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.


Simplot to announce fate of Devonport plant this week

Food processor Simplot is expected to announce if its Tasmanian Devonport plant will remain open later this week.

Should the decision the made to close the plant, it would affect approximately 300 factory employees and 130 farmers that supply produce, The Mercury reports.

In June this year, Simplot announced that two of its plants; Devonport in Tasmania and its Bathurst plant in NSW were under threat of closure due to rising operational costs, the strong Australian dollar and a highly competitive industry.

Since the announcement, the nation’s two Supermarket giants, Coles and Woolworths both struck deals with the processor that would see their frozen vegetable private label brands converted to 100 percent Australian grown produce.

Both deals serve as positive news for the vegetable processor however Simplot’s managing director, Terry O’Brien said last week that jobs cuts will still be required in order 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," said O'Brien.

"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."

If a decision is made to close the Devonport plant, operations will stop within three to five years.


Baiada underpayment claims are “bullshit”, says labour company

Workers at Baiada's chicken factory near Newcastle are claiming they've been underpaid, with one employee potentially owed $7,000 in backpay.

The workers concerned are supplied to the chicken processor by a labour hire company, Pham Poultry.

Both current and former employees are claiming they've been paid as little as half the legal minimum in cash, and with no payslips, the ABC reports.

Pham Poultry supplies foreign labour the Baiada – the umbrella company for brands including Lilydale and Steggles, and its director, Binh Nguyen, says the claims are "bullshit", arguing staff are paid in-line with the industry award.

Casual workers in the chicken processing industry are legally entitled to around $20 an hour, but two Chinese workers, Steve and Kelly, are claiming they were paid $12.50 an hour for men and $11.50 an hour for women.

Kelly is potentially owed $7,000 in backpay for 11 weeks work.

The workers are also claiming they worked six days a week, sometimes for up to 16 hours a day.

Kelly said the workers were paid $100 to live in a house with up to 30 people, with up to 12 people sharing a room.

"It's very dirty in the house. You have got mice, ants," she said.

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, which earlier this year complained to Baiada about Pham Poultry, believes underpaid workers are probably owed $160,000 a month in backpay.

This isn't the first time Baiada's been in the headlines for less than admirable reasons. In July the ACCC found the company had misled consumers by claiming its chickens were 'free to roam', when really their movements were restricted to an area comparable to an A4 piece of paper.

In 2011 images supplied to the SMH from Baiada's poultry plant in Laverton North in Victoria brought the company's food safety standards into question, with some of the pictures showing uncovered raw chickens palced on top of plastic bags filled with chicken, as well as cockroaches in storage containers.

Not long after, workers at the plant engaged in industrial action for 13 days with a round-the-clock picket line, demanding better pay and working conditions while also putting the spotlight on the death of Sarel Singh, who was decapitated when cleaning a chicken packing machine.


Farmers to facilitate ‘world first’ agricultural twitter discussion

October 16 – World Food Day, will mark a world first in the global agricultural industry as farmers from across the globe gear up to participate in the first world-wide, live twitter discussion on agricultural issues.

Organised by Dutch farmer and founder of @AgrichatNL Josien Kapma, the discussion is expected to bring together farmers from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the US, the Weekly Times Now reports.

“We share between us a large responsibility and World Food Day provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate and recognise that we are proud producers of the world’s food,” Ms Kapma said.

“But we also want to raise awareness of the issues we face in producing sufficient food sustainably.”

 The chat will be kicked off between 8-9.30pm BST by the UK’s main farming Twitter discussion group, AgrichatUK. To allow for the time difference, the discussion will also run on Thursday 17 October between 6-7.30am AEST and will be facilitated by @AgChatOZ.

The hashtags needed to contribute to the discussion  are #AgrichatWorld and #WFD2013.


Milmeg scores $21.4m contract with AACo

New Zealand based primary food processing equipment manufacturer, Milmeg has won a major contract with AACo to build refrigeration and food processing equipment for the new $91m NT abattoir.

The contract is reported to be worth $21.4m with AACo’s project manager, Stu Cruden stating that the company was chosen due to its solid reputation for supplying boning and slaughtering processing equipment, ABC Rural reports.

"We couldn't find anyone in Australia who were actually able to give us full turn-key operations,” said Cruden

"In saying that, Milmeq have sub-contracted to an Australian-based refrigeration company for some of the work within their tender,"

"They have had the first of the payments under those contracts which is enabling them to start the construction of equipment."

Cruden said that most of the construction work has been contracted to local NT companies through AACo’s managing contractor, Sunbuild, and that Danish company, Haarslev won a $6.5m contract to build the rendering and waste treatment plants.

AACo’s new abattoir was given the go-ahead in late August this year despite the departure of managing director and chief executive David Farley.


Agri Australis secures $70m hazelnut deal with Ferrero

Agri Australis are set to plant one million hazelnut trees on two farms near Narrandera in south-western NSW as part of a new $70m development.

The nuts are being grown for Italian chocolate maker Ferrero, with most of the nuts initially being exported to Europe, ABC Rural reports.

