Empire of Arden Street.

25 Arden Street North Melbourne.

The significance of the little Bulla factory located in North Melbourne’s famous Arden Street is by no means small. The factory, that has sat tucked away between Errol and Leveson Streets for the last 70 years, is the headquarters of one of Australia’s leading dairy companies.

With offices throughout Australia, the Bulla company is the largest Wholesaler of table cream in the southern hemisphere and products are exported to many countries including New Guinea, Fiji, China, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

The international marketing success which includes rapid growth throughout the Asia Pacific region, is led by a large trade of high premium ice cream to Japan — one of the world’s most discerning markets. As one of the largest producers of Australian ice cream there is no doubt that their formula is a winner. Bulla brand ice cream has been manufactured and eagerly purchased for over sixty-five years.

It all began in 1910 when Mr. Thomas Andrew Sloan started the business in the suburb of Moonee Ponds. In those days milk was pasteurised by putting it inside cream cans that were placed in coppers and then fired with wood. Thomas Sloan used his cheese-making skills to pioneer the technique for thickening cream. The cream was brought down to Moonee Ponds from the Bulla district (past Melbourne Airport, on the road to Sunbury) in horse—drawn wagons. The cream cans were stamped with the name of the collection area, Bulla, and thus the now famous Bulla brand name commenced.

In 1914 the Drysdale butter factory on the Bellarine Peninsula was purchased. Whilst the butter was still made there, the cream was sent to Moonee Ponds to be sold throughout the metropolitan area. Thomas Sloan teamed up with his brothers—in-law Hugh and John Anderson, and together they successfully built up the business. The proprietorship of this establishment has remained to this day, within these two families.
The policy of using only the best products and techniques together with an understanding of the importance of strict quality control led to further growth. In 1922 the Drysdale butter factory was sold, and the main operation was moved to Colac.

Further expansion acquired the Colac Ice Factory next door; which at that time included Regal Cream products. To date, both the Bulla and Regal brands continue to be produced.

In 1928 the Arden Street premises was bought to house the cream bottling plant, distribution, and head office; the Moonee Ponds site was closed down.

Over the years some of Bulla’s famous products have come to include: Low Fat Cottage Cheese, Cream, Soft Serve Ice Cream, and Yogurt with many flavours and variations such as frozen, Fruit’ N Yogurt, Lite’N Healthy and Drinking Yogurt. My personal favorite however, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, is the ice cream — from the Caramel, Strawberry or Honeycomb Crunch, the Choc Bars, Merry Go Rounds to the Roasted Almonds, Belgian Selection, Milk Chocolate, and Classic from the Petite Creams range — it’ 5 always hard to decide!

Perhaps while you were waiting for one of those big Bulla trucks to back into the Arden Street premises and clear the road, or while just walking past, you noticed a face lift to the buildings that took place back in the middle of 1996. It was at this time that the outside lights were turned on after more than 30 years. The maintenance manager, Mr Ken Hook, who has been with the company for 28 years, replaced the 108 light globes on the original electric sign on the facade of the building. What a thrill it must have been to see the Bulla building lit up after such a long time!

Unfortunately, these days, the sign’s globes can’t compete with North Melbourne’s power surges so it is not always switched on, except for special occasions!

Yet, despite the lights not being turned on, and the quiet looking building site fading into the hustle and bustle of its inner-city surrounds, Bulla continues to be a thriving business, employing 101 people at the North Melbourne site alone.

Several employees boast many years of service to the family business. It was with great sadness to the company that their marketing manager, Mr John Anderson, passed away late September, 1997. John started work at Bulla in 1964 and his advanced skills in sales and marketing benchmarked the business from being a Victorian-based cream distributor to what is now a highly successful national food exporting business.

His positive affection and dedication for the company and the people within it must have been a great asset. Although I didn’t personally have the pleasure of meeting Mr John Anderson, I would like to dedicate this article to him, his family, and his extended family at Bulla. The memory of his strong will and patient commitment to the values he believed in, lives on in the company he left behind.

Throughout the time I collected information and data from Arden Street, I was constantly reminded of his employees’ admiration of him. He must surely be missed.

I would also like to thank Ms. Sandra Tromba and all the other helpful staff at Bulla for their assistance and information, and for giving me an insight into what takes place inside the Bulla factory, in North Melbourne’s famous Arden Street.

by Paul Symons, March 1998. (story first published in the North & West Melbourne News.)

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