gordon adds. “There’s an amazing similarity between the lifestyle, the people, not so much the weather — we don’t get snow, but we have the sparking blue skies and the outdoors,” he says.

Challenges: Rolling out contract manufacturing services in the U.S. Gordon says the company is largely “invisible” in the market because operations launched in Colorado Springs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The challenge as a potential contract co-packer is to get ourselves out there,” says Gordon. “We want potential customers to know how good we are, because we think we’re exceptionally good. The challenge is to market ourselves so that people think of us in the first instance when they have a new project.”

Gordon also bemoans the difficulty bringing Trisco Foods’ executives to Colorado for short-term projects. “I’d really like the administrative process to be simpler to get visas for business leaders for our company,” he says.

Opportunities: Acquisitions of established co-packers and food brands. “We’ve engaged a company in Denver to find potential target businesses we could buy,” says Gordon. “That’s our growth strategy. . . . If we acquire a business, our first preference would be to bring anything we acquire here.”

He says there are also plenty of openings in the co-packing market. “My boss, Michael [Tristram], thinks there’s unlimited opportunities,” says Gordon, noting that they extend from local to national accounts. “Directly or indirectly, we supply every single one of the fast-food chains in Australia.” The first local inquiry for co-packing came from a company in the brewing industry, he adds.

Needs: Customers. “The old adage, ‘Build it and they will come,’ we think will happen,” says Gordon.

Employees are another big need. Gordon says the company plans to grow the staff in Colorado Springs to 75 employees. “We have just gone through an extended round of recruitment, and we’re quite happy. We’ve built ourselves a fantastic team,” he says. “No matter what anyone says about the American workforce, the American worker, my experience is they are fantastic, they’re hard-working they’re intelligent, they’ve got a great work ethic.”

Trisco Foods is also looking to foster supply chains in Colorado and the U.S. “We want local suppliers,” says Gordon, citing an early success finding domestic sources of ingredients. “I think that’s consistent with what the American government wants. They want to de-China and de-Asia everything as well, because we’ve had this massive reliance on them, and if anything goes wrong, we’ll have no supply for our product.”

He adds, “It would be lovely if it could be developed here in Colorado Springs a vibrant food processing and manufacturing community. We don’t really have that. There’s very few here. If you could get that, it would facilitate networking, you can leverage logistical and supply-chain benefits.”