Five generations of flavour, tradition and innovation

Chris Langdon (OM 1980) is the Chief Executive of a fifth-generation family company that remains deeply connected to its origins. Established amid the Victorian gold rush as a business providing supplies to prospectors, Langdon Ingredients still sells tea and spices as it did 170 years ago, but now it does much more.

As Chris says, it’s a company that has proved exceptionally adept at moving with the times – and flourishing as a result.

“We remain, I think, very true to our core, which is a mercantile business, but we’ve grown in size, turnover, sophistication and number of people.

“I joined the company in 1992 and, at the time, Langdon comprised three offices in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. Now we have around 250 staff across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, the UK and Ireland.”

Specialising in items such as spices, dried fruit, botanicals, seeds, and grains, the company sources products that become part of everyday supermarket foods.

“We typically sit between the supplier of complex products, and the manufacturer and end user consumer of those products. Today, our customers are the leading brands that you see in the supermarket. If you can imagine our business is very much like a kitchen larder; we invite our customers to come and look at our larder. And then we supply them with commercial quantities of those items.”

And around 20 years ago, Chris modified the business model to also include product development.

“I recognised that our role was essentially passive. We’d wait for a customer to say they needed an item and then go and source that if we needed to. Now, we’ve flipped that where we source new raw materials to proactively present to our customers together with all sorts of suggestions, recipes, blends and flavour profiles.

“We also respond to emerging needs. For example, if a manufacturer is after a new flavour or solution, we work to create that for them.”

Ethical and sustainable practices take the front foot

Chris is especially proud that, under his stewardship, the company moved to ethical and sustainable sourcing long before such terms had even entered the industry lexicon.

“About 10 or 12 years ago I did a lot of travel, and we changed a number of suppliers, switching to ones that could meet ours and industry expectations and requirements, and whose products could pass our factory audits.

“We have a big emphasis on sustainable practices and, we only work with tier one suppliers. At the end of the day, it just makes good business sense to look after the land, the water, the soil, and your people.”

Coffee – A new branch of the business

It was during these periods of travelling that Chris began thinking about making coffee a part of the business.

“When I was on my trips, and in the wilds of India, Asia and Africa, I saw spices and ginger and chillies being grown, and just 10 kilometres down the road there’d be coffee,” Chris explains.

A proud Melburnian who saw first-hand how lively and mature the Australian coffee scene was, Chris observed an opportunity. His company had ample expertise in importation; coffee beans seemed like a logical addition to the Langdon offering. After some experimentation, he realised that coffee deserved its own division within the company.

“We couldn’t just treat it as a product range within the food business; it really needed to have its own life. Our food customers might buy spices, yeast, dried vegetables, and those sorts of things. But a coffee roaster only wants to buy green coffee beans.

“And they are very well informed. They know what they want. They need to have trust in the organisation selling to them. So, we set up Langdon Coffee Merchants and employed coffee experts.”

Chris says leading Langdon’s has and continues to be a “wonderful journey”.

About the Langdon family

Henry Langdon arrived in Melbourne in 1852 with great aspirations. The city of Melbourne was less than 20 years old, and gold had been discovered in nearby areas. With experience as a sea captain and merchant in the UK, he was keen to establish a mercantile firm servicing the growing population.

Accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, and their infant son, Montague, Henry brought along a modest collection of household goods with which to begin his business – Langdon Ingredients (originally H. J. Langdon & Co.). The family-owned enterprise continues to prosper to this day. To date, five generations of the Langdon family have led the company.

Montague Langdon (OM 1867) and his brother, Charles Langdon (OM 1880), were the first members of five consecutive generations of the Langdon family to attend Melbourne Grammar School. Montague commenced in 1860, just two years after the School opened its doors. The latest generation includes Chris’ sons AFL footballers, brothers Tom Langdon (OM 2012) and Edward Langdon (OM 2014).

The family is also distinguished by service to their community. For example, in addition to his role at Langdon Ingredients, Charles served as Consul in Victoria for the Republic of Hawaii. Subsequent generations have seen at least one medical professional within their ranks. Chris Langdon currently serves on the School’s Finance Committee. His brother, Dr Jamie Langdon (OM 1982) sits on the School’s Risk Committee.