“They will be sent overseas for processing, but certainly the long term goal is just to have the processing done in Australia, to have the complete traceability of the food chain here and use what is in excess overseas," said Ferrero’s managing director Alessandro Boccardo.

Director of technical services at Narrandera Shire Council, Frank Dyson said that the project will bring significant value to the local community.

"It's a fantastic development, it will bring stable employment,” said Dyson

"It will also bring seasonal employment during the harvest period."

The first commercial crop is expected to be ready in around four years time with full production capacities reached in eight years.


Don’t waste your whey: new processing solution from Arla Foods

Arla Foods Ingredients, a developer and supplier of milk-based ingredients, has launched a new processing solution enabling Greek yoghurt manufacturers to profit from their acid whey waste stream.

The new process is based on the company's Nutrilac protein, allowing companies to use their acid whey to make value-added dairy products such as high protein fermented beverages, whey smoothies and fermented desserts.

With the growing popularity of Greek yoghurt, manufacturers have been increasing concerned about how to manage acid whey. For every 100kg of milk used to make traditional Greek yoghurt, only 33kg ends up in the final product; the remaining two-thirds is acid whey, a by-product which must be dealt with by the processor.

Traditionally, acid whey has been sent off to use in the animal feed and biofuels markets, but handling costs are high and returns are low. Others dispose of the whey in their waste stream, generating zero income and questionable effects on the environment.

Arla Foods Ingredients' Nutrilac protein is derived from milk and used to turn acid whey into a range of dairy products.

Torben Jensen, application manager at Arla Foods Ingredients, said  "Until now it has simply been accepted that acid whey is an inavoidable waste product of Greek yoghurt production – but not any more. With the addition of our Nutrilac protein solution to the acid whey, what was once a waste product is now a raw material that can be used to create a high quality product with added value."

The acid whey concept is also suitable in other applications where acid whey is a by-product, including quark production.


Fonterra Australia secures government grant to expand production at Stanhope site

Fonterra Australia will be investing $6m into its Northern Victorian site of Stanhope to support the manufacture of a ricotta cheese processing facility with additional help from a Victorian state government grant worth $250,000

The state government’s grant which comes under the Industries for Today and Tomorrow program, is designed to support manufacturing investment in regional Victoria.

Deputy Premier of Victoria, Peter Ryan MLA, announced the grant this morning at the Stanhope site, stating that the investment will include new cheese making, processing and packaging equipment.

The expansion of the site will create six new jobs and is part of a plan to transfer production from Fonterra’s Cororoohe site which is due to close early next year.

“This is a great example of Government and industry working together to ensure we deliver on the global opportunities for dairy. By focusing Stanhope’s production on high-value products, like ricotta cheese, we are able to increase the site’s productivity, efficiency and competitiveness,” said Judith Swales, managing director of Fonterra Australia.

“This investment will help ‘future-proof’ the Stanhope site and strengthen our presence in northern Victoria. It is another step towards achieving our goal of having the most competitive and sustainable dairy supply chain in Australia.”

The Cororooke site will continue to make ricotta until April 2014, with the rest of the site (which includes shredded cheese, cream and blending and packing functions) due to close in October.


Nestle commits to clean water and sanitation pledge

Global food manufacturing giant Nestle is one of the first signatories to a new pledge designed to commit business to the supply of clean water and high levels of sanitation in all of their operations

The pledge know as the “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Implementation at the workplace” (WASH) was created by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

The pledge challenges companies to provide access to safe water and sanitation, as well as appropriate facilities to ensure personal hygiene at all premises in their direct control within three years of signing.

Carlo Galli, Technical and Strategic Advisor for Water Resources, Nestlé, said that although Nestle already provides access to clean water throughout its direct operations, the company hopes that its support of WASH will encourage other businesses to make a similar commitment.

"We already commit to providing access to clean water to our employees at all of our direct operations, including our 468 factories worldwide, as part of our existing commitment on water stewardship", he said.

“We hope that together with the other companies that have already signed up, we can encourage more businesses to do the same.”

Peter Bakker, President of WBCSD said that by signing the pledge, businesses have the opportunity to show their commitment to addressing one of the world’s most pressing socio-economic challenges.

“Today, millions of people are still without access to safe drinking water and billions lack access to adequate sanitation,” said Peter Bakker, President, WBCSD.

“There is a compelling and clear economic case for businesses to demonstrate leadership in addressing this social imperative and one of the most pressing socio-economic challenges of our times.

“The WASH pledge is a direct and tangible contribution they can make to this.”

In addition to Nestle, other companies that have signed the WASH pledge include Deloitte LLP, EDF, Greif, Hindustan Construction Company, Roche Group, and Unilever.


Fonterra’s new Darfield plant boasts the world’s largest milk powder drier

Dairy giant Fonterra, kicked the world’s largest milk powder drier into gear at its Darfield site last week.

The first batches of milk powder will be exported to more than 20 markets worldwide including the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia, and marks the completion of the co-operative’s $500m development of its Darfield site which has been three years in the making.

Robert Spurway, Fonterra’s director of logistics said that in peak season, the drier will be running 24/7 and will produce over 700 metric tonnes – which is equivalent to 45 shipping containers each day.

