Lead in Chinese products furthers push to can imports in hospitals

The call for stronger country of origin labelling and more rigorous testing of imported fruit has been strengthened by the detection of high levels of lead in Chinese canned peaches last year.

Tests on the fruit showed alarming high levels of lead – up to twice the amount that is legally permissible under the Australian and New Zealand food standard.

Both Commonwealth and Victorian health officials are currently investigating the reports with Liberal MP, Sharman Stone stating that the test results have further reinforced the notion that foreign food imports can carry “high risk” as they are not manufactured to the same strict standards that Australian processors adhere to.

Stone has been pushing for taxpayer-funded aid for Australia’s largest remaining fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona, stating that the government should be doing more to support local industry by using Australian peaches instead of imported in hospitals and aged care homes.

“I am deeply concerned fruit with dangerous lead levels could be served in hospitals, aged care homes or prisons and also concerned that if we lose our last fruit processor Australian customers may also no longer have a choice to buy Australian tinned fruit,” stone told The Guardian.

Major supermarket retailers, Woolworths, Coles and Aldi last year committed to sourcing only Australian grown fruit for their private label brands in a bid to support the struggling processor, however the company states that it still needs government support to survive.

The labor government had promised a $25m grant to SPCA, with the processor warning last year that it would be forced to close if the Abbott government refused to proceed with the funding.

The Weekly Times Now reports that the $25m assistance package for the processor Goulburn Valley plant will be reassessed tomorrow by Federal Cabinet.


Macadamia growers take to the skies over provenance problem

With half of Australians unaware that the macadamia nut is native to Australia, growers took to the skies on Australia Day to get their message across.

Only half of the more than 1,200 Australians that took part in a Newspoll survey could identify the macadamia but as Australian, with 32 percent claiming its Brazilian, 16 percent listing Hawaii as its place of origin and another 16 percent thought the nut originated from South Africa.

The research also revealed respondents had very little knowledge and understanding of macadamia farming with only 25 percent correctly saying harvest begins at the start of Autumn. A quarter of survey participants (26 percent) wrongly named the Northern Territory as a key growing area, 14 percent South Australia and 13 percent Victoria. 

Macadamias are predominantly grown in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales and up the Queensland coast, with much smaller plantings in Western Australia producing some 40,000 tonnes each year.

To improve the understanding of macadamias, the Australian Macadamia Society took to the skies on Australia Day, hiring a skywriter to get the message across, with onlookers tweeting and posting on social media to help spread the word.

Australia is the world leader in production, research, marketing and development, and is the largest producer and exporter, delivering macadamias to more than 40 countries worldwide. Between $120 and $130 million worth of Australian macadamia products are exported each year.

Buy local or lose jobs: Australian Made

The Australian Made campaign is calling upon consumers to buy local or face further job losses in light of the recent announcements from Ford and Holden that they will no longer be manufacturing cars in Australia past 2017.

Key food manufacturers in Australia including SPC Ardmona, Simplot and McCain have felt the pressure from cheaper imports resulting the slashing of local contracts in order to cut costs and compete in the marketplace.

Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive, Ian Harrison said that Ford and Holden have now joined the long line of companies that have made the decision to manufacture offshore rather than locally – including food giant Heniz.

 “The real disappointment is that consumers in Australia seem not to understand that there will be consequences when they elect to buy imported products, as they have done with motor cars,” Harrison said.

“Continuing on this trajectory will have dire consequences for Australian industry, Australian jobs and Australian communities.”

Harrison says that it is imperative that consumers support local manufacturers and buy local to secure a sustainable future for the Nation’s manufacturing sector.

“Our message to consumers is to invest in great Australian products and produce, to help build a sustainable future, or risk losing more industries and more jobs, putting pressure on the entire economy and families all over the country,” says Harrison.

“We hope that this confronting truth will make consumers stop and think about the knock-on effects of their purchasing decisions before buying.”


Industry Minister recruits Combet to advise on SPCA rescue package

The federal government has recruited the former Labor minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation, Greg Combet to negotiate a rescue package for Australia’s largest remaining fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona.

Combet was recruited by Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane to negotiate a rewrite of work practices including the future of the 35 hour week, while the government assesses an assistance package, The Australian reports.

