The news that Fosters will be sold to SA Miller Brewing represents almost the last Australian food and beverage business with a global brand has now disappeared. I say almost, as I can think of no other, but some may argue that a few sales in Fiji or NZ constitutes global. To my mind, it does not rate.
Why is it that we seem to be unable to build and sustain food businesses from this country?.
Australia is now a net importer of packaged food, according to the AFGC 2010 report, and yet we are an abundant producer, particularly of broadacre commodities, grain and meat. Most people when told we are a net importer go into a state of disbelief, and yet the march of imported food, and the decline of Australia’s manufacturing base has been happening slowly over a long period.
It’s pretty easy to blame the evolution of globalisation of supply chains, the domination of Woolworths and Coles, regulation imposing costs overseas competitors do not have, the geographic spread and relatively sparse population denying the economies of scale, but the reality is that it is a management failure. The failure is shared by boards and shareholders who have tolerated a complacent management, discouraged long term strategy in the chase for short term returns, and simply disengaged with the basic drivers of competitiveness over a long period.
The only hope left is that a few SME’s will emerge from the heavily culled pack that remains, but it seems to me that they have missed the boat, and the barriers that the businesses that existed 30 years ago, and should have breasted, are now simply too high for the small guys to tackle without the scale and capital resources necessary. Our one hope is that there is a processing breakthrough, technologies like the CSIRO High Pressure Processing technology offer some hope, but they are unlikely to be the savior by themselves.
Almost gone, down to the last gasp, what on earth will we do then? Or don’t we care?