Spurway says that the addition of the second drier is a testament to the co-operatives’ manufacturing capabilities.

“The demand for dairy nutrition around the world, especially for whole milk powder, is still strong. Drier Two will ensure that Fonterra has the capacity to meet this demand and to process ongoing milk growth in Canterbury, the fastest growing dairy region in New Zealand,’ said Spurway.

“The new drier will help the Co-operative meet the growing demand for dairy nutrition globally and will play an important role in Fonterra’s strategy to optimise its New Zealand milk business.

“With Drier Two now online at Darfield, we are taking fresh milk from farms within a 65k radius from the site, and have successfully completed our first production run of whole milk powder.”


Simplot to receive payroll tax help

Food processing giant Simplot will receive payroll tax rebates from the NSW government over the next three years while the company reviews its operations.

NSW deputy premier, Andrew Stoner announced that Simplot’s Bathurst factory will receive assistance to support upgrades in light of the company’s announcement earlier this year that unsustainable high costs and a highly competitive landscape could see the closure of Simplot’s Bathurst and Devonport plants.

“The Simplot board is due to meet in the coming days to decide on the future of three of its Australian factories which are under review in the face of increasing competitive pressures in the food processing and manufacturing sector,'' Stoner told The Weekly Times Now.

"The Bathurst plant currently employs around 195 full-time equivalent staff and makes a significant contribution to the local economy and to the local community.

"To help relieve some pressure on the plant and the staff who work there, Simplot has been approved for assistance in the form of payroll tax rebates for the next three years, through the NSW Regional Industries Investment Fund.''

The decision to provide assistance to the processor, known for brands such as John West, Edgell, Birds Eye, Leggo’s and Lean Cuisine – was welcomed by NSW Farmers horticulture spokesman, Peter Darley.

"We have been saying for years that manufacturing of Australian food is crucial if our agriculture industry is to survive and to ensure that consumers do not have to rely upon imported food,'' he said.

"This is a small first step but more importantly a good sign that our state government values local food manufacturing, growers and regional communities."


pitt&sherry design milk processing plants for Murray Goulburn

Australian engineering consultancy firm, pitt&sherry is designing two state-of-the-art pasteurised milk processing plants for Australian dairy giant, Murray Goulburn Co-operative.

The two new processing plants which are located at Laverton in Victoria and Erskine Park in New South Wales are expected to be commissioned by July 2014. Each facility with be capable of supplying 150m packaged litres of milk annually to Coles as part of a landmark 10 year supplying deal with MGC for the supermarkets private label brands.

Andrew Buckley, National Leader – Food & Beverage at pitt&sherry, said that the company was approached by MGC to deliver the project following the success of the Smithton Dairy Processing Facility in Tasmania where the company met a rigorous design and development  timeline.

Buckley says that similar tight time constraints will also be delivered for Murray Goulburn’s new facilities.

“To aid this we have developed one above ground design that will be duplicated on both sites,” said Buckely.

“This not only reduces the design timeline, but also significantly reduces building construction time and cost,

“All project members have actively collaborated throughout the project to ensure the plants’ whole-of-life environmental, social and financial costs were considered.”

The new plants will incorporate the world’s latest processing technology that will deliver the highest possible quality standards.

Buckey says that he is delighted to be working with Murray Goulburn on the high profile project.

“pitt&sherry has a long standing relationship with MGC, including through the services of our RARE Consulting division, which worked with MGC to deliver one of the first large heavy vehicle fleets to use liquid natural gas as a diesel replacement,” said Buckley.

“The involvement in these two plants has further developed this relationship and established pitt&sherry as one of the major players in the dairy space.”


Waste not, want not: how packaging can help tackle food waste

With the global population set to soar and the growth of our agricultural industry threatened by climate change and competing land uses, Australia needs to toss out food waste – and packaging is the key.

Around 40 percent of all food intended for human consumption in developed countries ends up as waste.

In Australia, 4.2 million tonnes of food sees its way to landfill each year: 2.7 million tonnes from households and 1.5 million from the commercial and industrial sector.

And with the global demand for food expected to jump 77 percent by 2050 (compared to 2007), food and beverage manufacturers need to reassess not only how they go about making their products, but what they’re doing to ensure they survive the supply chain and, at the end of the day, are consumed, not wasted.

RMIT University recently released a report, commissioned by CHEP Australia, titled The Role of Packaging in Minimising Food Waste in the Supply Chain of the Future, which examined where and why food waste occurs along the food supply chain.

An Australian-first, the research draws on an international literature review as well as interviews with representatives from 15 organisations from within Australia’s food and packaging industries, focusing on food waste that occurs prior to consumption.

Australia’s food manufacturing industry is the second largest non-domestic contributor to food waste, sending 312,000 tonnes to landfill each year, beaten only by the food services sector, which generates 661,000 tonnes of food waste annually.

But this doesn’t mean our food and beverage manufacturers are wasteful or negligent – most of the food waste that occurs in the industry is unavoidable, and almost 90 percent is recovered and used as animal feed, compost, or energy.