A high level panel designed specifically to advise on a major restructure of the business inclusive of Combet, Telstra chairwoman Catherine Livingstone and former Manufacturing Australia chief and Reserve board member Dick Warburton, is set to be announced today (4 Dec) by Macfarlane.

As part of a proposed restructure package, SPCA owner Coca-Cola Amatil is believed to have promised investment in new plant and equipment as well as a new range of product lines, however Macfarlane has emphasised that the restructure must include productivity gains that are sustainable in the long term.

"We will not be putting money into outdated work practices," said Macfarlane.

Although the panel has been designed for SPCA, Macfarlane says that restructure could provide a lead for frozen vegetable processor Simplot, who is also seeking government assistance.

The troubled cannery was forced to sever contracts with a significant number of Goulburn Valley fruit growers earlier this year due to the influx of cheap imports, rising production costs and the high Australian dollar.

SPCA has since secured various deals with Australian retailers in the recent months including a $7m deal with Woolworths which will see the supermarket giant replace imported fruit with locally grown for its Woolworths Select range. However SPC says that these new deals are not enough to sustain the business in the long-term and has stated that it may be forced to close if the Abbott government refuses to come through with a $25m grant promised by the former Labor government.


What will 2014 bring for Australian food manufacturers? : poll

2013 has been a tough ride for many Australian food manufacturers and Food magazine wants to know what you think the new year will bring to the table.

During the year, Australia’s largest remaining fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona was forced to slash contracts from Goulburn Valley growers to compete with cheap imports, Simplot almost closed one of its processing plants and South Australian pickle and condiment processor, Spring Gully entered administration only to be bought back by an overwhelming spate of support from the local community.

The cost of production in Australia is exceptionally high compared to our importing neighbours. The strong dollar, high wages and expensive running costs all impacted on the profitability of local businesses throughout the year.

The issue of keeping key Australian businesses in Australian hands also attracted a lot of attention during 2013.

The rejection of the sale of GrainCorp to North American agribusiness giant, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and the impending sale of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory have sparked debate over foreign ownership and access to key markets.

On a more positive note, demand for premium Australian products from key Asian markets is continuing to rise, especially within the wine and dairy sectors.

Will 2014 provide a more prosperous outlook for the food manufacturing sector or will the industry be faced with similar challenges to what it experienced this year? What needs to change in order for our food manufacturing sector to be able to compete effectively on an international playing field?

Food magazine wants your opinion! To the right of your screen you’ll see our poll question, with four responses for you to choose from. Please get involved! We’ll publish the results once the poll closes on 11 December.


Australian Made launches new food and agricultural resources for schools

The Australian Made Campaign in association with Kids Media has launched a new range of resources that are designed to teach school students about farming and food manufacturing.

The initiative known as Where does it come from? Farming and manufacturing in the school curriculum was created in response to research undertaken by the Primary Industries Education Foundation in March 2012.

The research found that primary school children generally have a poor understanding of where their food comes from and the new program aims to educate children on how produce and food products get from farms and factories to their plates.

Australian Made chief executive, Ian Harrison said that the program will provide children with an awareness of the effort that goes into farming produce and manufacturing products, as well as the importance of buying local.

“Australian Made and Australian Grown products are manufactured and farmed in our clean, green environment to our high quality, health and safety standards; and every purchase has a ripple effect on jobs, industry and the environment,” said Harrison.

The resources will be inclusive of an animated e-book, animated activity sheets, interactive activity sheets, lesson ideas and fact sheets on the green and gold Australian Made, Australian Grown logo.

“The Australian Made Campaign is all about ensuring a better future for Australians, particularly for young Australians and generations to come,” said Harrison.

“We are proud to provide these resources for teachers and students, and hope they help to instil a better understanding of, and appreciation for, Australia’s great products and produce.”


Karen Martini showcases Australian grown SPC products

As Australia’s largest remaining fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona is taking on new and innovative ways to remind Aussie’s of the importance of choosing high quality, locally grown products.

As part of the Victorian processor’s new 100 percent Australian grown and Australian made campaign, SPC is encouraging consumers to rediscover the versatility of its products with the help of chef, restaurateur and author Karen Martini.

Martini showcased unique and innovative ways to incorporate the range of SPC Ardmona’s staple products such as baked beans and tinned tomatoes into hearty, delicious meals at a media event at the Sydney Cooking School last week.

