Vacay seltzer set to launch in Europe this year

Home-brewed local brand, Vacay Alcoholic Seltzer, launched into the seltzer scene in October 2020 and has since grown at a rapid pace with their sights set on going global – launching in Europe this March, followed by Asia and North America shortly after.

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Dreaming big pays off for food exporter

Matt Parry had a career specialising in launching fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products for other companies into the Australian market. But he always had an itch he wanted to scratch – starting his own company and his own brand. Five years ago he decided to do just that with the Good Crisp Company and, initially, met with mixed success for the soon-to-be food exporter.

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Food cold chain education needed and is coming soon

A new training initiative based on the thermometer is about to be introduced to the Australian cold chain industry. It is seen as a practical move to help combat the country’s serious food loss and wastage problem, estimated to cost the country nearly $4 billion a year at farm gate value.
The Australian Food Cold Chain Council (AFCCC), the peak advocacy body comprising concerned industry leaders covering refrigeration assets, transport and food distribution, will release an online education program, Thermometers and the Cold Chain Practitioner this month.
The program is aimed squarely at those the AFCCC regards as the super heroes of the food cold chain process – the people who oversee the movement of food through refrigerated transports, loading docks and cold rooms across the nation.
Industry research convinced the AFCCC that Australia desperately needed a new Cold Food Code that should be adopted by industry to stimulate a nation-wide educational push to bring Australian cold chain practices up to the much higher international standard.
The educational program starting with temperature measurement is the first of a planned five-code series.
The AFCCC has invested in new online education software that will be used to develop training programs to support the release of the actual Code document that will cover temperature technologies and how they should be used for monitoring a variety of foods carried in the cold chain.
The initiative runs alongside the work being done by other authorities, including Food Innovation Australia (FIAL) and the Commonwealth Government, which has signed up to a United Nations treaty to halve food wastage by 2030.
Some of the rising levels of national food wastage is considered to be the result of poor temperature management, and poor understanding of how refrigeration works in a range of storage environments. This includes from cold storage rooms through to trucks and trailers, and even home delivery vans.
Australia has world-class refrigeration and monitoring technologies, but the AFCCC believes industry will have to adopt serious training programs so that those responsible for moving food and pharmaceuticals around the country can get the best out of the available technologies.
Because of the vast distances in this country, food transport is a series of refrigerated events, in the hands of a range of stake holders.
Mangoes picked in the Northern Territory may be handled through stationary and mobile refrigerated spaces as many as 14 times by multiple owners on a 3,400 km journey to Melbourne.
If temperature abuse through poor refrigeration practices occurs in just one of those spaces, the losses at the consumer end are compounded, and shelf life can be either drastically reduced, or result in the whole load being sent to landfill.
People working at the coalface of the industry can sign on independently to do the course, which the AFCCC believes will be an important next phase in their professional journey. Kindred organisations involved in the cold chain will be encouraged to become retailers of the education program. Many industry groups have already signed up to help drive cold chain practitioners to the training program from their own websites.
There will only be modest charges for the course, which will help fund AFCCC’s continuing work on assembling the research and expertise to complete further parts of the overall Code of Practice. This will ultimately be gifted to the cold chain industry for the purposes of universal adoption.
The extent of food wastage in this country should not be under-estimated.  It is almost criminal that one quarter of Australia’s production of fruit and vegetables are never eaten and end up in land fill or rotting at the farm gate. This loss alone accounts for almost two million tonnes of otherwise edible food, worth $3 billion.
A government-sponsored study released earlier in 2020 revealed that meat and seafood waste in the cold chain costs the country another $90 million and dairy losses total $70 million.
It’s not just the wasted food at stake. The impacts on greenhouse emissions, water usage and energy consumption will end up being felt nationwide.
The AFCCC was formed in mid 2017 by a cross section of industry leaders covering manufacturing, food transport, refrigeration and cold chain services.
The Council sees itself as an important part of the solution, encouraging innovation, compliance, waste reduction and safety across the Australian food cold chain.
The new Council is not about promoting an industry – it wants to change the industry for the better. It acknowledges that Australia’s track record in efficient cold food handling, from farm to plate, is far from perfect.