Helen Lewis, adjunct professor and environmental consultant at RMIT University, told Food magazine, “The recovery rate in the food manufacturing sector is already very high, so the focus needs to be on reducing the amount of waste that is generated in the first place.

“Most manufacturers can do more to reduce the amount of waste they generate in distribution and at a retail level by looking more closely at where and why this occurs. For example, if manufacturers don’t specify their distribution packaging carefully, it may fail during transport or handling and result in products being damaged and thrown away. There is definitely an opportunity to improve the level of packaging expertise within companies to ensure packaging is specified correctly,” she says.

Report recommendations
The study lists a number of reasons for food loss and waste at each stage of the supply chain, including damage from pests and disease as well as unpredictable weather conditions in agricultural production; products not meeting retailers’ quality and/or appearance specifications; and issues in distribution including damage in transit/storage due to packaging failures and inadequate remaining shelf lives.

The report then went on to identify a number of opportunities to reduce food waste through packaging improvements. These include:

  1. Distribution packaging that provides better protection and shelf life for fresh produce as it moves from the farm to the processor, wholesaler or retailer
  2. Distribution packaging that supports recovery of surplus and unsaleable fresh produce from farms and redirects it to food rescue organisations
  3. Improved design of secondary packaging to ensure that it is fit for purpose, i.e. that it adequately protects food products as they move through the supply chain
  4. A continuing shift to pre-packed and processed foods to extend the shelf life of food products and reduce waste in distribution and at the point of consumption
  5. Adoption of new packaging materials and technologies to extend shelf life of foods (see table below)
  6. Education of manufacturers, retailers and consumers about the meaning of use-by and best before date marks on primary packaging to ensure that these are used appropriately
  7. Product and packaging developments to cater for changing consumption patterns and smaller households
  8. Collaboration between manufacturers and retailers to improve the industry’s understanding of food waste in the supply chain, with greater attention given to where and why this occurs
  9. More synchronised supply chains that use intelligent packaging and data sharing to reduce excess or out-of-date stock
  10.  Increase use of retail ready packaging to reduce double handling and damage and improve stock turnover, while ensuring that it’s designed for effective product protection and recoverability at end of life.

This list of recommendations indicates that improvements can be made to both primary packaging and secondary/tertiary packaging in order to protect a product up until it’s on a retailer’s shelf, while also boosting its longevity once it’s there.

CHEP Australia has a significant interest in the study’s findings, not just because it commissioned the report but also because it describes its pallet, container and crate pooling services as an inherently sustainable business model, preventing one-way packaging and mimimising resources.

Phillip Austin, president of CHEP Australia and New Zealand, said the company’s reusable plastic crates are a good example of both primary and secondary/tertiary packaging that can extend shelf life.

“CHEP’s reusable plastic crates eliminate the need to repack produce as it moves through the supply chain, which reduces the opportunity for damage during handling. The strength of the crate and better ventilation and cooling rates also help to protect the produce,” he told Food magazine.

“Reusable packaging is more robust than one-way cartons and less susceptible to piercing by sharp objects or crushing as it moves through the supply chain.”

Austin said an independent life cycle assessment of CHEP’s reusable plastic crates shows they save 8,000 tonnes of solid waste, 64,000 tonnes of carbon emissions and 460 million litres of water from the supply chain every year.

An Australian grower interviewed as part of the RMIT University study (all of whom remain anonymous), agrees that reusable plastic crates can improve efficiencies and extends produce’s saleability.

“Plastic crates allow for better ventilation and better protection. They also support better transport utilisation because the pallets can be stacked higher. They don’t require as much stretch wrap. There is less handling, although the crates aren’t used as much for retail display as they were originally. Plastic crates allow us to wet the product, which helps extend shelf life (unlike cardboard),” the grower said.

Primary packaging
While of course secondary/tertiary packaging technologies such as reusable plastic crates can have a positive influence on reducing food waste, a large proportion of the industry’s focus, as the issue of sustainability becomes more and more prominent, will be on developments in primary packaging, as this is where shelf life is a key consideration in packaging design.

Confusion surrounding the meaning of ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates is a significant contributor to food waste in Australia. Consumers often dispose of products when they’re still of a good, edible quality, and poor stock rotation systems or materials handling processes could see perfectly good foods discarded by manufacturers, which not only wastes food but comes at a significant cost to the company as well.

“There does appear to be a lot of confusion about the difference between use by and best before dates, and when a food is still safe to eat. It’s a problem for consumers, who may get the two mixed up and throw away food that is still edible,” Lewis says.

The NSW’s government’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign is managed by the Environment Protection Authority and run in partnership with retailers, food manufacturers, local government authorities and community groups in an effort to reduce food waste in the state.

While 97 percent of respondents in its Food Waste Avoidance Benchmark study believed they store their food correctly and poor storage doesn’t contribute to food waste, those that did identify poor storage as a contributor to waste cited a lack of understanding of storage instructions/conditions and not using food before its used by or best before date as the main contributors.