Growing up not too far from SPC’s Shepparton plant, Martini said that she has always been a strong supporter of Goulburn Valley produce and the SPC brand.

“I have strong childhood memories of SPC Ardmona brands and continue to use these products today when cooking for my family. I’m a huge supporter of Australian grown and Australian made produce and have always found these brands to be a reliable and trusted choice for a large variety of dishes,” said Martini.

The dishes Martini created for the event included smokey baked beans with chorizo and prawns, Turkish inspired chicken with apricots, ginger, saffron and pistachios and a free-form apple, pear and cinnamon pie.

Bronwyn Powell, SPC Ardmona’s marketing and innovation director said that despite experiencing some challenges recently from cheap imported products, the company is determined to support the local industry and continue to drive its key message of 100 percent Australian grown and made.

“We support more than 2,700 jobs in the Goulburn Valley region and our impact on the local economy equates to $165 million,” said Powell.

“SPC Ardmona has been experiencing tough times recently, but we have not been deterred and have worked hard at combating these issues. We believe the quality of locally grown produce, like the tomatoes used in Ardmona, means that Aussies shouldn’t need to look to imported products to create great food.”

Powell admits that country of origin claims are still a major issue for SPC Ardmona as many consumers often do not realise that products they have purchased are either imported, or made partially from imported ingredients.

“Often people do not realise that a product they have purchased is not grown or made in Australia. It’s really important for Australian growers and manufacturers to highlight their provenance on product packaging to avoid confusion and help shoppers make an informed decision on what they feed their family.

“Together we can help champion Australian grown and Australian made produce, support manufacturing jobs in Australia, keep farmers on the land and ensure that Australian families continue to get high quality Aussie produce.”


Warrnambool’s future is at a crossroads, says United Dairyfarmers of Victoria

170 people met to discuss the future of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter last night, which is now one of the last remaining Australian-controlled dairy processors.

Tyran Jones, Vice President of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria led the discussion, highlighting the body’s position on an Australian-owned dairy industry, The Weekly Times Now Reports.

Jones said that the current battle for ownership of WCB was about three iconic and successful dairy companies that came from co-operative backgrounds.

The debate as to whether Warrnambool should stay in Australian hands has stepped up in the last few weeks as the Canadian dairy processor, Saputo has raised the stakes each time one of the other suitors, Bega and Murray Goulburn have made an offer. As it stands Warrnambool’s board is recommending that shareholders accept Saputo’s offer in absence of a superior proposal.

Victorian Agriculture and Food Security Minister, Peter Walsh last week said that sale of Warrnambool to foreign businesses could represent a ‘lost opportunity’ for the Australian dairy industry.

President of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria, Kerry Callow told The Weekly Times yesterday that body wants to hear what path dairy farmers want the industry to take.

"I have stated before and I will say it again, the UDV believes in building a profitable export sector where our dairy farmers are the direct beneficiaries of industry growth and performance,” said Callow. “Ultimately we can only maximise these benefits if we, as farmers, have a say and own a share of the dairy processing sector."

Callow said the Australian dairy industry is at a ‘crossroads’ with one path leading to foreign ownership and the other potentially leading to a strong presence in the global arena.

"We are at a crossroads. One road will see yet another of our key dairy processors fall under foreign control – if Canadian diary giant Saputo takes ownership of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter. The other road could see Australia move towards becoming a global player in the international dairy export market," Ms Callow said.

"Australian farmer ownership of our processing assets ensures we have a globally competitive and profitable industry that puts Australian dairy farmers' interests and livelihoods front and centre. 

"It seems that in most dairy farmers' minds there are two important principles at stake; the need for competition at the farm gate and the need to position the Australian industry as a major player on the global market.

"It is perhaps not unexpected that there are differing views across the industry on the direction we should take. But the UDV wants to ensure everyone gets their chance to understand and have a say on what path we take.


Australian Made welcomes Anti-Dumping Commission’s preliminary report

The Anti-Dumping Commission has released its preliminary report and has indicated that the imposition of additional tariffs on dumped processed tomatoes is warranted.

The WTO Anti-Dumping Agreement allows countries to take action against imports from countries allegedly exporting at 'dumped' prices.

Australian Made chief executive, Ian Harrison welcomed the findings.

