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Queensland’s got food in focus

Offering a diverse range of production capabilities, from fresh seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables to value-added products including dairy foods, desserts and confectionery, ingredients and ready-to-eat meals, Queensland is an emerging hub for food processing.

The state of Queensland is home to more than 1,400 food processing companies, employing more than 43,000 people. With highly successful processed food exporters and a diverse range of quality fresh supplies, produced counter-seasonal to the northern hemisphere and southern states of Australia, the Sunshine State is making a big statement in the food sector.

A number of Queensland’s regions are focused on food manufacturing. Brisbane and the Gold Coast are the gateways to export and southern state markets and the places where the State’s larger food processors reside. The Wide Bay-Burnett region has excellent water supplies and a moderate climate resulting in a range of award-winning gourmet foods.

The tropical climates of Cairns and Townsville offer an abundance of fresh and processed foods based on the region’s seafood, tropical fruits and other unique and exotic ingredients. While the Darling Downs and South West Queensland offer a mix of both hot and very cool climates in a richly fertile region with a wide range of processed foods.

The Queensland Government is currently implementing the Queensland Processed Food Industry Action Plan. The Plan aims to promote sustainable regional development; build strong industry partnerships and collaboration; focus on industry growth around key domestic and global trends; and advocate smart food processing, world-class value-adding and market expansion.

The areas where government interventions are crucial if the food processing sector is to reach its full potential in Queensland include regional marketing and brand building linked to tourism and wine; skills and training; export capability; emerging and advanced food processing technologies; regulatory environment; infrastructure; and investment attraction to populate the Queensland processed food hub with additional world-class food processing companies.

With these steps in the right direction, Queensland’s food industry is making its strong impact on Australia and the rest of the world.

Sugar, spice & all things nice

The world’s leading producer of confectionery ginger, Buderim Ginger, now has greener factory operations and more flavoursome products thanks to a Queensland State Government grant.

Minister for Regional Development and Industry, Desley Boyle, said that the $45,960 awarded last year to help the renowned ginger maker be more eco-efficient was yielding sweet results.

“Buderim Ginger has an impressive history in Queensland since starting out on the Sunshine Coast more than 60 years ago. It continues to be a progressive firm and its latest efforts to work smarter include adopting more environmentally sustainable practices at its Yandina plant,” Boyle said.

“Funding towards a recycling system has helped the firm significantly save water – a precious commodity to Queenslanders – and greatly slash energy consumption. What’s also great is Buderim Ginger’s new eco-practices have led to a more flavoursome product for customers.”

According to Boyle, the new recycling equipment designed, made and fitted in 2007 was reducing water use and waste during processing.

“Because ginger crops are harvested in February and March only, the company must store a whole year’s worth of produce using a preservative solution – based on sodium metabisulphite, or sulphite – until it’s processed.

“When ready to be prepared for shelves, the residual sulphite is flushed from the ginger. This was previously done by rinsing it in copious amounts of hot water – heated to 70 or 80 degrees – which was then discarded down the drain.”

The company now dissolves the preservative using a form of oxygen – ozone – rather than heat. “Ozone-infused processing water only needs to be half as hot to do the job. But importantly, when the ginger is flushed, the water is recycled or recovered, and any heat is recaptured.”

When compared to the previous year, the firm estimates that it has cut annual water use by 35 megalitres and reduced the volume of waste water by 19 megalitres. It also calculates that capturing and recycling of the energy had resulted in savings of more than $200,000 for the year.

“Saving water and energy is critical to reducing industry’s ecological footprint and it’s great to see Buderim Ginger leading the way,” said Boyle. “It also helps the business be more efficient, productive and therefore more competitive. This is extremely important for processors who compete with low-cost operators in export markets and domestically.”

With the capacity to process more than 6,000 tonnes of raw ginger a year, Buderim Ginger’s products include crystallised and dried ginger, ginger jams, marinades, drinks, sweets and more. Its finished products are preserved for shelves naturally with sugar.

Buderim Ginger process and engineering manager, Steve Dennis, said an added bonus of its eco-efficiency project was that the ginger retained more of its flavour. “This is because much of the potent oils within the raw ginger are no longer being lost down the drain along with the water,” Dennis explained.

“There has also been a significant increase in the amount of ginger we’re yielding during processing because it is no longer as heat stressed, so there is less damage and less waste.”

Boyle said food processing was a priority industry for the government. “Buderim Ginger have taken on a transformational project. It’s projects such as these, that build strength in regional industries, lead to greater innovation, productivity and exports, and raise the competitiveness of a sector,” she said.

“Clever and forward-looking companies like Buderim Ginger will help drive Queensland’s internationally competitive, sustainable and knowledge-intensive future.” Buderim Ginger globally employs 300 employees and exports to dozens of countries around the world.

Hot potato

Another beneficiary of the State Government’s grant has been far north Queensland’s business with the launch of a new product to supermarkets – ready-to-cook, washed, peeled and diced or sliced potatoes.

Desley Boyle, also the Member for Cairns, said the $250,000 grant to Access Cold and Dry Storage Pty Ltd was one of the first grants approved under the Bligh Government’s new Business and Industry Transformation Incentives.

“This grant program is about partnering with business and industry to make improvements that will benefit more than just the organisation receiving the grant,” Boyle said.

“Introducing this new product will expand the business, create more jobs and provide a wider market for potato growers. It shows that innovation doesn’t have to just be about biotechnology or glamorous industries – innovation in potato presentation and manufacturing is just as important.

“Using technology to improve productivity is another way around the labour and skills shortages,” explained Boyle. “The business will use the funding to build and upgrade technical equipment at Atherton and Babinda to produce the packaged potatoes.

“The company plans to use a process which is new to Australia – dipping the potatoes into a natural enzyme to increase shelf life without using chemical preservatives. This enzyme treatment is already used overseas and has enormous potential for the Australian retail market.”

She said this project would enable the business to move from being a wholesaler to a manufacturer. In addition, new technology will be used to grade and select the unwashed potatoes.

Managing director and company founder, Lui Garozzo, explained that “for the first time in North Queensland we will give potato farmers the chance to utilise all of their available crop. There was simply no way previously of grading or sorting the lesser grade potatoes accurately to meet manufacturers’ stringent quality standards. The proposed technology will change all that.”

Access Cold and Dry Storage will work with the Rapid Assessment Unit at James Cook University to adapt the hypervision laser scanning technology, which was developed by Bret-Tech Pty Ltd on the Sunshine Coast.

“The Queensland Government support is wonderful news. This will fast track our development into value adding of potato products far beyond our original expectations,” Garozzo said.

“Over and above this, the natural enzyme treatment processing line will potentially revolutionise the ability to market our potatoes to southern markets which was once considered almost totally unfeasible due to the relative short life of the products.

“We will now have a distinct market advantage and, most importantly, point of difference. The market interest in our new facility has been overwhelming, with two well-known substantial corporate food identities ready to assist in our trials,” concluded Garozzo.

Boyle said the Access Cold and Dry Storage project had strong collaboration between regional partners – growers, processors, a technology provider and a regional university. “This is a great example of a company improving its business by engaging with regional partners.”

Access Cold and Dry Storage had a turnover of $5.2 million in the past financial year and employed more than 30 full time staff. The new potato line is projected to result in the creation of 18 new jobs. Access Cold and Dry Storage was one of four recipients to share in more than $800,000 under the Government’s new Business and Industry Transformation Incentives scheme.

More information on Queensland’s business incentives is available at www.industry.qld.gov.au/incentives.

Lena Zak is the editor of FOOD Magazine.

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