02/12/2016 - 10:16

Cheung beefs up produce pipeline

02/12/2016 - 10:16


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A Singaporean businessman plans to advance the potential of WA’s $7 billion-plus agriculture export market.

Cheung beefs up produce pipeline
Bruce Cheung says the power of Chinese chefs to influence consumer choice is one way to create more awareness and demand for WA produce. Photo: Nathan Dyer

A Singaporean businessman plans to advance the potential of WA’s $7 billion-plus agriculture export market.

A lifetime of experience in international trade and recognition of the export opportunities in Asia for Western Australia’s high-quality primary produce were among the factors behind Bruce Cheung’s decision to launch a new venture as a beef producer.

The Singapore-based owner and chair of Pardoo Beef Corporation said his goal had been to find a long-lasting project that would remain relevant in an ever-changing world.

“I asked myself what the potential needs were in a world that would soon grow to 10 billion people, with an emerging middle class,” Mr Cheung told Business News.

“They need clean, traceable and high-quality protein either from the sea or clean environments, so I started searching for good farmland of reasonable value.”

Mr Cheung said he considered Argentina and parts of Africa, but WA’s attractive infrastructure, proximity to the Asian market and export demand made it stand out.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA exported an estimated $7.79 billion in agriculture and food products in 2014-15, with around 70 per cent destined for Asia, with China, Indonesia and Vietnam some of the state’s largest markets.

Mr Cheung’s commitment to his new business plan came in March 2015 when he bought the Pardoo station in the Pilbara, which included 5,800 head of cattle, for $13.5 million.

He has since engaged with leading international breeders as far away as Hokkaido Japan to build the Pilbara’s first Wagyu herd and produce high-quality, purebred Wagyu beef from 2018.

But Mr Cheung has more than just a taste for superior beef.

Pardoo’s sister company, China International Duty Free, has access to more than 80 international retail airport outlets, cruise liners and ports, and Mr Cheung plans to leverage this accessibility to deliver both Pardoo’s ‘Exclusively Pilbara Wagyu’ beef as well as other WA produce direct to Asian consumers.

“There is an emerging Asian middle class that has left a stage of saving money and buying luxury brands; now they want to buy a new experience,” Mr Cheung said.

“WA has truffles, lobsters, abalone, marron, even some of the Aboriginal offerings like traditional spices are unique.

“It could be a good market opportunity if there’s consistent supply.”

At last month’s 2016 Margaret River Gourmet Escape Augusta Seafood Discovery Lunch, about 100 diners were treated to local delicacies including, lobsters, eel, prawns, abalone and beef cooked by two of China’s top chefs and WA food ambassador Don Hancey.

Guohui Tan and Hongsheng Chen, both respected and renowned chefs from prominent hotels in China, were brought to the event courtesy of Pardoo and were also invited to the ‘Pilbara Plate’ event in August this year.

Mr Cheung said Gourmet Escape provided an opportunity to shape the chefs as WA food advocates and promoters of local produce to one of the world’s most discerning markets.

“The people who influence change are not food and beverage managers, it’s often the chef that has more of an influence over the purchasing department,” he said.

“My aim in bringing these two talented chefs to WA was to introduce them to local producers and experience local cooking techniques in the hope they will take these products back to China and show people how these ingredients can be used in Chinese cooking.

“This could provide real business opportunities to WA as its agricultural sector is poised for a new growth stage.”

In April, Mr Cheung organised an event in Shenzhen, China, for more than 300 guests from China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, exclusively serving WA fresh produce and local beverages as part of the biennial EastXWest Forum, which aims to promote closer business ties between WA and China.

“It’s a chicken or the egg question, what comes first, demand or supply?” Mr Cheung said.

“By bringing awareness of WA produce to chefs and their consumers, and by sponsoring these two chefs, hopefully we can create that demand; without that commercial demand, producers are not going to scale-up.

“There are a lot of unique offerings here, yet no-one is really bridging that to a full effect.”

To improve this situation, Mr Cheung hopes he can help local producers build scale to become more viable for export.

“Some producers have a lot of resources but require financing,” Mr Cheung said.

“People want to invest but producers need to come up to a certain scale first.

“(Augusta-based abalone producer) Ocean Grown Abalone is a classic case; they’ve gone through that initial stage now they are onto the next round and need funds to bring it up to a scale that can build a brand and I think there are a lot of producers in that scenario.”

Ocean Grown recently launched its official offer document with adviser View Street Partners to raise $5 million, which will be used to fund operation expansions.

It will potentially be followed by an IPO next year. 

• Katie McDonald attended the Margaret River Gourmet Escape as a guest of Pardoo.


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