“We look forward to the final report validating these findings, but the fact remains, there is damage being done to the local industry, and Australia’s growers, every day until these safeguards are put in place,” said Harrison.

SPC Ardmona instigated the inquiry earlier this year, after the processor was forced to heavily discount its Australian grown processed tomatoes in order to compete with cheap imports.

 “Australia needs to be vigilant about the damage that can be done to Australian processors, and in turn Australian growers, given the time it takes to assess such claims,” said Harrison.

“There is a strong argument that the onus of proof should be shifted from the claimant to the importer to prove what is being sold has not been dumped, when a reasonable claim is accepted by the Anti-Dumping Commission.”


Spring Gully clears $1m in debt

It was only in July this year that South Australian pickle and sauce manufacturer, Spring Gully Foods announced that it was entering voluntary administration with debts of $4.9m.

Yesterday the company announced that is has successfully paid $1m back to creditors, and expects to have cleared its debt entirely with three year’s time.

Spring Gully made its first dividend payment of 20 cents in the dollar to creditors, and will make further payments of eight cents in the dollar every quarter until creditors have been fully paid, The ABC News reports.

Kevin Webb, Spring Gully’s managing director said that the company has undergone a number of operational changes to ensure that it does not fall into financial trouble again.

 "Just recently, this week in fact, we've employed a new operations manager, we have worked hard on our planning and scheduling of product coming down the line so that they don't stop, we've got better processes in place for some of the lines that weren't as profitable as they should have been," he said.


Coles cans imports by committing to Australian fruit

Supermarket giant Coles has taken a leaf out of rival Woolworths book by committing to sourcing 100 percent Australian fruit for its private label canned fruit lines by early 2014.

The deal with SPC Ardmona will see the supermarket source 100 percent of its canned fruit from Goulburn Valley growers in Victoria – replacing imports from Thailand, New Zealand and South Africa, news.com.au reports.

"This new offer, including the sourcing of 100 per cent Australian grown Coles brand canned peaches, pears and apricots from SPC Ardmona … is a demonstration of Coles' commitment to local sourcing," said John Durkan, Coles chief operating officer.

Peter Kelly, SPCA managing director said the contract was fantastic news for grower and for SPCA.

"This is a fantastic result for our passionate fruit growers and the Goulburn Valley community," he said.

Woolworths announced earlier last month that the company will be converting its branded fruit products to locally grown and processed fruit once the company has sold through its imported stock.


Australian Ham Week aims to ramp up support for local farmers

Australian Ham Week will be taking place between the 10-17th November with the aim of showcasing Australia’s finest, home grown ham products.

It is reported that almost $10m of imported pork arrives on Australian shores every week, equating to over 2.7 million kilos, or around 52,000 pigs. In addition some 65-75 percent of the smallgoods consumed in Australia is made from imported pork from countries with different food preparation and health food standards to our own, and are often heavily subsidised by the exporting nations which creates an uneven playing field.

To raise awareness of the Australian pork industry, Australian Ham Week has launched a competition to find Australia’s best ham for 2013 and has already received 135 entries from ham producers using 100 percent Australian pork.

The Australian PorkMark Ham Awards for excellence is divided into two categories; Traditional Bon-In Leg and Boneless, with the key judging criteria including appearance, texture, aroma and taste.

The judges include Fleishmeister Horst Schurger, who has a Master’s degree in Butchering and Smallgoods from the Master College in Mönchengladbach Germany and two chefs, Paul McDonald and Simon Bestley. Between them, McDonald and Bestley have broad international experience working in Michelin starred restaurants, cruise liners and premier teaching institutions.

The competition is open to all butchers and smallgoods processors that make their ham from Australian grown pork and the official announcement of the winners will take place at a breakfast function on Monday 11 November at Warren Turnbull’s restaurant, Churburger.


SPC Ardmona warns of closure without government grant

SPC Ardmona, the nation’s last remaining fruit processor says that it may be forced to close if the Abbott government refuses to come through with a $25m grant promised by the former Labor government.

The funding was meant to be sourced from a clean technology programme, which the Liberal government has since pledged to scrap as it was funded by the carbon tax, The Guardian reports.

Peter Kelly, chief executive of SPC Ardmona said that the company ‘does not have a viable future’ without the grant.