Sixty-four percent of respondents knew the difference between use by and best before dates, but the Food Waste Avoidance Benchmark study concluded that more work can be done to clarify these definitions and reduce consumer confusion.

“Food manufacturers can help by ensuring that the dates are clearly marked on the packaging, not hidden under a seam or written in tiny font. They need to be readable. They can also provide more information to consumers about the meaning of date marks and how to store food correctly to extend its life,” Lewis says.

Where today’s use by and best before dates sometimes fall short, ‘intelligent’ or ‘interactive’ packaging technologies represent opportunities for both manufacturers and consumers to be given real time information on a product’s quality.

The RMIT University study says “Supply chain collaboration and data sharing could be facilitated by ‘intelligent’ or ‘interactive’ packaging technologies. Intelligent food packaging can provide real time use-by or expiration data, product tracing and temperature indicators, which are either time-based, activated by certain chemicals, driven by radio frequency identification data (RFID), or have thermal sensors, to provide better ‘on demand’ feedback to various supply chain stakeholders.”

Helen Lewis agrees that these ‘smart’ technologies could be a game-changer in the food manufacturing industry.

“Smart labels will become more important as technologies improve and costs come down. They can help companies to track and manage inventories to reduce waste in the supply chain. They can also be used by manufacturers, retailers and consumers to identify when a food has spent time outside of its required temperature range,” she told Food magazine.

Will more packaging help?
It might seem a little ironic that one of the strongest themes of the RMIT University study is the need to extend shelf life and reduce food waste by increasing the amount of packaging used on food products.

If food manufacturers and producers are to curb the amount of waste they send to landfill, shouldn’t they be reducing their reliance on packaging, not increasing it?

The RMIT University report says that the industry can reduce food waste by supporting a growing shift towards processed and pre-packed foods, while also considering product and packaging developments that cater for single or smaller serve products, therefore reducing waste by meeting the needs of single and two person households.

But this theory of using packaging to enhance shelf life extends beyond processed foods. Despite what many may argue, keeping fresh produce in its natural state isn’t necessarily the best option when it comes to product longevity.

The challenge, according to the study, is to find a balance or establish “trade-offs” between convenience, packaging, shelf life and product waste.

However it’s a case by case, or rather product by product, situation. A fresh produce supplier interviewed for the research noted that plastic film around a bunch of fresh herbs can extend its shelf life from two to five days. Packing fresh herbs in punnets (another growing consumer trend) doubles this again.

However, some cut vegetables that are washed, peeled and cut before hitting retailers’ shelves suffer a reduced shelf life thanks to faster physiological deterioration and microbial degradation.

If Australia follows current trends in countries such as the US, we will soon be seeing a lot more pre-packed fresh produce, says Helen Lewis.

“This is already happening, partly in response to consumer interest in convenient and pre-prepared foods such as salad mixes, which use multi-layer and modified atmosphere packaging. More sophisticated packaging is being developed for specific product categories, such as seafood,” she says.

“The trend towards more packaging, particularly for fresh produce, involves a conscious trade-off. We will end up using more packaging to reduce food waste, and some of this packaging is not yet widely recyclable. However, in most cases the benefits appear to outweigh the costs from an environmental point of view. This is because we know that the environmental footprint of food is so much greater than the impact of the packaging, when you consider all of the energy, water, land and chemicals that go into growing, processing and transporting food over its life cycle.

“A small amount of packaging can extend the product’s shelf life and ensure that it gets consumed rather than thrown away. To manage this trade-off it’s important that all packaging is designed to minimise environmental impacts and to be recyclable at the end of its life.”

So less isn’t necessarily best when it comes to packaging and sustainability. No doubt consumers in Australia are becoming more environmentally-conscious, but they’re also seeking convenient, affordable meal solutions, so as The Role of Packaging in Minimising Food Waste in the Supply Chain of the Future suggests, food manufacturers need to establish “trade-offs” to ensure all parties – consumers, businesses and of course the environment – are not only happy and healthy, but are getting the most out of their food – for the long term.

Examples of primary packaging technologies to extend shelf life

Images: healthyalternatives.co.nz,


Burra Foods to enter milk powder market

South Gippsland based dairy processor Burra foods have announced that they will commence production of nutritional milk powders next year.

The addition of milk powders to the company’s portfolio has also attracted an initial $20m investment to fund the expansion and upgrade to the company's Korumburra plant.

Grant Crothers, chief executive of Burra Foods said that the decision to expand its operations into milk powder production is largely attributed to growing global demand, especially within Asia.

“The global outlook for dairy is strong, particularly the demand for high quality complex products such as infant formula, which is being driven largely by the Chinese market,'' said Crothers.

"We have a proven success in international marketing, a stable and high quality milk supply and many complementary assets so are well placed to enhance production capabilities and enter this high value, challenging market.

"This expansion is a strategic entry into a key market and we expect further investment in additional capability in the medium term.''

Dale O’Neill, general manger of Burra Foods said that the planning approval for the upgrades from the state government will enable the company to reach its strategic goals.

"This announcement underpins our strategy of continually improving the value of our product basket and growing the value, not necessarily the volume of milk processed on the site," he said.

