Bega finalises 5-year private label supply deal with Coles

Bega Cheese and Coles have officially signed on the dotted line, confirming the cheese maker will supply for the supermarket giant’s private label for the next five years.

The deal was first revealed in September last year, amid controversy over the impact of private label increases on Australian food producers.

It is expected Bega will produce about 19 000 tonnes of cheese for Coles within the period.

Are you a dairy farmer? Your job is the second worst in the world

Dairy farming has been rated the second worst job in the world.

The findings of the American survey might not come as a surprise to most Australian dairy farmers, who are facing a slump in profits as the major supermarkets continue to sell milk for $1 per litre, despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into what the industry calls “unsustainable” prices.

Australian Dairy Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine earlier this year that farmers are leaving the industry in droves because they cannot manage to make a profit, or in many cases, break even.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

The only profession deemed to be worse than dairy farming is being a lumberjack, according to the results collated by American HR group, CareerCast’s.

The fourth worst job is working on an oil rig, while the fifth worse is a newspaper reporter.

The best job, according to the research, is a software engineer.

The five key categories were used to determine the best and worst jobs wre physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

Image: The Australian

Australian fishing could meet all local demand, Senate Inquiry told

A Senate Inquiry has been told that Australia imports 70 per cent of its seafood, which could be grown locally if an international shipping service is reinstated.

Of that, 22 per cent of the seafood sold in 2010-11, Australia came from Thailand, while 14 per cent was sourced from New Zealand.

But local fishing companies believe they can source the amount of seafood required for the Australian market locally.

"Our aim is to start eating into that area," Tim Hess, general manager of Petuna Seafood, which produces 5500 tonnes of ocean trout each year, told the Inquiry into Australia’s Food Processing Sector on Thursday.
Hess said total annual salmon production across the state is trending upwards and now represents 35,000 tonnes per year.

"It’s been increasing by between six and eight per cent a year for the past five years," he said.

While the amount of seafood available in Tasmanian waters is high, the state is facing increasing difficulty to move the product offshore, particularly after it lost its only international freight service last year.

The service was a direct link between Bell Bay and Singapore, giving the state the availability to move its seafood throughout Asia, but now the shipments incur higher shipping costs because they have to go through Melbourne.

Hess said not having a direct link to Asia is “a major concern,” for the state, particularly when they are competing with suppliers in New Zealand, which he says is akin to “an oversized Tasmania.”

"They can get a product into Melbourne or Sydney just as quick as us," he said.

"And they are on to it pretty quickly."

Hess told the inquiry he is currently exporting 10 per cent of his product to overseas markets, but he is finding that increasingly difficult without an international shipping service.

"As Tasmanian exporters, it’s up to us to go out into the shipping world and try and encourage a shipping line to come back onto this island and give us a link into South East Asia," he said.

The Select Committee on Australia’s Food Processing Sector is examining the entire supply chain of the seafood market.

It will look at primary input costs through to competitiveness of the retail sector and the supply to customers.

The Senate Inquiry into the impact of the supermarket duopoly in Australia is already underway, but companies are too frightened to speak up against Coles and Woolworths for fear of the repercussions the corporations can deliver.

The impact of the global market on the food processing sector will also be examined, by looking at the impact of anti-dumping laws and international anti-free trade measures.

Hess wants an “unwritten guarantee” from the federal government on the proposal.

The findings of the Select Committee is due to be reported to the Senate on 30 June.

Image: The ABC

Govt, industry leaders discuss food manufacturing reforms

The future of Australia’s food industry, including possible regulatory reforms, will be on the agenda of the Federal Government’s Business Advisory Forum today.

The inaugural event, held in Canberra, will bring together leaders from across government and industry who will attempt to identify major problems in Australia’s food manufacturing sector, and find ways to assist local companies.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC)’s Acting Chief Executive Dr Geoffrey Annison said the food industry desperately needs government intervention if it is to be a viable industry in years to come.

“The Government must implement accelerated depreciation tax measures to enable manufacturers to take advantage of the high Australian dollar to invest in large-scale plant equipment upgrades to improve productivity and reduce energy use,” he said.