“The situation is urgent. We had a productive meeting with minister Macfarlane (the new industry minister) but we need an answer fast. We understand this is a new government and we need to show some patience, but the board has been holding off on a decision for some time,” Kelly told The Guardian.

"I can't see a viable way for SPC to keep operating in the future if we don't invest this money. I can't say it any clearer than that."

Local liberal MP, Sharman Stone agrees that the funding is urgently needed and is lobbying for a fast decision.

“I accept the minister is going as fast as he can. But SPC Ardmona is the last remaining fruit manufacturer in Australia. We know there is a demand for Australian product but in the current conditions, with the dollar this high and imports this cheap, they can’t compete,” she said.

“Without this grant it will probably be impossible for them to continue … thousands of jobs would be lost, thousands of hectares of fruit trees would be bulldozed and a regional economy would be destroyed.”

SPC Ardmona has secured various deals with Australian retailers in the recent months including a $7m deal with Woolworths which will see the supermarket giant replace imported fruit with locally grown for its Woolworths Select range. However SPC says that these new deals are not enough to sustain the business in the long-term.

SPC Ardmona is also calling upon the federal and state governments to support local food processors and farmers by encouraging public institutions including gaols, hospitals and army barracks to purchase locally processed food.


An advancing Australia is not so fair: why Aussie food manufacturers are doing it tough

You'd be hard pressed to come across a topic in the Australian food manufacturing sector that generates as much passionate discussion as how to best support Australian brands using Australian ingredients.

A high Australian dollar – despite easing recently – coupled with an influx of cheap imported products, a decline in export markets and ambiguous country of origin labelling legislation have all impacted on the profitability of local businesses.

2013 has been a particularly challenging year. Unable to compete with cheap imported products, SPC Ardmona was forced to cut 61 fruit growers’ contracts, and was then denied provisional safeguard tariffs against cheap imported tomato and fruit products as part of the Productivity Commission’s accelerated report.

Food processor Simplot announced that two of its plants were under threat of closure due to a highly competitive industry and unsustainably high costs, and Gourmet Food Holdings, which owned iconic brand Rosella, was placed into receivership.

South Australia’s Spring Gully also entered voluntary administration earlier this year with debt of more than $3 million, only to be saved – largely – by a wave of local consumer support.

So what needs to be done in order to save our local food processors and iconic brands? And what’s stopping them from sourcing Australian inputs?

Made in Australia? Or from local and imported ingredients?

In August this year, the Australian Made campaign‘s chief executive, Ian Harrison, called for a strategic partnership between the government and Australian Made to develop a plan to reduce consumer confusion surrounding country of origin labelling.

The ambiguous term ‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’ does not distinguish between ingredients and packaging and has been a long-standing matter of contention within the industry and amongst consumers.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the ‘Made in’ claim means that the product was made (not just packed) in the country stated, and that at least 50 percent of the cost to produce the product was incurred in that country. Products that use the ‘Made in’ claim may also contain ingredients from other countries – hence a product with a ‘Made in Australia’ label won’t necessarily contain Australian ingredients.

The ‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’ claim can also be confusing as it doesn’t communicate to the consumer what proportion of the ingredients are local, and what’s imported.

“'Made from imported and local’, or ‘Made from local and imported’ – depending on the order in which the two words are placed, is supposed to infer  whether the majority of the product is imported, or whether the majority of the product is local,” Harrison told Food magazine. “But the public doesn’t understand that.”

Australian Made’s iconic green and gold kangaroo logo has been used by thousands of businesses for nearly three decades to identify genuine Australian products and produce in Australia and overseas. Harrison says that the logo serves as a powerful marketing tool for those companies that meet Australian Made’s strict ‘made in’ test.

“Being Australian is a decided advantage – you will get a premium for your product, particularly if it is dairy-related at the moment. And that premium is justified because Australia has a reputation for high product standards, high safety standards, and it reflects our clean green environment,” says Harrison.

"In an environment where increased costs and a high Australian dollar have seriously undermined the competitiveness of many Australian products, country of origin is an asset we should be driving much, much harder."

Cheap imported ingredients come at a cost to Aussie producers

Country of origin labelling is just one of the many factors that is affecting the livelihood of the Australian food manufacturing industry. Australia, even without the high Australian dollar, is still an expensive place to do business.