Modernising the meat export regulatory system

Critical government and industry action to modernise the Australian export meat inspection and regulatory system is underway following the $328 million Busting Congestion for Agricultural Exporters measure announced by the Australian Government as part of the 2020/21 Budget.
The Busting Congestion for Agricultural Exporters package will fund reforms for Australian agricultural sectors, including the meat processing sector, to reduce unnecessary red tape, get products to export markets faster and support jobs in rural and remote Australia.
The package, worth more than $328.4 million over four years from 2020-21, will:

  • Support Australia’s agriculture industry to grow towards a $100 billion in farm gate returns by 2030 (from $61 billion currently).
  • Maintain and strengthen existing preferential access to overseas markets.
  • Support economic recovery, provide jobs in rural, regional and remote Australia; support government efforts in response to COVID-19, bushfires and drought; and
  • Provide an immediate freeze on increases in fees and charges, to assist exporters with the impacts of COVID-19, with stepped increases to be spread over 4 years consistent with the government’s cost recovery policy.

The measures announced in the budget will support the development of a more competitive meat industry by bolstering Australia’s reputation as a provider of high-quality safe meat, underpinned by a robust regulatory system.
To deliver strong outcomes for the export meat processing sector, a package of modernisation proposals has been developed in conjunction with, and strongly supported by, industry leaders – including senior representatives of the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) and other export meat processing establishments.
David Hazlehurst, deputy secretary of the Department’s Agriculture Trade Group, said the modernisation of the export meat sector will be the most comprehensive undertaken since the 2011 Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS) reforms.
“The package will modernise Australia’s regulatory approach, making our systems best practice and enabling the department, in its role as the agricultural export regulator, undertake its assurance more efficiently,” Hazlehurst said.
Major modernisation proposals include:
The Digital Services to Take Farmers to Markets measures include an investment of $222.2 million to modernise Australia’s agricultural export systems by reducing red-tape and improving regulation and service delivery for our producers and exporters.  Practically, this measure will transition departmental export systems online and provide a single portal for transactions between exporters and Government, streamlining processes for exporters and helping them experience faster and more cost‑effective services, while continuing to meet trading partners’ requirements.
The Building a More Competitive Meat Industry measure embeds modernisation activities that will keep Australia’s export systems world leading and introduces new regulatory assurance tools that reward high levels of conformance and targets any areas of poor compliance.  The measure also, introduces flexible assurance methods, including smarter technology, to ensure the Australian meat industry maintains and expands its global position as the number one supplier of choice.
Key modernisation proposals include:

  • A digital modernisation roadmap investing in technology and identifying opportunities to improve regulatory activities such as developing electronic processes to replace paper-based forms, bringing in ‘smart’ technologies for agreed verification activities and doing away with manual processes and outdated technologies to bring in administrative efficiency;
  • A commitment from industry leaders to the full implementation of the 2011 Australian Authorised Officer (AAO) AEMIS reforms from March 2021, supported by a six-month transition timeframe.   Practically this means that department will no longer provide Food Safety Meat Inspectors (FSMAs) where the function could otherwise be provided through the use of Australian Government Authorised Officers (AAOs). Instead the department will only continue to provide a government veterinarian and a FSMA who will undertake the final disposition of product at each export meat establishment in accordance with market access requirements.
  • Post-mortem inspection and disposition modernisation activities to align modern food safety science and our meat standards;
  • The ongoing implementation of a formal, transparent market access prioritisation framework;
  • With a focus on high performing quality systems, transitioning export establishments to six monthly audits with annual audits introduced for highly compliant processing establishments that have capacity to provide real time and quality data assurance to the department; and,
  • Improvements to systems and processes, such as streamlined approval variations for Approved Arrangements, and assessing new technologies, such as smart-glasses, other virtual technologies and enhanced processing equipment, for introduction at export meat processing establishments in a simplified and more timely way.

