When the Schachna family's company, Menora Foods, created a range of chunky dips under the Wattle Valley brand almost 11 years ago, no one knew for sure whether the unusual combination of nuts, cheese and herbs would appeal to Australian consumers.
"We were the first company to combine cashews and parmesan - now it's the number one dip in Australia," says Schachna, 34,who took the reins from his 70-year-old father two years ago.
Now Wattle Valley dips, along with Menora's other leading brands such as Wattle Valley wraps and Peckish rice crackers, are heading to supermarkets in Asia.
Menora Foods has been gobbled up by one of the Philippines' largest food companies, Monde Nissin, which paid an estimated $55 million for the company earlier this month, seven months after Mr Schachna launched a strategic review.
It was Monde Nissin's third acquisition in Australia in less than a year. In January it paid about $80 million for premium juice maker Nudie and in June it paid a reported $115 million for another family-owned company, dip-maker Black Swan, in its first foray into the Australian food-manufacturing sector.
Less than a week after the Menora deal, Singapore-based oils company Wilmar International and Hong Kong-based investment company First Pacific, which owns half of Indonesian noodle and snackfood maker Indofood, completed their $1.3 billion acquisition of Australia's largest listed food manufacturer, Goodman Fielder.
Monde Nissin, Wilmar and First Pacific plan to take advantage of their extensive distribution networks in China, the Philippines and south-east Asia to sell Menora, Black Swan and Goodman Fielder brands, which include Meadow Lea margarine, Praise mayonnaise, White Wings cake mixes and Meadow Fresh milk, to affluent Asian consumers.
Food industry sources say more multimillion-dollar deals are likely as cashed-up Asian food companies, many of which already dominate their existing categories and have exhausted growth options at home, search for new opportunities.
Asia's fast-growing middle and upper classes are in their sights.
"There's an emerging middle class in Asia, which has a strong affiliation with Australia and which is looking for the same things we're looking for here and they just can't find it in their supermarkets," Monde Nissin's Australia chief executive Chris O'Sullivan says.
"Premium brands in Asia can sell for double the price they sell for in Australia."
At the upmarket IAPM mall in Shanghai's French Concession, for example, Bellamy's Organic infant formula is locked up with other imported milk powder tins and is fetching 398 yuan ($84). Other Australian food products such as Pure Harvest Oats, Jelly Belly lollies and John West fish fingers are dotted around the supermarket.
Australian wine and milk are also well represented, with an entire shelf dedicated to Australian wine.
However, at three mainstream Chinese supermarkets nearby - Lianhua, NGS and Dia Market - there are virtually no Australian products, apart from a few bottles of Australian wine, including Jacob's Creek and Penfolds Rawson's Retreat.
Monde Nissin, which has more than one million distribution points in 40 countries, from modern supermarkets to so-called mom-and-pop stores, is evaluating which of the Menora, Black Swan and Nudie products will be exported to Asia in their current forms and which will be tweaked to suit Asian tastes.
"The key thing from Monde Nissin's perspective is the premium-ness of the product, so they're keen for them to be manufactured in Australia," O'Sullivan says.
"It adds to the premium-ness of the brand - anything made locally tends to be diminished in value."
This is music to the ears of Australian Food and Grocery Council chief executive Gary Dawson, who says foreign investment is critical to the future of the $112 billion food and grocery manufacturing sector.
"The interest in export opportunities in Asia is across the board, from Australian companies as well as foreign-owned companies, but navigating their way through things like regulatory requirements and distribution arrangements within China, for example, is not easy," Dawson says.
"That's where a linkage with an established player within China can be advantageous."
Asian food companies also tend to be patient, long-term investors, much more so than Australian institutional investors, who expect to see steady sales and earnings trajectories, or private equity investors, who seek quick turnarounds and tend to exit within three or four years.
"If Australia is to capitalise fully on the massive growth in food demand out of China, then foreign investment is going to be crucial in terms of renewing capital stock and achieving scale and achieving the right linkages into China," Dawson said. "We certainly wouldn't want to see anything that is an impediment to that crucial flow of foreign investment.
"The Made in Australia branding is an important indicator of quality processing as well as provenance in markets like China. This needs to be an important consideration in the current debate around country-of-origin labelling."
Goodman Fielder's new chairman, First Pacific executive director Robin Nicholson, says the trans-Tasman food company already has a thriving export business.
"This is an opportunity to ramp it up," he says. "If we can see an opportunity to take successful, well-established Australian and New Zealand brands and push them into Asia we're going to seize that.
"Wilmar's distribution network is the biggest in China and Indofood's distribution network is the biggest integrated distribution network in Indonesia.
"It's impossible to find two stronger partners. You should not underestimate the power of the consortium's reach in Asia."
TIME WILL TELL
Only time will tell whether Monde Nissin and Wilmar/First Pacific will be more successful than Australian food companies that have managed to penetrate Asian food markets under their own steam.
United Nations trade figures show Australia's processed food exports to key Asian markets have grown 52 per cent in the past decade, from $5 billion in 2005 to $7.6 billion in 2014.
Leading the way are small and mid-tier food manufacturers such as Bundaberg soft drinks, jam and spreads maker Beerenburg, salty snacks maker Tixana and baby food processor Bellamy's Organic.
Many have made a conscious decision to reduce their reliance on the big Australian grocery chains and build exports.
"They've been able to establish export footholds when the Australian dollar was at parity [to the US dollar] and now they have a significant tailwind," Mr Dawson says.
"The scale of the opportunity is undeniable and we need to be ensuring we are enabling, not retarding, that growth."