Australia’s wage structures are amongst the highest in the world, industrial arrangements are quite inflexible and government-related charges coupled with high power costs seem to be increasing year on year.

One manufacturer whose struggles have been highly publicised is SPC Ardmona.

The company, which makes a commitment to sourcing a significant percentage of its ingredients from Australia, was forced to cut 61 growers’ contracts from Victoria’s Goulburn Valley region – home to SPC Ardmona’s iconic Goulburn Valley Fruit brand – in April this year.

The company, which is the largest remaining fruit and vegetable processor in Australia, said that the decision was not made lightly, and was a direct result of a huge rise in the Australian dollar that fuelled imports to record levels. The low cost imports were favoured by major supermarket chains as it enabled them to take advantage of the exchange rate appreciation and import products at an extremely low cost.

In an attempt to tackle the issue, SPC Ardmona applied for temporary safeguard tariffs of at least 30 percent for retail canned tomatoes and 45 percent for multi-serve fruit products for 200 days, consistent with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Safeguards Agreement.

However in late September, findings in the Productivity Commission’s Accelerated Report indicated that provisional safeguards were not warranted, and as such, the application was denied.

“This is extremely disappointing for SPCA, growers and the Goulburn Valley region. We disagree with the Commission’s conclusion in the reports. We have provided compelling evidence that in these circumstances the immediate provision of safeguards should be applied,” said managing director SPC Ardmona, Peter Kelly.

Although the Productivity Commission’s full report is not expected to be finalised until 20 December, Kelly said that the findings “further delay action at a critical stage in our business and seasonal cycle and perpetuates uncertainty in the region.”

Some positive news for the food processor was the recent announcement of a $7 million deal with retail giant Woolworths. Under the new deal, Woolworths will source 13 lines of canned fruit from Goulburn Valley growers for its private label ‘Select’ lines, which were previously imported from South Africa and Thailand.

The power of the consumer

Even if SPCA was to secure emergency safeguards, the reality is that wholly Australian-made products have a tendency to attract a higher price tag than their imported counterparts. So how do you communicate to consumers the importance of choosing a locally-made product over an imported one?

Peak industry body for the South Australian food industry, Food SA, has launched a number of successful campaigns including ‘Eat Local’ which saw a selection of restaurants and cafes showcase the state’s high quality produce by either including a dish that was made from local ingredients, or selling local produce in-store.

Another was the Shop & Swap initiative launched by Robern Menz – South Australia’s largest confectioner, and endorsed by Food SA.

The Shop & Swap campaign was launched on the back of unprecedented public support for South Australian pickle and sauce manufacturer, Spring Gully, which was on the verge of receivership until a sudden wave of both retail and consumer support saw sales soar.

Spring Gully experienced three weeks’ worth of sales within a three day period shortly after Shop & Swap was launched, resulting in Foodland, IGA and Coles supermarkets placing extra orders to keep up with demand. The Shop & Swap campaign encourages consumers to simply swap one item for a locally-made product every time they shop. The campaign is intended to help shoppers recognise locally-owned brands so that they can make informed purchasing decisions that support and strengthen local businesses.

Catherine Barnett, CEO of Food SA, said that the initiative serves as a powerful vehicle that has the capacity to influence the shopping habits of many South Australians.

“It is critical that people understand what they are buying. We would like consumers to think about buying and consuming South Australian-made and owned high quality products. There are many ways consumers can make this change,” she said.

Government support – food manufacturers need more of it

As we have seen with the revival of Spring Gully, consumer support can do a great deal to sustain local industry. But what the industry really needs to foster and secure a sustainable and profitable future is sufficient government support and investment, especially if the nation is to become Asia’s food bowl, as some reports have suggested.

A recent industry roundtable involving executives from NAB, Nestle and SMS Management reinforced this sentiment.

The executives were asked to identify sectors of the Australian economy with the best potential for future economic growth and the consensus was clear: the nation needs to capitalise on its reputation for clean and green food production, otherwise known as “Brand Australia.”

The executives contended that Australia needs to focus on producing and exporting high quality finished products to best capitalise on Asia’s growing middle class, rather than sending over raw materials such as wheat and milk.

"There's almost no new investment in food production, in food manufacture and, in fact, if you look at what's happening in the Goulburn Valley, fruit is rotting on the ground because of closures of factories,” Elizabeth Proust, chair of Nestle Australia, said at the roundtable.