Terry Nolan, AMIC’s National Processor Council chair said the Australian export meat sector understood the vital role it plays in achieving our joint aim of $100 billion in farm gate returns by 2030.
“A key pillar of this is building exports – and our sector plays a key role in Australia’s overall agricultural export growth,” Nolan said.
“Knowing that we can continue to deliver high-quality and safe meat products to a global market is paramount.  It’s also incredibly important that we work with government to make sure that our regulatory system continues to be contemporary, fit for purpose and robust.
“We are proud to play our part in driving modernisation for the benefit of the whole agricultural sector.”

AFGC releases guide about opportunities in Indonesia

Australian food and beverage manufacturers will gain important new insights and information about export opportunities in Indonesia with the release of a new, specialised guide by the Australia Food and Grocery Council (AFGC).

Indonesia is already a top-10 export destination for Australia’s food and beverage sector and the Food and Beverage Export Guide to Indonesia will help Australian manufacturers understand and explore new opportunities as the market grows into the future.

AFGC Deputy CEO Dr Geoffrey Annison said the guide is a practical and data-driven tool that will help Australian food and beverage manufacturers expand the export opportunities in Indonesia.

“Indonesia is a growing market and the Indonesia Food and Beverage Export Guide is meant to serve as a tool to help Australian food and beverage exporters understand the Indonesian market with information on changing consumer behaviour, category insights, the regulatory landscape and listing key stakeholders in Indonesia.” Dr Annison said.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has highlighted both the importance and potential vulnerabilities of global food supply chains. As countries around the world deal with the fallout of the health crisis, governments are also focused on ensuring continued supplies of essential food and grocery products for their populations. The crisis has highlighted the importance of agricultural trade in maintaining food security and stable food prices.

“The recently completed Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) will greatly facilitate closer trade relations and help build supply chains in both the countries. Indonesia is a top ten export destination for the Australian food and beverage sector and promises to be an important growth market. Improved market access and reduced barriers to trade enabled by IA-CEPA will help exporters realise this opportunity.” Dr Annison said.

The guide was funded by a grant from the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment and supported by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade). The guide is a comprehensive and informative document and is based on research conducted by Euromonitor International.

Austrade’s Trade Commissioner (Jakarta) Tim Martin said, “IA-CEPA provides new opportunities for Australian businesses in Indonesia and further strengthens our export sector. This comprehensive report will be of great assistance for Australian food and beverage exporters exploring the Indonesian market.

“Austrade was pleased to support the development of this important market guide and looks forward to working with exporters in uncovering new opportunities in Indonesia.”

To create the most extensive exporter’s guide for Indonesia, Euromonitor International, a global and independent market intelligence firm, used local knowledge and data gathered in a methodology that included discussions with multiple market players, analysis of reports and statistics and physical and online store visits.

This methodology ultimately enabled Euromonitor to help develop an export guide for Australian food and beverage businesses with detailed information on Indonesia’s economic landscape, food and beverage market landscape, supply chains and regulatory framework for import procedures.

Euromonitor International Project Director, Jorge Rosas said, “It was a great opportunity to conduct this level of consultative research and illustrate the full extent of Euromonitor International’s research methodology on a project that will significantly assist Australian exporters to make informed decisions and to ultimately succeed.”

Free trade agreements and stability key reasons to invest in agricutlure

The commitment of Federal and State governments to make infrastructure spending a priority to stimulate the economy through COVID-19, is key to attracting investment into the agriculture sector, according to a new report from MinterEllison called Ahead of the Harvest, 2020-2022.

MinterEllison commissioned Acuris to survey 100 domestic and international investors in agriculture assets to gauge their appetite for investment in the sector and the most favourable conditions that attract investment. The survey was conducted pre-COVID-19, however many of the investors’ observations point to a sector that has strong foundations for attracting investor confidence as Australia rebounds from the economic downturn.

“The fast-tracking of infrastructure projects by State Governments and the Federal Government’s $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund to support regions, communities and industry sectors (including agriculture) will contribute to a stable climate for future investment,” said MinterEllison partner Matthew Cunningham.

In particular, infrastructure investment will help with agribusiness’s market distribution. Also required is stable, reliable internet. It is encouraging that before those factors came into play, the infrastructure currently in place was considered more than adequate by respondents, with 65 per cent nominating it as a reason to invest.

