SPC Boss Seeks More Support to Aid Growers

11/10/2013 Level One

This was an article written by Sue Neales for The Australian on 8th October 2013. Next time you’re at your local supermarket maybe think about picking up a can of SPC fruit – you’ll be supporting Australia.

STRUGGLING Australian food company SPC Ardmona has accused the federal and Victorian governments of hypocrisy in failing to support Australian farmers and food businesses.

Peter Kelly, managing director of the only major remaining fruit cannery in Australia, is appalled no government-owned institutions such as hospitals, jails, parliaments, old people’s homes or defence force barracks are instructed to buy Australian-grown and made food as a priority.

Mr Kelly, who will meet federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane today to discuss a $25 million federal rescue and restructuring package for SPC, wants politicians to start matching with action their rhetoric about Australia’s future viability as a food bowl for Asia.

He says the Goulburn Valley business, owned by Coca-Cola Amatil, will not survive without government financial and purchasing support in the form of procurement policies focusing on locally grown and made food.

“The biggest win for us would be to get Australian health departments – they run the hospitals and care centres – to buy Australian fruit, not imported cans; yet our market share, and that of all Australian products, in those institutions is very small,” Mr Kelly said. “Instead, they are some of the biggest importers (of processed fruit and food).

“Our own government is not buying our products, and it makes me very angry . . . The Australian government should be supporting Australian farmers and businesses; how can we ever become a fresh and processed food bowl for Asia otherwise?”

Mr Kelly also wants the government to consider including canned SPC fruit in its foreign aid donations. He asks why Australia gives cash aid to countries in Africa, the Pacific and Asia, which is then used to buy food to alleviate hunger, when Australian grown and processed fruit could be given instead.

The SPC chief says every small policy change that boosts demand for traditional SPC canned fruit products, as it shifts to a more modern production focus based on snack foods, soft serves and fruit ice cream, will help protect the livelihoods of farmers growing peaches, pears and apricots in the Murray-Goulburn Valley, as well as factory jobs.

“We are at five minutes to midnight; it is time for us to play hardball and point out everything that is not right and fair in the way farmers and the food industry is treated in this country,” he said.

Since supermarket giant Woolworths stopped buying South African cans for its home-brand Select tinned fruit lines in July and switched to SPC Ardmona products, it has sold 890,000 tins of Australian fruit in its stores.

Sales of the canned fruit, which is prominently identified as Australian-grown, have increased by 38 per cent nationwide.

In Woolworths stores in the Goulburn Valley and northern Victoria, where most of the fruit is grown and where almost every family has a member who at some time has worked at one of the three SPC plants at Shepparton, Kyabram and Mooroopna, or as a seasonal fruit picker, demand for the Australian cans has more than doubled.

The jump in sales has enabled SPC to increase its orders for fruit from the 118 local orchards it still has contracts with by 15 per cent, despite Woolworths’ Australian-only policy not coming into full effect until late next year.

Before Woolworths’ move, and a similar commitment by the Aldi chain, imported canned fruit had captured nearly 60 per cent of private-label or home-brand sales. Coles has always sourced most of its home-brand fruit cans from SPC.

Mr Kelly said the selling power and market domination of the supermarkets was so strong that SPC had little choice but to manufacture as much of the private-label brands for the major retailers as it could.

But with the fall in the Australian dollar and “real commitment” from Coles and Woolworths executives, he is confident that the days of tinned fruit from China selling for $1.49 a tin as a supermarket private label, instead of equivalent SPC cans priced at $3.50, are gone.


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