"I'd be very cautious about seeing us as an exporter of raw materials, so to speak, rather than somebody who can be really smart and clever, and find ways of really making export dollars by exporting the final or the almost final product."

Proust’s view is echoed by many other key players in the industry. The notion of focusing on quality over quantity and then exporting that final product is exactly what a number of boutique food producers and winemakers are currently doing.

A prime example is the Barossa Valley Trustmark which was launched by SA Food Minister Gail Gago in September. The trust mark was created by Paul Henry of Winehero and is designed to encompass the region’s commitment to consistent, high quality products and provide a platform to firmly establish the Barossa brand on the world stage.

The reality is that Australia is blessed with a beautiful clean and green environment, and from that, we produce some of the best food and wine in the world. All we need to do, is invest in it.


Woolworths to source Aussie frozen vegetables for private label products

Woolworths has announced as $17m plan that will see the retailer cease importing frozen vegetables for its private label products in favour of supporting local industry.

The move will see the supermarket giant commit to purchasing an additional 5100 tonnes of frozen vegetables from Simplot’s Devonport plant in Tasmania, replacing imports from China, Europe and New Zealand, The Australian reports.

Earlier this year Simplot announced that the influx of cheap imports coupled with consistently high operating costs could result in the closure of its Devonport and Bathurst Plants, affecting hundreds of jobs in both Tasmanian and NSW.

Simplot’s managing director, Terry O’Brien said that although the deal with Woolworths serves as welcome news, the company will still be forced to announce job cuts at its Devonport plant next week to reduce costs.

"We don't think buying (frozen vegetables) from us just because we are Australian grown is sustainable for Woolworths — or any buyer — in the long term; we want them to want our product because it is financially attractive too," Mr O'Brien said.

"To do that we have to bring down the costs of processing at Devonport; and the only way we can do that will involve new machinery, new processing methods and significantly less labour."

Tjeerd Jegan, managing director of Woolworths, said that the supermarkets decision to switch back to Australian grown frozen vegetables was driven by consumer demand for locally grown food.

"Our customers are passionate about great Aussie-grown food, and so are we,” said Jegen.

Woolworths’ decision mirrors a similar commitment announced by rival supermarket chain Coles last month. Coles announced that it will commit to increasing its Coles-branded frozen vegetable and potato volume by over 12 percent – making Coles’ Smart Buy frozen vegetable and potato products 100 percent Australian grown by next year.


Peak stonefruit body urges Aussies to choose locally grown over US imports

Peak industry body, Summerfruits Australia, has urged shoppers to check the country of origin of their fruit, as imported nectarines and peaches are expected to be on shelves when the Australian season begins.

The Fresh Produce Group (FPG) announced that they had secured the rights to import USA grown stone fruit into Australia in July this year following a 20 year ban. FPG said that move gave Australian consumers the opportunity to purchase peaches and nectarines in the winter period when they are traditionally unavailable locally due to seasonality.

Pakistani mangoes were also given space on Australian shelves following approval from the Australian Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

Chairman of Summerfruits Australia, Andrew Finlay, said that consumers need to get behind local industry by purchasing locally grown fruit now that the season is commencing.

 “It’s important for grocery buyers to know imported stonefruit will still be on shelves when our local season begins in October,” said Finlay.

“Support our growers and help save our industry by double checking country-of-origin food labels and make sure what you take home is Australian made,” he said.

The first trays of stonefruit will come from sub-tropical Queensland, followed by Northern areas of Western Australia and New South Wales, then moving through to Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. 


Australian Made logo trademarked in South Korea

In what is being described as a major breakthrough for Australian exporters, the Australian Made, Australian Grown (AMAG) logo has been formally trademarked in South Korea.

The AMAG logo is Australia’s registered country of origin trademark for genuine Australian products and produce.

Having the logo officially trademarked in South Korea means that for the first time ever, Australian exporters have a symbol which can be used on their locally made or grown exports that both establishes their products as genuinely Australian and is legally protected under South Korean law.

Australian Made chief executive, Ian Harrison, said that the registration process had commenced in 2011 in response to the growing importance of South Korea as a market for Australian products.