“Compliance with regulation and standards has also been identified as a major and ongoing issue for companies – the Government must reinvigorate its reform agenda in this area.”

Farmer fined for safety breaches after worker’s arm amputated

A farmer from a small town in the Goldfield-Esperance region of Western Australia has been forced to pay $30 000 after a safety breach left a female worker with an amputated arm.

The incident occurred on the Munglinup farm in 2008, when the female worker was operating a grain roller mill driven by a power take off (PTO) unit attached to a tractor to distribute grain to feed bins.

The guard on the belt drive of the grain roller mill had been removed, and there was no guarding on the PTO drive unit, the drive coupling of the drive pulleys or the belt, according to WorkSafe WA.

The feed adjustment lever was located in a central position, meaning the operator had to lean over the top of the rotating drive line to adjust the feed flow rate.

The worker was aware that the guard had been removed from the mill, and during operation in February 2008, she reached over to adjust the flow rate control lever, which required considerable force.

Part of her jacket subsequently became entangled in the unguarded belt drive and she was dragged into the PTO drive unit, suffering multiple arm and leg injuries including traumatic amputation of her right arm.

John Bylsma, the operator of Minnikin Farm at Munglinup, plead guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment, causing serious harm to an employee when he fronted the Perth Magistrates Court last month.

He was fined $20 000 and ordered to pay $10 000 in costs over what WorkSafe WA says was a completely avoidable accident.

“This young woman was seriously and permanently injured because her employer failed to provide her with a safe working environment, contrary to his duty of care,” WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said.

“It is always disappointing when WorkSafe has to take prosecution action against an employer over a lack of guarding on machinery because guards should be one of the most basic safety measures taken in a workplace.

“Guarding of the moving parts of machinery is still one of the easiest and most obvious means of minimising the risk of injury to machinery operators, and I strongly urge employers in workplaces with machinery to ensure that it is safe to operate.

“A code of practice on safeguarding of machinery and plant is available, and should be obtained by employers and kept in all workplaces that contain machinery with hazardous moving parts.”

Govt should support creation of more abattoirs: Greens

A proposed abattoir in Darwin which would crate almost 300 jobs has been backed by Australia’s largest cattle company and the Australian Greens party.

If the abattoir goes ahead, it will create jobs for the region, alleviate animal cruelty and reduce live exports, according to the Greens, who have called on the federal government to support the development.

“The Gillard government should get behind a new Darwin abattoir proposed by the Australian Agricultural Company which is estimated to create 270 jobs,” Greens Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon said.

“By growing the Australian meat processing industry we can create an alternative to live exports as well as thousands of jobs.

The horrible treatment of animals exported live to Indonesia, exposed on the ABC’s Four Corners program, sparked national outcry and led to Gillard banning the practise until improvements could be made.

The Greens want live export banned, believing that sending the animals overseas is damaging to the local industry.

“Australian Bureau of Statistics data tracks the decline in the number of meat processing jobs in Australia, from between 40,000 to 48,000 workers in the 1970s to around 32,000 workers in 2009,” Rhiannon said.

“There were 475 abattoirs in Australia at the end of the 1970s, dropping to 315 abattoirs by 1995/96.

“The Greens will continue our campaign to ban live animal exports which would not only end the cruel suffering of animals, but see abattoirs re-opened, especially in northern Australia.

In April a departmental study found that the Western Australian economy would be significantly impacted if the state stopped live export of sheep.

The study by the Department of Agriculture and Food developed a sheep value supply chain model based on the three major sectors of the state: production, processing/wholesale and retailing/export.

The business earnings of almost 4200 businesses depend heavily on live exports to maintain their earning total of almost $160 million.

Do you support more local abattoirs and less live export?

Image: The ABC

Government report shows growth in food sector

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom in Australia’s food industry, with a government report showing a 17 per cent increase in total value in 2010/11 compared to the previous period.

Food exports are up 10 per cent from the previous year, according to the Food Statistics 2020-11 report, and are now valued at $27.1 billion.

