QUEENSLAND has long been recognised as one of the most popular Australian states for both domestic and international tourism, but it is also fast becoming known as a location of choice for Australia’s food and beverage processors.
A climate that is rated as great for both employees and the cultivation of raw materials, as well as a burgeoning economic climate and population explosion have seen the state’s manufacturing capabilities for domestic and export markets steadily increase over the past few years.
The State Department of Development and Innovation (SDI) rates Queensland’s food and beverage industry as one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the state, currently employing more than 35,000 Queenslanders and contributing almost $10 billion annually to the state economy through its domestic and international sales.
Production capabilities across the board range from fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood and meat to value-added foods such as desserts and confectionery, dairy foods and ready-made meals.
The state also boasts the world’s largest bulk sugar handling system, complete with seven port terminals that are collectively able to store more than 2 million tonnes of sugar.
Queensland’s total sugar production for 2002-03 was 34.2 million tonnes, which was worth more than $943.8 million.
SDI already considers processed food and beverages to be one of the State’s fastest growing sectors. Packaged food is widely regarded as the most significant component within the category, along with tea, coffee, herbs and spices. Prepared foods are also emerging as an important category.
While food manufacturing in Queensland has traditionally been dominated by a small number of large manufacturers, the recent population growth and burgeoning economy have seen an increasing trend: the appearance of small boutique manufacturers.
These smaller manufacturers are filling the product gaps that are left by larger companies on the domestic front, as well as contributing niche products that compete for export dollars.
James Malone at Label Power is quick to list a multitude of reasons for basing the company in Queensland.
“It is Australia’s fastest growing state. Housing and commercial property are much cheaper here than in Sydney and Melbourne, and the roads are less congested.”
“New boutique businesses and cottage-based industries are opening every day in Queensland to help cater for the increase in population. Estimates state that approximately 1500 people migrate into Queensland every week. This puts increased demand on all of the basic services, including food.”
Figures that were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in March confirm the popularity of the Northern State.
In fact, South-East Queensland can boast the highest population growth of any region in Australia in the 2003-04 period.
“The cities of Brisbane and the Gold Coast grew by 17,600 and 13,200 people respectively, the two largest increases in population of all Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Australia.
“Brisbane and Moreton statistical divisions (SD) together had an average increase of just under 1,200 people per week.
“In comparison, the resident population of Melbourne SD increased by an average 860 people per week, Sydney SD increased by 640 people per week and Perth SD increased by 500 people per week,” the report states.
The State’s geographic location makes it the perfect Australian gateway for many export markets.
SDI figures for 2002-03 show that almost half of Queensland’s food manufacturing turnover was accounted for by exports, most notably beef ($2.7 billion exported), sugar ($1.2 billion), fresh fruit and vegetables ($228.4 million) and processed fruit and vegetables ($390 million).
More recently in 2003-04, Queensland’s total exports were valued at just over $20 billion.
While this figure was down by 6.3% over the previous year’s figures, the decrease was in line with the national trend that saw exports decline across the board last year.
Much of this has been attributed to the appreciation in the Australian dollar, on-going geopolitical concerns such as global security issues, the drought and the softer economic performance seen in some of Queensland’s major export markets that include Japan, the USA and Europe. The general export market has provided crucial to the Queensland economy: in 2003-04 total exports were estimated at 24% of the Gross State Product, compared with just 20% for the rest of Australia.
SDI also estimates that one in five jobs in Queensland is currently export related. And this increases to one in four in the regions outside South-East Queensland.
Managing director at Earlee Products and former CSIRO food scientist, Bob Hamilton, says Queensland’s food industry is one of the most intensive growth industries in the state.
“Exporting can make up a significant portion of the overheads faced by a food business, but Queensland has access to some of the cheapest freight of any state in Australia, combined with ideal access to the East Australia trade coast.
“In addition, there are generous tax incentives for the food industry in Queensland and a strong support base that includes the Office of Economic Development and Brisbane Institute of Food Technology, who do a lot of work with companies experiencing growth,” Hamilton says.
Major food manufacturers regularly commission Earlee Products to develop solutions for food design challenges.
The solutions may come in the form of new flavours, product formulations, processes and food concepts, which are then used in restaurants and industrial kitchens throughout Australia.
The company has three major manufacturing facilities in Brisbane.
One of these is the Tingalpa facility, which includes a temperature and humidity controlled environment, a raw materials warehouse, test kitchen and pilot processing plant.
Earlee Products has also recently purchased a parcel of land in the Rivergate Marine and Industry Park at Murarrie that it has earmarked for future expansion.
