Patties Foods and the future state.

Patties Foods is generating sales growth well above the broader market for its Four’N’Twenty pies brand and aims to accelerate it with a step-up in celebrity partnerships after signing Australian Football League Women’s star Tayla Harris as an “ambassador” for the next two years.

Four’N’Twenty already uses Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers National Basketball Association team to spearhead a push in the United States. Mr Simmons, who grew up in Melbourne, has been lauded as one of the best Australian players to have played in the NBA and is an important part of the Philadelphia 76ers team.

Patties Foods general manager of marketing and innovation Anand Surujpal said the brand had a strong heritage but was also aiming to recruit new customers. Ms Harris was an ideal candidate because she had been a star for Carlton in the AFLW competition, had been in the spotlight for her prowess in the boxing ring and lauded for her stand against online trolls in 2019 after sexist comments when a photo of Ms Harris kicking the football on the AFL field was posted on social media.

“She’s a really great role model for the next generation coming through,” Mr Surujpal said.Private equity group Pacific Equity Partners acquired the former ASX-listed Patties Foods in 2016 for $230 million.Four’N’Twenty, the largest pie brand in the southern hemisphere, has been growing strongly, initially buoyed by the at-home consumption spike during COVID-19 and then through strong growth in convenience and stadiums as the economy re-opened.Mr Surujpal said the Patties Food stable of food products was well-balanced and if the next round of AFL matches were to be played without crowds, or a short lockdown was imposed in Melbourne, the business was ready.

“We have quite a balanced portfolio across the business,” he said.

Mr Surujpal said in the past four weeks, Four’N’Twenty sales revenue in the petrol stations and convenience channel was up 12.5 per cent compared with the overall market for on-the-go savoury products, which was 4.7 per cent higher. Those figures compare the same four-week block last year. Four’n’Twenty sales in the grocery channel are up 6.3 per cent in the past four weeks compared with the overall frozen savoury food market, which is flat.Mr Surujpal said the company was also using gold medal-winning ice-skater Steven Bradbury in its upcoming advertising as part of brand building. Mr Bradbury won a gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics in speed skating after the leading competitors crashed and he skated through for an unlikely win. The “underdog” status of Mr Bradbury resonated with consumers, he said. “He didn’t get to the Olympics though luck, it was through hard work. He was just lucky on the day,” Mr Surujpal said.

Patties Foods acquired ready-to-eat meals business Fitness Outcomes in mid-March. It has made several acquisitions in the past few years, including New Zealand group Leader Foods, South Australian meal solutions business Australian Wholefoods and gourmet pie business Boscastle. It also operates the Weight Watchers frozen meal brand, and makes Leggo’s chilled products under licence. Patties operates five plants, including its core operations in Bairnsdale in country Victoria, and employs 800 people.

Adapted from the AFR by Simon Evans