"Australia is fortunate in being a net food exporter by a significant margin, with more than half of our food production exported to international markets," federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said.

In 2010/11, 1.68 million people were employed in the food sector, from production to food service.

It currently represents 15 per cent of total employment in Australia, an increase of two per cent on the previous year.

While the number of people employed in the sector is high, it is also a risky business to be working in, as Australian factories continue to close and companies are forced to restructure work forces to meet rising costs.

Only yesterday it was announced that 478 of Metcash employees will lose their jobs, most of them coming from the soon-to-be-closed Campbell’s Cash & Carry stores in regional Australia.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) want a Supermarket Ombudsman instated to oversee the impact of the supermarket price wars between Coles and Woolworths, after a report predicted 130 000 employees in the sector would be out of work by 2020.

Supermarket price wars force Metcash to slash 478 jobs

Metcash will slash 478 jobs as part of its restructure, mostly in regional Australia.

The company, which controversially took over the Franklins Supermarket chain last year, has faced difficult trading conditions, due to the high Australian dollar and supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths.

Last year, in the midst of the takeover bid by Metcash, it was revealed that without a buyout Franklins would not be able to afford to keep trading past 2012.

It will close 15 Campbells Cash & Carry stores across regional Australia, resulting in 315 job cuts.

Metcash says the closures are necessary, as more customers turn to petrol and service stations instead of traditional convenience stores.

More than 160 jobs will also be cut at the corporate offices.

Chief executive Andrew Reitzer said Metcash had little choice but to slash the jobs, if it wants to remain a competitive business.

”These difficult conditions result from continued deflation which is pushing prices and margins down, and a value-conscious consumer who increasingly purchases on discount,” Reitzer said in a statement.

Fear campaign damaging Supermarket Senate Inquiry

The bullying behaviours and fear campaigns used by the major supermarkets to wield complete power over suppliers is still getting in the way of the Senate Inquiry into the issue.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) are collaborating on the Inquiry into the anti-competitive practises of Coles and Woolworths.

The decision to take the matter to the Senate came after the dairy industry voiced its concern over the  milk price wars which resulted in both the major supermarkets selling milk for just $1 a litre, pushing farmers out of the industry as they struggled to make a living on such small payments.

Countless Australian food companies are either closing down completely or moving their operations overseas, as the influx of private-label products on supermarket shelves leaves them with two choices.

They can try to compete with the supermarkets who are able to sell similar products at ridiculously low prices because of the power they have over suppliers, but the chances of surviving, let alone making profits, are slim.

Or, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Many Australian food companies have reluctantly agreed to cease operations as they were and instead use their factories and workforce to supply products for the supermarkets’ private label products.

But if they thought were at the mercy of the supermarkets before, they haven’t seen the worst of it until they relinquish any kind of control they had over their destiny by signing such an agreement.

Because when Coles and Woolworths decide they want to put a product on special, or they need a huge amount of a certain product, you have to deliver.

And if a company can’t deliver on time, or at the price they want to sell the product at? Too bad, Coles and Woolworths say.

“Invariably they say it is not absorbed by the grower or the manufacturer when they cut the prices but in the end it always does,” Jennifer Dowell, National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union Food Division, told Food Magazine.

“Companies can’t even transport their own stuff to Coles and Woollies!

“They transport it for you and then just bill you with their high transport prices later.

“And they won’t store stuff that is within a certain timeframe from its use-by date.

“They make the producers store it then tell them they need it within so many hours.

“So producers are in this quandary where they can’t afford to produce stuff and keep it in storage because if Coles and Woollies decide they don’t want to take it they are out of pocket.”

“They have to produce everything at such short notice so they are never able to get a long term view and a stable situation at their factory.”

Nobody willing to speak up

Dowell said the fear campaign the major supermarkets operate with makes it impossible for food companies to criticise them.

“The public doesn’t have enough information about what’s really going on in the industry.

“It’s completely ridiculous that they can’t come out and publically say ‘Coles and Woolworths are killing us’ because they just ensure that they will go out of business.