“Superannuation funds have also expressed an appetite for investing in infrastructure, further demonstrating confidence in infrastructure as an important driver of economic recovery for the economy at large, and specifically the agriculture industry,” Mr Cunningham added.

Australia’s success in negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs) is highly regarded by investors with 72 per cent citing FTAs as Australia’s top advantage when considering agribusiness investment.

Crucial to Australia’s international competitiveness is its 14 FTAs in key markets across the Asia Pacific (including China, Japan and South Korea) and the United States. Australia also has signed and concluded, but not yet put in force the PACER Plus FTA between New Zealand and eight Pacific Island countries (Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu) and is pursuing a further six (United Kingdom, European Union, India, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Pacific Alliance and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) that will open Australian agribusiness to export opportunities.

“Short term, these opportunities have been paused as global economies suffer the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, longer term, Australia’s negotiations to open more markets in the Asia Pacific region will be good news for agribusiness investors and mergers and acquisitions.” said MinterEllison partner, Glen Sauer.

Another key reason to invest in Australia’s agriculture sector is our political stability and legal certainty. Sixty-three per cent of respondents say governance, stability and transparency make Australia attractive for agribusiness investment. The cohesion between Federal and State governments in their response to COVID-19 through the National Cabinet has further emphasised Australia’s political stability during a time of crisis.

“Australia’s strong foundations, sound governance and transparency make it one of the safest places in the world to do business and with the politically bipartisan approach to infrastructure investment, this is unlikely to change in the near term,” said Mr Sauer.

“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has put a pause on the world’s focus on new M&A transactions and while it’s clear there will be significantly-reduced volumes of activity in the agriculture sector for the remainder of 2020, our expectation is that there will be a modest recovery in 2021, with further strengthening in 2022,” said Mr Sauer.

Medicinal cannabis was the sub-sector identified as having the most investment potential (85 per cent). The investment potential of viticulture was favoured by 74 per cent of investors.

Climate change and natural disasters were identified by 82 per cent of respondents as the main barrier to investment, closely followed by wage and other input costs (72 per cent). Australia’s ageing farmer population was identified as a challenge for the sector.

Free Trade Agreements define the way our agricultural exporters do business

An ABARES Insights paper explores how Australia’s agricultural export performance over the past 15 years has been supported by the proliferation of free trade agreements (FTAs).

Stocktake of Free trade, competitiveness and a global world: How trade agreements are shaping agriculture looks at the history of Australia’s FTAs and how they have assisted with our export competitiveness and the growth of agricultural exports.

Head of ABARES Agricultural Forecasting and Trade Dr Jared Greenville said 81 per cent of Australian agricultural exports are now destined for countries with which Australia had a preferential trade agreement.

“The importance of FTAs to Australia’s agricultural export performance cannot be overstated,” Greenville said. “The value of our agricultural exports to countries with which we have an FTA is estimated to be about $39 billion in 2019/2020.

“Over the past 15 years they have provided access to new and growing markets and have supported the competitiveness of our products abroad.”

There are only a few major trading partners that remain with which Australia does not yet have a preferential trade agreement. These include the European Union, the United Kingdom and India. Negotiations with these trading partners are underway and the pursuit of FTAs with new partners will remain of key importance to Australia’s future trade agenda.

“Negotiating FTAs and maintaining their gains requires significant effort and investment,” Greenville said.

“FTAs are a long-term investment, for example the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) which came into force 5 July 2020.

“By 2050 Indonesia is projected to be the world’s fourth largest economy, with its per person consumption predicted to be greater than China for key commodities such as cereals and beef.

“Australia’s agricultural exports are poised to benefit greatly from this projected rapid growth and the preferential access we have secured with this important trading partner.”

The report notes that once an agreement is in place, parties to it cannot be complacent.

“Once we get an agreement some of the gains can be eroded as new countries also negotiate agreements with our trading partners,” Dr Greenville said.

“It’s important for government to keep working on securing progressive advances like technical market access for products under the agreements to help realise the potential benefits.”

Greenville said FTAs can help buffer Australian agricultural exports from shocks and disruptions such as COVID-19.

“FTAs provide options for exporters and help them manage risks in markets without having to overcome tariff and other barriers when shifting products between markets,” he said.