Hamilton intends to develop the land with a multi-million dollar research, development and production facility, and attributes the expansion to “the growth of our existing product range; fresh, new product development; and increased sales volume to existing customers”.
The Queensland region has experienced similar consumption patterns and trends to other Australian states, and according to Hamilton, it is these recent trends that are guiding the style of product modification and the new products in general that are being developed by Earlee Products and other manufacturers.
Hamilton says these trends have revolved around “food safety; an increase in low-carbohydrate foods; the emergence of trans-fats in hydrogenated vegetable oils in general food products and their replacements; and meal kits – in the wake of the lack of success in Australia of home meal replacements.
In place of home meal replacements, meal kits are, however, proving increasingly popular.
“Contrary to popular belief and overseas trends, Australians still love to cook. You only have to look at the growing number of television lifestyle shows about cooking. When dining out, the Australian restaurant scene is looking at classic French provincial styles for inspiration. This French connection is being shown in the current popularity of gourmet casseroles and stews such as Beef Bourguignon and coq-au-vin,” Hamilton says.
People also like to recreate their restaurant experiences at home, and meal kits are becoming an easy alternative for busy consumers.
In response to the trend towards lower carbohydrate foods, Hamilton explains that the company recently developed its Carb Care line – a range of low GI, reduced carbohydrate and low-sugar flavoured glazes and marinades for the food industry.
Earlee Products also recently received a 2005 Les Toque Blanche endorsement for new technology that produces succulent wood-smoked hams.
The product line will be marketed under the company’s Schinkentec brand.
Neil Silvester at Heat and Control believes the biggest growth in Queensland’s food and beverage manufacturing industry has been seen in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector, particularly value-added and pre-packed.
And again, it is the State’s geographic location that enables it to shine in this respect.
The range of climate zones that are experienced within the state makes it perfect for growing a huge array of fruit and vegetables, and many processors – large and small – have set up shop to be near the growers of this product to quickly access the wide range of raw materials on offer.
In fact, Queensland is unique in that it is the only Australian State to experience all four different climate zones that divide the country.
North East Queensland falls into the Tropical zone, incorporating such towns as Mackay, Townsville and Cairns. Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Brisbane experience the Sub-Tropical climate, a pocket of Queensland’s inland towns fall within the Temperate climate zone, while a small number of towns such as Toowoomba even experience Australia’s Cold climate.
One company that has to be located in Queensland for reasons of geography and climate, is the successful exporter of ginger products, Buderim Ginger.
The company has made Queensland its home for practical as well as historical reasons, according to Paul Ritchie.
“The company originated in Queensland due to its geographic needs of weather and soil type, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of a group of farmers in the town of Buderim in 1941 when the business was created as a farmers’ cooperative.
“The company Buderim Ginger Limited became a publicly listed company in 1988 and now trades on the Australian stock exchange.”
The company has grown dramatically from its relatively small origins and now processes almost half of Australia’s fresh ginger crop every year, the majority of which is grown within 200km of the factory in Yandina.
The popularity of Queensland as a tourism destination has also meant companies such as Buderim Ginger can offer their working facilities as a tourism destination.
As well as processing a wide range of ginger-based products for the domestic and overseas markets, the Yandina facility has been developed as a tourist hot-spot that includes a restaurant and shop.
Another well-known Australian processor that calls Queensland home is Golden Circle. It began operating in 1947 on a 16.5ha site in Brisbane.
It remains an unlisted public company that is owned by 700 Australian farmers that supply more than 180,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables every year to the factory now located in the North of Brisbane.
Pineapple is the company’s largest raw material, and this is sourced from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland, Maryborough, Yeppoon and further north.
Most of the company’s vegetable crops are sourced from the Lockyer Valley region south of Brisbane.
Any crops not grown in Queensland are sourced from the southern states for processing.
Paul Ritchie also believes that Australian consumers are demanding more “natural and healthy” products. Processors that have are based in Queensland or have set up facilities there will be well placed to take advantage of the fresh fruit and vegetables that are abundant in the state.
Figures suggest that investment in Queensland’s food and beverage industry is on the increase, whether due to the fact that many of its ports are just a hop, skip and a jump from lucrative export markets, the abundance of raw materials that are being grown across the different climate zones, or the favourable economic climate.
And many well-known names such as Nestle, Dairy Farmers, Smiths Snackfood, Paradise Food Industries, Australia Meat Holdings, Bundaberg Sugar, Darling Downs and George Weston are already taking advantage of the Sunshine State’s hospitality.
Add to this the growing number of boutique manufacturers also opening up shop to cater for the changing and increasing needs of the population, and the State’s food and beverage manufacturing sector is set to continue to grow.