“If you publically criticise Coles and Woollies, your products will just no longer be put on the shelves, and they’re getting away with that!”

Countless food producers and farmers have discussed the impact of the supermarket dominance with Food Magazine, but almost all are too afraid to go on the record with such claims.

With Coles and Woolworths controlling 80 per cent of the grocery market in Australia, if one or both decided to stop stocking a companies’ product, it really has nowhere else to turn.

Journalists and workers in the industry are all too aware of the dire situation our food sector is in, but nobody is willing to put their name or company to the claims.

The ABC’s Lateline made over 100 calls to get comment from a food producer, and when they did find one willing, he would only speak with the promise of anonymity.

“But after more than 100 phone calls, just one Australian supplier was willing to speak to Lateline about alleged abuses of power by Coles and Woolworths as long as we agreed to hide his identity, like this, (vision shows unidentifiable silhouette of man) and even hide the kind of product he supplied,” Margot O’Neill says in the story.

“But after sleepless nights the supplier pulled out, leaving us to use only his words about why he’s so scared.

“ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER (male voiceover): "It’s quite common for the majors to stop dealing with a supplier … and suppliers to have little chance of a viable business unless they’re serving the two major supermarkets, … so it’s too big a risk to expose myself.

“But I think the power of the big supermarkets is now too large for the proper functioning of our food supply."

And while the ACCC has promised to keep all claims made to it in regards to the supermarkets confidential, few are willing to speak up, for fear they will be found out and punished.

“Without doubt there is a climate of fear when it comes to farmers and food processors speaking out about practices of the big two,” Nick Xenophon, Senate select committee food processing, told the ABC.

“When farmers and food processors tell me that they feel a bit like medieval serfs, they’re beholden to Coles and Woollies as their medieval landlords, then you know there’s something seriously wrong.”

Something has to be done

When asked if she would support a Supermarket Ombudsman, as suggested by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), Dowell was welcoming of the idea.

“I’ll support anything at this stage!” she told Food Magazine.

“We have been talking about this for years and I’ve watched it get worse and worse.

“They own just about everything; they’ve got petrol, pharmaceutical, pokie machines and alcohol so essentially they have this massive political influence so they intervene in those areas too.”

With so much control over various industries and governments in Australia, the scary reality is that the major supermarkets may not be stoppable, at least not without specific laws and regulations to stop the behaviours.

“If we get more powers given to the ACCC, any power to an Ombudsman, and get people the ability to raise issues without losing their job, then that is a step in the right direction, because right now they cannot,” Dowell explained.

“My concern is that if we lose food sovereignty, if we lose control of our food chain we become hostage to other countries supplying our food.

“How ridiculous is that? In Australia we have the ability to produce the best food in the world, so how are we getting into this situation?

“Once these companies go, they won’t some back, they’re not going to come back and rebuild factories and businesses because Australia is upset after it basically kicked them out in the first place.

“If we rely on imports, and a country decides it is going to give its own market priority, as it very well should, what do we do? Where do we go?

“At a time when the world is saying Africa needs to have food sovereignty, we’re actually participating in a process where we won’t be able to feed our own people.

“We will be reliant on importing food.

“When we finally hit the wall and find that everything is coming from overseas and we no longer have any Australian food industries, it will be too late.”

How concerned are you about the power held by Coles and Woolworths? How do you think they can be stopped?

AFGC finalises draft legislation calling for Supermarket Ombudsman

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has announced it is finalising the draft submission for a Supermarket Ombudsman to be a key part of the next Federal Budget.

The peak industry body has been urging the government to instate an Ombudsman and establish a Trading Code of Conduct, to stamp out the anti-competitive, behaviours of the major supermarkets, which are pushing Australian food manufacturers and small businesses out of business.

The AFGC announced it would be starting on its draft legislation to present to the government back in January and has enlisted the help of international law firm Baker and McKenzie in its bid.

The AFGC wants the Supermarket Ombudsman to ensure Coles and Woolworths are fair and transparent in their pricing and do not push more Australian companies and industries out of business, as they have done with the dairy and fresh produce industries, among others.