The report notes Australia is now among the top 15 agricultural exporters in the world, with the sector exporting about 70 per cent of production to 192 countries.

“This success on the world stage could not have been achieved without government and industry partnerships to secure market access in global markets,” Greenville said.

“Ultimately the priority for the Australian agricultural sector will continue to be about having access to export markets and being competitive in those markets.

“Ensuring Australia provides access to imported products will also be important for the competitiveness of our domestic industries.

“The negotiated removal of trade barriers, whether through our own FTAs or through those between other trading partners, will continue to support more efficient global value chains and a more liberalised global trading landscape,” Greenville said

Recording breaking year for table grape exports

The  Australian table grape industry achieved its highest ever export volume and value in FY20 with 152,200 tonnes valued at $623 million.

Hort Innovation head of international trade Dr Penny Measham said, “When looking at table grape export figures over the past three years, volume increased by 47 per cent, while value increased by 67 per cent.”

China continues to drive export growth, taking up 42 per cent of total exports by volume, increasing by 12 per cent in volume and 25 per cent in value in FY20. However, South Korea has had a record year with 152 per cent year-on-year growth in volume, and 951 per cent growth over the last 2 years. The Philippines has also increased its share of exports with value increasing 29 per cent year-on-year.

Hort Innovation’s Taste Australia retail program builds a sustainable position for Australian horticulture in key export markets in Asia through a range of marketing programs and activities.

“The Taste Australia campaign launched at the peak of the COVID-19 global outbreak, with all markets impacted in some way,” Measham said. “As markets went into lockdown the retail landscape changed dramatically, shoppers were limited in stores and footfall dropped, with many consumers turning online for grocery shopping. Foundation activities such as in-store retail sampling and media launches were either impossible or reduced. The program pivoted to become more digitally focused, with an upweighting to social media, e-commerce, use of influencers and digital advertising to reach consumers in their homes.”

“The table grape success was underpinned by the production of high-quality fruit, being able to export some product prior to significant global disruption and the ability to sea freight product. Many horticulture products are now facing into a peak period of export with reduced airfreight capacity due to COVID,” Hort innovation general manager marketing and trade Justine Coates said.

Co-operation best bet as China investigates Australian wine imports

With Australian barley and beef already in the sights of the Chinese government, Beijing is now turning its eyes towards Australian wine as it opens up an investigation into whether or not Australian vintners deliberately dumped cheap wine into the Chinese market.

Tensions are running high between Canberra and Beijing as the Australian government starts flexing its muscle of Chinese incursions into the busy commercial water ways of the South China Sea.

In 2019, the value of wine exports to China were valued at just over $1.2 billion, and with the devastating bush fire season and COVID-19 taking hold, a lot of vineyards will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of the investigation.

In a statement, local vintner association Australian Grape & Wine, has taken a conciliatory approach.

“Australian Grape & Wine is aware of the request by the Chinese industry to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFOCM) to launch an anti-dumping investigation on Australian wine in China,” said Tony Battaglene, chief executive of Australian Grape & Wine.

“We believe that the Australian grape and wine sector is well placed to respond to this investigation and Australian Grape & Wine and our exporting companies will cooperate fully.

“China is an important market for Australian wine and our wine is in demand from Chinese consumers.

“Australia has a large number of exporters with close cultural ties to China.  The Australian industry welcomes the opportunity to build on these ties and work with the Chinese industry and government to further technical cooperation and develop lasting relationships.”

Speaking to the ABC, Victorian wine expert, James Hall, said, on average, a bottle of Australian wine in China costs three time as much as the locally-produced counterpart, with many in the Australian industry believing this more of a political than trade issue.

Australian food may have passed peak China exposure

Australian exports of food and agricultural products to China rose by eight per cent in value terms in the 2019/20 season, reaching the highest level in the history of the China-Australia trading relationship. But that could well prove to be the peak of Australian agriculture’s exposure to China, agribusiness specialist Rabobank said in commentary released today.