"Infrastructure in South Gippsland has been less than ideal for 'world's best' manufacturing and continues to be sub-optimal however if we can continue to secure State Government support for upgrades we will achieve our potential while the community will benefit from superior services."


Farmer buys into Windsor Farm Foods to bring processing in-house

A NSW beetroot farmer has bought most of the processing lines from the collapsed Windsor Farm Foods cannery in an effort to establish his own vegetable processing facility.

Ed Fagan said both Woolworths and buys urged him to make the investment.

"The first thing is that we have had Woolworths knocking on our door telling us to do it," he said, according to the ABC.

"That gives you confidence."

The Windsor Farm Foods cannery in Cowra went into voluntary administration earlier this year, sacking more than 70 workers and leaving many local growers shortchanged including Fagan, who was left with $200,000 worth of beetroot uncontracted.

Fagan says investing in his own processing facility will give him more control of the supply chain.

"For 70 years we've been growing things that have ended up going to someone else who's preserved it or chopped it up or something else and on-sold.

"We believe there is a future in value-adding and we are looking at taking that value-added step," he said.

Another farmer determined to have more control over how his produce is handled and sold is Tony Galati, one of Western Australia's biggest fruit and vegetables growers.

Galati recently launched his own big-box liquor store, the Liquor Shed, aiming to take on the supermarket duopoly and promote WA wine makers. 


Less than three percent of soy is grown sustainably, report says

A recent paper published by global auditing firm KPMG has stated that only three percent or less of the world’s soy supply is currently certified under one of the standards designed to promote more responsible production.

The report identifies the barriers that are preventing growth in responsible, certified soy production and proposes an action plan to overcome them.

The paper titled – A Roadmap to Responsible Soy: approaches to increase certification and reduce risk, was a collaboration with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), WWF, FMO (the Netherlands Development Finance Company) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The reports emphasises that sustainable production of soy is paramount as it is one of the world’s most valuable crops, yielding more protein per hectare than almost any other crop.

The paper highlights the fact that soy is lagging far behind other commodities which have demonstrated increasingly higher levels of certified production with examples including: 50 percent of non-farmed whitefish, 16 percent of coffee and 14 percent of palm oil production.

Jerwin Tholen of KPMG and co-author of the report, says that unsustainable soy production is having significant environmental and social impacts.

“Soy production is soaring driven by population growth and increasing wealth in the developing world. But as production grows so do the industry’s environmental and social impacts. The very low level of certified soy in the supply chain at the moment presents a risk to large-scale users of soy especially food producers and retailers. Global NGO and activist campaigns have targeted palm oil in recent years, but attention is also being paid to soy," he said.

“Addressing the barriers to responsible soy production is not a job for soy producers alone. It needs a collaborative approach across the supply chain from producers and end-users, traders and processors, investors and certification bodies, and governments and consumers.”

The four key barriers identified in the report include:

  • Weak market demand for certified soy
  • Variable availability of certified soy
  • Fragmentation of the certification landscape
  • The cost of certification for soy farmers.

Key recommendations made in the report include:

  • Increased commitment to certification by end users of soy including major food and retail brands
  • Greater collaboration between the many and various certification schemes to align their assessment criteria and processes, and improve mutual recognition
  • Financial support from soy processors to assist farmers in funding the up-front costs of certification
  • Greater demand from banks for certification as a pre-condition to providing finance to companies in the soy supply chain
  • More financial incentives for certification to be provided by governments, for example through their tax systems

The study has found that there is a convincing business case for many farmers from key producing companies such as Brazil and Argentina to invest in certifying their production, with the average payback period being only three years and only one year for larger farmering operations..

Tholen adds, “Given that end-user companies such as manufacturers of food, animal feed and biofuel, arguably face the greatest risks from slow progress towards certification, KPMG recommends that these companies should evaluate the issues and potential impacts, and develop a response strategy and plan of action.”


Don’t let pest management eat away at you

Pest management is a dirty word for some food manufacturers. They don't like to talk about it, and they don't like to admit that it's an integral part of their business. But let's face it – if you're a food brand in Australia worth your name in salt, then you must have a pretty serious pest management plan in place.

Having a strategy for keeping creepy crawlies out of your facility, as well as one for removing them if they find their way in, is indicative of a proactive, responsible business, not a negligent one.

But, like a lot of regulation in the food manufacturing industry, knowing exactly what an effective pest management strategy looks like can be difficult.

There are a wide array of pest management standards that a brand can adhere to, depending on what products it manufactures and where those products will be sold.

Eighteen months ago, the Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association (AEPMA) penned a Code of Practice for pest management in the food industry in Australia and New Zealand.

David Gray, national president of the AEPMA, says "With the industry Code of Practice, we didn't create anything new, really. We just took the benchmarks that were there and, in a nutshell, if someone is setting up a pest management program in a food manufacturing facility and they set it up to the Australia and New Zealand Code of Practice, then they will meet the requirements of all the existing standards or codes that are out there."

The Code, which aims to define best practice in managing pests in food manufacturing, is a go-to guide not only for food brands, but also for auditors and pest management companies.