The AFGC also announced last month that it would be extending its representative reach to also include small to medium enterprises.

It will be consulting all stakeholders on the draft legislation this week, before the matter is referred to the government for approval.

Pregnant women avoiding “risky” foods lacking proper nutrition: study

An Australian study has found women who are pregnant or trying to conceive are not getting adequate nutrition because they’re avoiding potentially “risky” foods.

The University of Newcastle study has led to questions about whether the warnings about which foods to consume and avoid during pregnancy need a review.

Published in Public Health Nutrition, the study is the first to look at nutrient intakes of pregnant women who abided by warnings about Listeria and avoided foods including soft cheeses, pre-packaged salads and cold meats.

Listeria is linked to still birth and premature birth and those who eat foods potentially containing the bug face a 20 per cent higher chance of miscarriage.

But, the problem is that women who do consume these foods and therefore run the risk of pregnancy complications, also have the highest intake of nutrients essential for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

“This is quite a dilemma,” lead researcher, Professor Clare Collins said.

“It is important for pregnant women to achieve a balance between an adequate intake of nutrients such as folate, iron, zinc and protein, and reducing their risk of Listeriosis.

“In our study, moderate or low consumption of foods at risk of contamination by Listeria was not associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, suggesting that a balanced consumption of potentially risky foods with foods containing essential nutrients may be the best approach.”

She said the findings from the study suggest a more detailed set of recommendations might be needed, as the current Australian Government may be too simplistic in its warnings about Listeria and food avoidance.

“The recommendations need to include the list of ‘risky’ foods, but should focus on giving women low-risk alternatives to help them meet their optimal nutrient targets,” Collins explained.

“Women need to know how to balance opposing risks.

“We want them to feel confident about the foods they choose, so they minimise the risk of Listeriosis while giving their baby the best possible start to life.”

Listeriosis is relatively rare in Australia today, as regulations around food preparation and storage are improved.

In 2008, there were about 65 cases of Listeriosis reported in Australia.

Of those, 12 of occurred during pregnancy and one case was fatal.

“Our findings suggest that a moderate consumption of potentially risky foods may be the optimal approach,” the authors concluded.

The new breed of food consumer

Earlier this year, peak farming bodies voiced their alarm that a shocking 75 per cent of year six students believe cotton socks are an animal product and others think yoghurt grows on trees.

Just under half of the 300 surveyed did not know bananas, bread and cheese came from farms, leading the Australia Council of Educational Research, which conducted the study, to express its concern about the findings, which prove there is a huge disconnect between farmers and consumers.

Other industry groups are calling for more education about modern farming practices, to provide transparency and build trust of Australian products.

But a new report has identified a new breed of Australian food consumer: the urban ‘food citizen,’ who achieves social superiority by arming themselves with heightened knowledge about ethically and sustainably produced food, as Rachel Sullivan writes for CSIRO Publishing.

As Australia’s two major supermarket chains conduct a noisy price war, a quiet revolution has been taking place.

The past few years have seen the rise of food citizens: urban consumers who actively seek to secure ethically and sustainably produced food and connect with how food is grown and made.

Their interest has led to a rapid proliferation in alternative food sourcing, including farmers’ markets, food co-ops, community gardens and urban orchards, herd shares, neighbourhood cooperatives, fresh produce box schemes, farm gate trails, and informal home-grown produce trading within communities (i.e. food swaps).

The grass roots movement is starting to have an economic impact, with a recent report from the Australian Egg Corporation estimating that backyard chickens now account for nearly 12 per cent of the country’s total annual egg production.

‘We often don’t know the story behind the food we consume, but when you talk to the farmer you have a different perspective on whether something is healthy or not,’ says Nick Ray the founder of Local Harvest, an online hub that helps consumers find local farmers’ markets, community gardens, food swaps, organic and free range producers and community box systems.

‘A sustainable food system relies on us localising at least part of it, and will help make it more resilient to price hikes and potential supply issues associated with fossil fuel and fertiliser shortages.’