Data released this month showed the biggest gains in Australian agricultural exports to China in 2019/20 were registered by beef and sheepmeat, as Chinese buyers looked to fill the hole left by African swine fever, which more than halved the Chinese sow herd in recent years and created a shortage of animal protein in the local market.

But shipments of dairy, wine, grains and oilseeds and fruit also all saw year-on-year gains, as “Australia continued to ride the wave of opportunity generated by China’s rising incomes, the 2015 China Australia free trade agreement, increasingly sophisticated ecommerce supply chains and the value consumers place on Australia’s food quality and provenance,” the bank said.

However, while there was a surge in shipments to China, the total value of Australia’s food and agri (F&A) exports “basically stood still in 2019/20” – with shipments down by just under two per cent.

As a result, China’s share of Australian F&A exports rose to 32 per cent for the 2019/20 period – up from 29 per cent in the prior year, and reaching the highest level in the history of the China-Australia trading relationship.

But the recent trajectory of Australian agriculture’s increasing exposure to China was not inexorable, the bank said, and 2019/20 could well prove to be the peak of Australian agriculture’s exposure to China.

Market concentration risk
Rabobank head of Food & Agribusiness Research Tim Hunt said “extracting one in three of our export dollars from one market” brought considerable concentration risk for the Australian food and agricultural sector.

“We haven’t been this exposed to one market since the 1950s, when we were still joined at the hip to the UK,” he said. “And that was a very different political relationship,” Hunt said.

He also said  that in a year in which political relations with China had soured, the share of almost all of Australia’s agri exports destined for China rose. But trade was now starting to suffer.

“This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise,” he said. “China has often found reasons to reduce purchase of agri products from countries when tensions arise. And its most senior diplomat in Australia warned over two years ago that if political relations continue to deteriorate, trade could suffer.”

Now almost eight months into 2020, this is exactly what we are seeing, Hunt said.

“Australia has five F&A exports to China that can be worth over a billion dollars in any given year. In 2020, China has so far impeded or threatened to impede three of these – via the removal of accreditation to supply some beef product lines from certain abattoirs, the imposition of an anti-dumping duty of barley, and now a threat to impose anti-dumping duties on wine also,” he said.

Hunt said the announcement of a Chinese anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine was cause for concern in the sector.

“The investigation may ultimately find that no such dumping has occurred. But these investigations can take more than a year, and the uncertainty it creates can impact trade in the interim, and can undermine investment appetite in the sector,” he said.

Peak China
In its commentary, the bank said 2019/20 may prove to be the peak of Australian agriculture’s exposure to China for several reasons.

  • First, the likely rebound of wheat production this season will see a huge boost to shipments of a product that is typically sold to markets outside of China.
  • Second, China’s antidumping duty on barley will likely see most barley exports directed elsewhere for at least the next 12 months.
  • Meanwhile, with some rebound in the Chinese pig herd underway, the share of Australia’s beef and sheepmeat destined for China may also have peaked.
  • As we push into the longer term, regions like South-East Asia are also expected to play an increasing role in the textile milling industry, which will eventually see the share of Australian cotton sent to China drop off over the medium term.

But the size of the trade flow will be heavily influenced by the politics between the countries and the strategy of buyers and sellers, Hunt said.

“The extent of exposure to China and the risks this is bringing may see many industries look to diversify markets in coming years,” he said.

“The Chinese market is hard to replicate in size, growth and value. But there are growth opportunities in other markets that Australian exporters can tap into in coming years, especially if progress is made in improving market access.

“The Australian F&A industry has been flexible and adept enough to navigate shifts in its customer base over many decades. This may prove to be the start of the next phase in that journey,” said Hunt

Food exporters go digital

It is now over four months since the World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. The far-reaching impacts of this invisible spreading disease have shone a spotlight like never before on the fragility of supply chains and the over-exposure of many businesses’ sales channels. Like tourism and higher education, Australia’s food and agribusiness industry instantly felt the effects of this unprecedented disruption.

For the businesses that service the $11 billion food service and wholesale sector, many of their customers were forced to close almost overnight – from hotels and restaurants, through to schools and nursing homes. This decimated the sales of these businesses, simultaneously leaving them with an oversupply of stock that they needed to find alternate retail channels to sell their wares.