"We've added some additional value in the sense that auditors usually come from the food industry. Their expertise is in food, some of them have some experience in pest management but most don't. So we've developed this Code equally for their benefit, so they can look at it and then audit the pest management program against the Code. It gives them some KPIs that they can measure against, rather than just going in and approaching it blindly," Gray told Food magazine.

"It also includes the downstream suppliers to the food industry, so the suppliers of raw materials, and things like packaging. Often the packaging plants and packaging materials come under the same stringent requirements because they're supplying into the food industry."

Abiding by the AEPMA's Code of Practice means food manufacturers will not necessarily have less regulatory I's to dot or T's to cross, but will at least know what systems and processes it needs to have in place to ensure everything's kosher, so to speak.

Stephen Ware, national executive director at the AEPMA, says "In the pest management industry, everyone knows they need pest managers, but the food manufacturers haveproblems because auditors turn up and different auditors have different ideas of what should happen as far as, for instance, where to put down rodent baits and traps. The Code of Practice has helped to clarify that.

"That's why [the Code] has been pretty well accepted by both the pest controllers – who don't really want to argue with everybody about where he should put the bait – and the food manufacturer – who doesn't want to have to sit down and have an argument with every auditor that comes in."

A multi-faceted approach
Paul Moreira, service manager for Victoria at Adams Pest Control, says the two fundamental pillars of pest management are hygiene and maintenance.

But this isn't as straight forward as it may sound, he insists.

"In the food industry there's a requirement to integrate a pest management approach which is multi-faceted. So rather than just focusing on applying a pesticide, it's about identifying proofing issues, harbourage issues, alternative food sources. All of those things link into the site's pest management program," he said.

Safety of the end product, obviously, is a high priority in pest control in the food industry. Manufacturers need to be very careful about where and how they fight off pests, and there are a number of options available to them, Moreira says.

While toxic bates are available, which are consumed by rodents and kill them five to 10 days later, Moreira believes that in the coming years the industry will move award from these chemicals.

"Another approach is to have a monitoring block, which allows you to assess activity. So the pest controller goes around and has a look at if the block has been consumed or not,and if it has you obviously have a problem and you have to go down the path of getting rid of the infestation," he says.

This approach means there's no risk of contaminating the product being manufactured, but on the other hand it's purely an information gathering exercise – it doesn't treat the problem at all.

It's for this reason that the American Institute of Baking (AIB), which has an internationally recognised standard, is moving away from the use of non-toxic chemical blocks internally, instead recommending the use of mechanical traps.

"It's all about minimising pests within the site by hitting them outside, and then inside your treatment becomes a non-toxic approach. According to the AIB's standard you have to use a mechanical trap. You can't use a monitoring block … because all that does is feed the rodent. You haven't addressed the issue of having the rodent there."

While Adams Pest Control's latest product, Baitsafe, can be used with toxic baits, it's like nothing else on the market as it allows food manufacturers to use pesticides in cavities in a safe, controllable way, Moreira says.

"What Baitsafe allows us to do is put a device in that cavity and then apply the pesticide in a very secure way. It looks like a fire alarm. It's flush against the ceiling, but it doesn't have to be in the ceiling. It can be in the splashback of the kitchen, it can be in the kickplate of a bench or in a wall, but it sits flush against it.

"We have a key, we place it in the device, open it and the pesticide is on the other side, or we can even apply a monitoring block or a sticky board to allow us to gauge the activity levels of, say, fruit flies or cockroaches, then we close the device.

"So as far as anyone on this side of the wall, where people work, are concerned, all they see is a tiny little circular flat planel and they can't access the pesticide that's on the other side," Moreira says.

Money well spent
Food manufacturers need to be proactive with their pest management strategy. It goes without saying that it's much easier – and more cost effective – to prevent an infestation from occurring than it is to have one treated.

So while regular inspections and a detailed pest management strategy might seem like an unneccesary expense, it's money well spent, says Simon Lean, Australian technical manager at Rentokil.

"Pest control isn't free but they [food manufacturers] do get good value for money. It's always something you have to have on your books and something manufacturers often want to get done for as cheap as possible, but generally, if people are chasing cheap pest control they get a cheap job, and if they get a cheap job they end up with pest problems.

"That's the last thing they need because all these food manufacturing companies are very particular about brand protection. The last thing they want is for someone to see a rat in a loaf of bread or something like that," Lean told Food magazine.

"A PR disaster can really hit these companies. But it's not just PR. If they've got a contaminated line in their manufacturing, just imagine if they have to close that line down because it's either riddled with pests or simply broken. The cost of that line being down could be thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands a week, in lost production. Whether that be because of pests or an engineering concern, it gets very serious and it really does hit their bottom line."

Regular inspections are critical for any food brand, especially those in older facilities that may not be able to keep pests out as effectively as new buildings can.

Having said that, regular – and thorough – hygiene and maintenance schedules go a long way in pest-proofing your business, and therefore minimise the likelihood and cost of treating infestations, replacing equipment or – heaven forbid – dealing with product recalls.