Kirsten Larsen from the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab at the University of Melbourne agrees.

‘As the Queensland floods demonstrated, our current [centralised] food system is vulnerable to disruption, whether that relates to climatic extremes or other interruptions to supply,’ she says.

‘When the central wholesale market in Brisbane went underwater, significant parts of Brisbane’s supply chains were out of action.”

Organisations like Food Connect [see below] were able to quickly respond and adapt to the situation, partially because the diverse base of smaller suppliers were less affected overall by the flooding, but also because its rich social network enabled people to connect and organise food movements through (and to) flooded and cut-off areas.

‘It’s an example of how a more distributed network for food sourcing increases their strength, resilience, flexibility – and therefore security.

Not only do they connect people with farmers, they also increase connections to bigger system change.

To read the full article, click here.

UK company allows manufacturers to see potential factories in 3D

An equipment company in the UK has launched a 3D virtual reality warehouse simulator which allows food manufacturers to test warehouse options before making decisions on changes.

Briggs Equipment UK is currently offering the virtual reality experience to clients’, who experience the potential warehouse through a visor while sitting in a chair.

Users can look at warehouse designs, hourly flow rates and visual indications of bottlenecks and Briggs can then source the necessary resources to make the vision a reality.

The experience is particularly useful for companies with small warehouses, as it allows them to out the space available to the best use possible.

“For example, you can create an additional 18 per cent storage space,” Mark Murfet, VNA (Very Narrow Aisles) and warehouse project manager at Briggs said.

“We can help you store, say, 10 000 pallets using 40 oer cent less space.

The technology also allows manufacturers to foresee and reduce unnecessary costs, including purchasing too many vehicles or storage racks.

Q&A with Gordon Slater, Byron Bay Cookie Company chairman

Gordon Slater, chairman of local manufacturer Byron Bay Cookie Company, speaks to Manufacturers’ Monthly about the company’s transition from hand-made to machine production, and the important role exporting plays in its future growth plans.

What’s the best thing about being chairman of Byron Bay Cookie Company?

The best thing about being the chairman of Byron Bay Cookie Company is getting involved in all aspects of the business, from product development to operations and sales & marketing.

Plus I get to try a lot of different cookies!

How much time do you spend at your manufacturing facilities?

I split my time between our bakehouse in Byron Bay and our new head office in Sydney Chifley Towers which now employs a strategic team of 5 (and growing).

Our cookies are still baked in the original bakehouse in Byron Bay where we bake hundreds of thousands of cookies weekly!

We employ between 50 and 100 staff; this fluctuates throughout the year and we’ll bring on more casuals to cover our peak production periods.

We also have an office in London, UK and a presence in the US.

What’s the one piece of technology/equipment that Byron Bay Cookie Company could not manufacture without?

Over the last couple of years we’ve made sure to put the right equipment in place to remain innovative and ahead of our competitors.

Our cookies were originally hand made which gave us a certain point of differentiation, however limited us in terms of long term growth.

We’ve since made key equipment purchases enabling us to scale up production whilst remaining true to our traditional baking methods.

Byron Bay Cookie Company began in a farm-style kitchen and is now recording 17% year on year growth. Was this the plan from the get-go?

Our plan has always been to manufacture a superior quality product but more importantly, we understood very early on that we had found a niche for a great-tasting treat that can be enjoyed with a coffee and uses natural, locally-sourced ingredients.

As such we were the “original café cookie” and pioneered the concept of cookie jars in cafes and delis across Australia.

Whilst the café market remains at the core of our business, we’ve managed to maintain growth by expanding into the retail market and by acquiring other brands such as Luken & May biscuits and Falwasser crispbread.

How important are export markets to the longevity of your business?

Export markets have been key to our expansion from day dot.

The very first export market we conquered was the UK over 10 years ago.

This was a calculated risk at the time and we learned a lot from it as a business.

We first started shipping our cookies from Australia; however as customer demand grew we made the strategic move to embark into a joint venture with a local bakery so Byron Bay Cookies are now made in the UK for the European market.

The next market on our list was Japan and it’s interesting to see how each market reacts to different products.

