Western Australia’s exports of processed food have doubled in value over the past decade and are now worth more than $1 billion. Mark Beyer reports on a WA success story.
PETERS & Brownes is well known for producing some of Australia’s most popular ice creams and dairy products.
It is less well known for being the first foreign company to enter Japan’s ice cream market following deregulation.
On another front, Kailis & France is a name synonymous with fishing and seafood. Yet the major growth at Kailis & France has come from the wide range of sauces and meals it produces for the food service industry.
Peters & Brownes and Kailis & France are two prominent examples of the rapid growth in processed food exports from Western Australia.
The value of these exports has risen from $542 million a decade ago to $1.03 billion last financial year.
This is a relatively small proportion of WA’s total exports, which amount to more than $30 billion.
However these figures belie the wider economic contribution of the food processing industry, which is labour intensive and employs more than 14,000 people.
The growth in food exports has come from an enormously wide range of sources.
The industry is characterised by its diversity and the large number of participants.
The single largest contributor to food exports is seafood, and specifically rock lobster.
Ironically, the most valuable lobsters are those with the least amount of processing.
Fresh lobster derives its high value from the fact it reaches export markets while still fresh.
Most other exporters are seeking to add value to fresh Western Australian produce to maximise sales opportunities in international markets.
The products handled by North Fremantle-based Austral Pacific Exports typify much of the food industry.
Austral Pacific has been exporting meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit and dairy products for 25 years.
It promotes WA’s clean, green environment and the absence of many exotic pests, insects and diseases as one of the State’s great attributes.
Austral’s products include White Rocks veal, which is specially produced with no growth hormones or growth promoting antibiotics, and Mondo organic beef, from animals that are grown on organic grains and are free of hormones, antibiotics and additives.
Other products handled by Austral include fresh sprouts produced by The Sprout Factory and a range of dairy goods produced by Casa Dairy.
Austral director Peter Atsaros said the rising Australian dollar was having an impact on exporters, with the biggest effect on low value commodity exports.
“That’s why we have tried to gear our business towards these niche, upper-end products,” Mr Atsaros said. “Our markets are still quite buoyant.”
The wine industry has been a significant contributor to export growth over the past decade, with wine exports now worth more than $40 million, and the olive oil industry is seeking to match that growth.
Other contributors to food exports are companies as diverse as Mills & Wares, Whittington Spices and New Norcia Bakery.
A notable development is the emergence of specialist export companies, established to service foreign markets.
A prime example is Ball Noodles, which invested $8 million in a state-of-the-art noodle factory in Hamilton Hill.
The company was jointly established by Katanning’s Ball family, which has interests in farming and fishing, and Japan’s TOHO group.
Since opening in May last year, the company has lifted sales to about $200,000 a month and anticipates further growth.
Managing director Charlie Ball said the business hadn’t always progressed according to plan.
“Our business plan and marketing plan focused on the food service industry and we are still predominantly in food service,” he said.
“We estimated our largest market would be Japan but it has turned out to be the US.
“We always knew the US had enormous potential, but it was very hard to gauge.”
Mr Ball said sales growth initially was slower than expected, as the company battled to establish its brand and reputation.
“It was difficult in the first 12 months but in the past three months our production has doubled,” he said.
“We are now on a par with what we had expected. We now have potential customers approaching us, especially in Japan, which is nice.”
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