The story was not too different for the businesses that export the almost $42bn of food and agribusiness products each year. When countries around the globe began closing their borders to passenger planes, Australian food and agribusinesses were left stranded as to how to get their products to market. Unbeknownst to many of the passengers sitting up the top of the cabin, these planes are loaded with tonnes of perishable food products.

With the food and agribusiness industry being such a significant contributor to the Australian economy, the Australian government acted quickly to support it to navigate this disruption. The export sector was given a $170 million to get it back up and moving. This saw hundreds of flights relaunched to deliver produce to the key export markets – China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Despite the movement of freight being reinitiated, it was far from business as usual for industry. For food and agribusiness exporters, continued growth is essential. This growth requires regular, in-market presence. With international travel and tradeshow attendance an impossibility, the sector was left scrambling for how to maintain the connectivity with customers and markets that will aid recovery. As the Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre, Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL), responded immediately to this pressing sector need with a number of digital solutions.

In just over a month after the new state of play became apparent, FIAL launched a new event – Virtual Meet the Buyer. A digital version of its tried and tested Meet the Buyer, where suppliers are able to connect with international buyers from all around the globe and access in-market information. Virtual Meet the Buyer is the only one of its kind in Australia. It provides export-ready Australian food and agribusinesses the opportunity to secure a one-on-one meeting with buyers – from China’s Shandong Province, through to the most recent event in Thailand.

To date, over 220 meetings between Australian businesses and international buyers have been facilitated. The benefits of this are three-fold for the sector. Commercial outcomes continue to be secured; Australian businesses can keep their foot in the door of a fickle market by creating connections with new buyers; and these businesses can ensure they are still able to have those ‘on-the-ground’ conversations with buyers that are critical for understanding the market potential for their products.

P’Petual and Beston Global Foods are just two of the businesses that have begun exporting to new customers off the back of attending Virtual Meet the Buyers in Singapore, Shandong, and Thailand.

What makes this initiative particularly interesting is how it accelerates the negotiation process. Many will be familiar with the length of time that it can take to convert a contact met at a tradeshow into a deal – sometimes months, even years. As Cathy Owen and Jenny Daniher, co-founders of Garlicious Grown put it, “Virtual Meet the Buyer cuts through a lot of the noise from the tradeshow floor.”

The matched nature of the meetings means that conversations are held in a secure virtual room between buyers that have indicated interest in a supplier’s products. This targeted approach is seeing export relationships continue to be formalised.

Underpinning the delivery of the Virtual Meet the Buyer has been FIAL’s Australian Food Catalogue. The Australian Food Catalogue is a free digital platform that allows Australian export-ready suppliers to showcase their products to hundreds of qualified international buyers.

“We have seen a sharp increase in buyers registering for the platform since travel restrictions came into effect. From here, buyers can request a meeting with a supplier that takes their interest,” said FIAL general manager markets, Rod Arenas.

According to Arenas, the demand for Australian products is not the problem. Australia has earned a great reputation for being a source of clean, safe and healthy foods. This is particularly attractive in the current climate so demand is remaining steady, if not rising. The hurdle has been maintaining connectivity to markets. Based off the response, the Virtual Meet the Buyer and Australian Food Catalogue have filled this void.

It is easy to see how these digital solutions that have arisen from disruption may persist even when international travel is back on the cards and tradeshows begin to repopulate the calendar.

The majority of Australia’s food and agribusiness sector is made up of small to medium sized enterprises. For them, having the financial and staffing resources to travel makes these virtual events and platforms an attractive avenue through which to grow their global presence.

Neil Offner, managing director of Australian Organic Exports, highlighted this exact sentiment when he stated that, “attending the Virtual Meet the Buyer is a low-risk investment – 20 minutes – to meet with a buyer that has requested to meet with you”.

“Being the Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre, we work incredibly closely with industry to deliver the bottoms-up offerings that increase the productivity and competitiveness of Australia’s food and agribusinesses. We saw a need for facilitating connections between suppliers and buyers so we delivered,” said Arenas.

As to whether FIAL will continue to deliver these digital initiatives once travel returns?
“If industry is asking for it, then we will offer it.”