Whist the Dotty is our number 1 seller in Australia and in the UK, it’s our Fig & Pecan that tops the list in Japan, and the Triple Choc Fudge in the US.

We’re always on the lookout for new export markets, and as such are planning on increasing our presence at key tradeshows overseas.

Byron Bay Cookie Company is a classic example of what Australian manufacturers do best: quality over quantity. Can you comment on this?

From the very beginning our mission was to bake great cookies using the finest quality ingredients. By enforcing quality through each step of the production process, we managed to create a highly loyal customer following and we grew from there.

The challenge over the years has been to remain innovative whilst maintaining the same quality and taste that took us where we are today.

Do you think the Australian government does enough to help the manufacturing industry?

The Australian government has put in place some great programs which we have taken advantage of over the years.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us entrepreneurs to keep challenging ourselves and continually push for more innovation and creative ways to take the business further.

Which other Australian manufacturers do you admire, and why?

Australian fashion manufacturers have done a tremendous job with growing their brands overseas; Billabong is the perfect example.

A great product will only take you so far; ultimately it’s about creating and nurturing a strong brand that will take us that extra mile and deliver returns.

You are also a practicing orthopaedic surgeon: does your surgery have the best lolly jar ever?

Without a doubt! It’s important for us to put our product forward at any given opportunity.

You know the saying, ‘never trust a skinny chef’? You own a cookie company: how come you’re so slim?!

I have my personal trainer to thank for this!

The biggest challenge is the constant travelling that I do (and the constant product testing!).

It’s all about balance and great time management.

I’ve always been very driven in business and this is something that I apply to my personal life and discipline as well.


Which food companies deserve to be admired?

Nestle is the most admired food company with PepsiCo just behind, according to latest surveys.

Unilever was next on the list compiled by Fortune Magazine, with Kellogg’s rounding out the top five.

Lower down on the list was Kraft Foods, H.J Heinz and Sara Lea, at 7th 8th and 12th respectively.

The findings are particularly interesting in the current retail environment, which is pushing food manufacturers to streamline their workforce and look abroad for cheaper manufacturing areas.

Yesterday it was announced that between Mars and Murray Goulburn, 100 Victorian jobs in the food sector will be lost this month.

This comes after the state already suffered the Heinz tomato processing facility in the tiny town of Girgarre closing, which saw 146 workers lose their jobs.

Considering that only 420 residents of Girgarre are aged between 15 and 64, it is a considerable percentage of the town.

Heinz blamed the retail pressures and high Australian dollar for its decision to relocate the facility to New Zealand, as have many other Australian companies and industries.

Do you agree with the list of admired food companies? Which food companies do you admire?

Food producers slash more than 100 jobs in Victoria

It is not a good time to be a food manufacturing worker in Victoria at the moment, with Mars and Murray Goulburn set to slash more than 100 employees from its workforce between them.

Murray Goulburn’s Rochester milk drying plant plant, north of Bendigo, will cut 64 jobs, while Mars will be getting rid of 38.

The state Opposition says it is time to recognise the real situation in the sector and start improving it.

“This government has to recognise this problem is a real one, affecting real people’s lives,” he said.
“They need to take responsibility and reduce government taxes and charges for businesses.”
Every month there seems to be more jobs going from the sector, as the high Australian dollar makes it too expensive for companies to stay and the supermarket price wars puts those that remain at risk of collapse.

The Heinz factory in Girgarre, in Victoria, was officially closed in January, despite workers attempts to save the tomato processing facility.

Girgarre is only a small community so the job losses have had a massive impact, as will the Murray Goulburn’s decision, with Rochester home to less than 2000 people.

The job cuts, which will reduce the 144-strong workforce to 80, will take effect from 30 April.

Gary Helou, Murray Goulburn managing director, said the job cuts were necessary.

“It is difficult to lose good people who have worked hard for the company,” he said.

“We will be doing all we can to support affected staff over the coming months, including arranging counselling, financial advice and job transitioning services,” he said.

Mars has not released a statement on its job cuts at this stage.