"If you keep things clean and in good working order, it's going to be easier to inspect for any pest problems, and you're not going to have as many pest problems because it's clean and you don't have any food for the pests or harbourage where they can hide and breed," Lean says.

"That's why inspections are so critical in food manufacturing."


Regions battle for new meatworks

Two north-west regions are battling it out to be home for a proposed new meatworks site.

Producers across the country agree that a new meatworks facility would help the industry move away from live exports – an industry which has struggled since the infamous ban to Indonesia in 2011 – and towards chilled and boxed beef.

However, representatives from Cloncurry and Hughenden are now at loggerheads over which town would make the best location for a new facility, the North West Star reports.

Cloncurry mayor, Andrew Daniels, said he doesn't care where a meatworks is built, as long as it is built somewhere. He did add, however, that Cloncurry has sufficient power supply to run a meatworks and is strategically placed at three intersecting highways, making transport of chilled beef a supported industry. But ultimately,

Flinders Shire mayor, Gregory Jones, vouched for Hughenden by arguing the region would be more central to the supply of cattle, especially considering the Australian Agriculture Company (AACo) is constructing an abattoir in Darwin to account for the cattle currently over-supplying the Northern Territory market.

Jones said Cloncurry would struggle to provide labour for the meatworks as a lot of its resources are dedicated to mining, but insisted his council would be more able to supply the low-cost housing needed to set up a meatworks that would bring employment to the town.

There's also talk of a new $30m abattoir on King Island, but the viability of the facility would be dependent on secure meat prices, a well-promoted brand and a supply commitment from producers.

According to The Mercury, a government-funded $48,000 study has found that any new meatworks would need to be a full export facility, and the island's beef producers would need to provide it rather than the Tasmanian mainland with their beef in order for it to work.

Since the closure of the JBS abattoir last year, farmers have been paying $112 per head to send cattle off the island, but this cost has been offset by competition between JOB in Longford and another processor, Greenhams.


Government talks provide hope for fruit growers

Goulburn Valley orchardist Peter Hall, along with fellow fruit growers and officials from the Manufacturing Workers Union discussed the regions fruit crisis with parliamentarians in Canberra yesterday.

Following the decision to cut the supply of fruit significantly from the region earlier this year due to increased imports, SPC Ardmona has called for the implementation of emergency safeguard measures from the Federal Government to protect growers in the future as reported by the Weekly Times Now.

According to Hall, figures from the growers’ association showed that SPCA’s discontinuation of contracts with 60 growers would equate to around 1800 jobs lost. Despite this, Hall believes that the government is making progress on the issue.

"I get the sense there is some movement on it, but from a fruit growers point of view it's been very hard to get government's ear when it comes to these things in the past,'' Mr Hall said.

"We were basically told the Coalition was supportive of the measures if they fitted the WTO protocols, and the government is listening to us at the very least.

"We're still in limbo, but this is an unfolding crisis and the more discussion this opens up, from a farming perspective, the better.''

Hall believes that the downfall of major food processors Rosella and Heinz should serve as a warning to industry.

 "We want to pay good wages to workers, we don't want fruit covered in chemicals, but we need to be given this support to go on doing it. Otherwise there won't be a fruit industry here that's competitive.''

"This is an Australian industry which – despite all the challenges – has been profitable for 100 years.''


Product development sprayer gives local companies access to new markets

New Zealand’s Waikato Innovation Park is using a product development spray dryer known as FoodWaikato to dry avocado pulp into a high value powder for use in food products.

FoodWaikato is the only open access product development spray dryer in NZ and is part of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network which supports growth and development in the New Zealand food and beverage industry.

The dryer is currently helping company’s including Bay of Plenty and Avocado Oil New Zealand to develop the products for commercial use including rehydrated guacamole, smoothies and baby food.

Plant manager Dave Shute said that the dryer had previously been used for drying milk products and the switch to drying fruit, such as avocado presented a few challenges, including cleaning the plant to ensure the highest possible safety standards.

“Our plant has been up and running for one year now and we’ve primarily been drying milk products.  So, drying avocados – in fact fruit of any kind – was new territory for us,” said Shute.

“We did our first trial run in January, which introduced us to the challenges of dealing with a fruit that is fibrous, highly viscous, and oxidises rapidly if exposed to air.” 

Shulte said that Waikato Innovation Park is currently in discussions with around ten different companies who wish to do trials with several other fruit and vegetable products.

“We want to get the word out to food innovators within New Zealand and throughout Australasia that we’re here to help.  If you have a great idea for a new dairy, fruit or vegetable product that requires drying, come talk to us,” he said.

Brian Richardson, Executive Director of Avocado Oil New Zealand said that the creation of Avopure, its new avocado powder would not have been possible without with access to FoodWaikato’s product development sprayer.

“The avocado powder we have developed has a unique point of difference on the international stage compared to our competitors. It will be the first premium avocado powder available which contains no added fillers or carriers and contains higher levels of potassium, fibre and energy,” said Richardson.

Richardson said that the development of the powder has now given them access to an entirely new export market.

Avopure will be sold initially in the US, Japan, China and Australia.