"The Australian Made, Australian Grown logo’s formal registration in South Korea now provides an essential legal framework which exporters can rely upon in the event that the logo – or product carrying it – is copied or used without proper authority," he said.

The registration covers a range of products including cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, furniture, food and beverages, as well as use in activities such as education and sport.


Productivity Commission finds emergency import safeguards not warranted

Accelerated reports compiled by the Productivity Commission have found that a request by Australian food manufacturers to instil emergency safeguard measures against cheap imported processed fruit and tomato products are not warranted.

The accelerated reports; Safeguards Inquiry into the Import of Processed Fruit Products and Safeguards Inquiry into the Import Processed Tomato Products, are part of a wider inquiry which includes two six-month inquiries into whether the Australian food processing industry will need World Trade Organisation safeguards including the introduction of specific tariffs to protect local industry, The Weekly Times Now reports.

The inquiries were prompted by a push from food processor SPC Ardmona who claimed that a significant increase in cheap imported canned fruit and tomatoes had resulted in an uneven playing field.

SPC Ardmona had recently given into pressure from cheap imported fruit products, resulting in the cutting of supplies from over 170 growers in the Goulburn Valley region.

The commission will continue to report on whether WTO safeguards are warranted with the final reports expected to be finalised by 20 December 2013. 


Barossa Valley Trust Mark launched by SA Food Minister

SA Food Minister, Gail Gago, launched the new Barossa Trust Mark last night at the Hutton Vale farm in Angaston.

Described as somewhat similar to a Michelin rating system by creator Paul Henry of Winehero, the Barossa Trust Mark is designed to encompass the region’s commitment to consistent, high quality products, and provide a platform to firmly establish the Barossa brand on the world stage, The Advertiser Reports.

"The qualifying criteria are demanding and the Trust Mark is far more than just a brand of origin and also addresses value creations of quality, integrity, environment and community," said Henry.

"It's a universal benchmark and no other region in the world has done this so it's a real first".

"It is like the Michelin rating system in a sense, lasting for a year and then you have to re-audition every 12 months," he said.

The first Trust Mark recipients will be announced in July 2014 and are expect to include; Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Maggie Beer Verjuice, Seppeltsfield Vineyard Cottages, Linke's Butcher's mettwurst and Apex Bakery's 1924 loaf.

Gail Gago said that the Trust Mark will provide producers with a competitive advantage by enabling consumers to differentiate between true Barossa Valley products, and other products that may use the Barossa name.

"I think it's a great initiative from the food, wine and tourism sectors to come together on this project that will help consumers identify what distinguishes a true Barossa product, and assist producers and providers to share the experiences they work so hard to create,”  said Gago.


VFF commences the removal of Goulburn Valley fruit trees

The destruction of unwanted stone fruit trees in Victoria’s troubled Goulburn Valley region has began.

The Victorian Farmers Federation president, Peter Tuohey was asked by Cobram property owner Tom Bisogni, to help clear about 850 plum trees from his land to avoid attracting vermin and disease to the area.

While the VFF president was happy to help remove the trees, he said that more resources are needed to ensure the job is done properly, The Weekly Times Now reports.

"Ideally we need fuel, front-end loaders, excavators and drivers to help out," he said.

Bisogni was one of some 170 Goulburn Valley growers that were informed by SPC Ardmona earlier this year that after May 1, the company will no longer be accepting their fruit.

SPC Ardmona said that an influx in cheap imports, the high exchange rate and a decline in export markets forced the decision to discontinue contracts with the growers.

Supermarket giant Woolworths recently announced that it has committed to stocking only Australian grown produce in its private label tinned fruit lines. The announcement has served as positive news for some growers, however the deal is only expected to save 50,000 trees which is a far cry from the 750,000 trees that are expected to be destroyed.

Orchardists in the region have called upon Coles to follow Woolworths’ lead by committing to source only Australian fruit. A representative from Coles, Julia Balderstone said that the supermarket has a strong track record of supporting SPC Ardmona’s products, including Goulburn Valley fruit, but did not comment on whether the supermarket had plans to exclusively source Australian fruit in the future.

"Approximately 80 per cent of Coles brand tinned fruit including peaches, pears, and apricots comes from the Goulburn Valley," she said.

"We will continue to work with SPC Ardmona to drive product sales and explore new opportunities for Goulburn Valley fruit."