1852 McKenzie’s Foods founded

McKenzie's Cocoa label 1870s - State Library of Victoria

If you have a packet of bicarbonate of soda in your pantry, chances are it was produced by McKenzie’s Foods.  While not one of our largest food companies this Australian-owned, family-run business specialises in ingredients vital to every cook, including herbs and spices, coconut, various dried pulse mixes and alternative flours.

It began as Melbourne Grinding and Roasting Mills in Lygon Street Carlton, a partnership between James McKenzie and William Galt. Five years later, Galt retired wishing his erstwhile partner every success and the company changed its name to James F. McKenzie and Co. In the 1850s, Galt and McKenzie advertised their roasted and ground coffee alongside ground pepper and pimento, supplying these commodities in bulk to grocers, merchants and store-keepers. By 1861, the range of goods had expanded to include:  coffee mixed with chicory; black and white peppers; mixed spice; ground cloves, ginger, pimento and cinnamon; ground rice; maize meal; brosemeal (made from peas); and oatmeal in tins, bags or barrels.

In advertising, McKenzie took pains to assure his customers that his products were unadulterated, offering to cover the costs of a “microscopic examination” if any of his customers questioned their purity.

We guarantee that all goods delivered under this invoice are in strict accordance with their descriptions therein. That the words coffee, chicory, pepper and the like, refer to those substances in their pure state, and that when the words coffee with chicory are used they refer to a mixture of pure coffee with pure chicory.

Further lines were added to the range and at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1875 the company received first prizes for several products including cocoa, chocolate and mustard. As business increased, the firm moved from Carlton to Melbourne’s city centre. An article published in 1888, after James’s death, described the operations of the Bond Street factory, from the kilns for drying oats to the giant millstones for grinding pepper. In 1915, James F. McKenzie & Co. became a public company known as James F. McKenzie Pty Ltd.

The business survived the Great Depression and two world wars, expanding to have branches in many Australian States. A new chapter in the history of McKenzie’s Foods began in 1967 when the company was acquired by the Ward family, who also traced their history back to 1852 when two brothers set up a hay and corn store in Melbourne. Ward McKenzie Pty Ltd moved to a new factory in Altona in 1977.

The company continues to produce “pantry staples” but in 2024 expanded its range to include frozen, ready-to-bake cookies. However, the familiar blue and white Bi-Carb Soda pack likely remains the most ubiquitous of all McKenzie’s Foods products.

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