Anthony Pratt: Value-added food will pave way for Australian exports

Anthony Pratt, chair of packaging and recycling giant Visy, said that processed foods are what drives investment and jobs in the food and beverage sector. Making the keynote address at the 7th Global Food Forum in Sydney, Pratt – who has been a champion of the forum since its inception – had the facts and figures to back up his point.

When the forum first started in 2013, it challenged the industry to double Australia’s food exports by 2030. After seven years, the country is 75 per cent of the way there, according to Pratt.

“Despite this year’s drought, our farmers and food processors managed to grow our safe, high-quality food exports from $29 billion to $40 billion over that time,” he said. “This is testament to the constant focus of the food community, our world-class farmers, food processors and governments who have got free trade agreements with Japan, Korea, Indonesia and China.”

However, the main plank of his speech was to encourage food processors and farmers to work together and start adding value to our primary food resources. And with good reason when you see how Pratt joins the dots.

“Value adding drives Australian investment and jobs,” he said. “For example, wheat sells for a $100 a tonne. If you turn it into flour it sells for $500 a tonne, and if you turn that flour into bread it sells for $5000 a tonne. Adding value through further processing, or adding value at horticulture, is better than selling bulk commodities like wheat, which undersells the value of our farmer’s expertise.”

And it’s not just because that a food in the form of a commodity undersells the potential monetary yield a particular food resource can maximise, but there is evidence that even when there is a trade war, added valued products do better.

“Because of the current US/Sino trade war, America’s commodities soya bean exports to China took a 46 per cent hit,” he said. “But incredibly, America’s exports of higher value foods to China, increased, with cheese up five per cent and ice cream up 20 per cent during the same trade war period. What is the difference between soya beans and ice-cream? It is the difference between bulk commodities and high-value processed foods.”

Pratt’s final point when it came to the food sector, is that of productivity. Something he believes will be enhanced by new technologies coming through.

“The problem with low hanging fruit is that it is getting harder to get pickers who want to do the back breaking work,” said Pratt. “As a result, sometimes up to 20 per cent of produce is left on the vine, which is why I am championing the productivity campaign called No Fruit Left Behind. Productivity can be helped if we lift the amount we spend on agtech. Everyone believes that agtech is our future, [yet] we currently spend [only] $0.12 cents per person a year on agtech. In America, they spend $5.80 per person per year. That is 50 times more…than Australia.”