Last week speaking to a gathering, I told the group that Australia was now a net importer of food with a $2.7 billion deficit in 2010-2011, according to the AFGC State of the Nation report . Utter disbelief was the primary reaction, “how could that be” being a typical response.
The Australian food industry is dying at a rapid rate, the pressures on local suppliers are heavy, and increasing all through the supply chain. Retail oligopoly, high $A, regulatory impositions that make no sense, costs of supporting local government social initiatives, and all the rest of the stuff that clogs up the wheels of competitiveness and productivity.
Heinz moved to NZ last year, SP exports, Australia’s largest tomato grower in liquidation, a second major grower hitting the wall in April, and this week, fresh tomatoes hit $10/kg in supermarkets. A sign of things to come in many categories.
We are watching the death by a thousand cuts of an industry, small businesses that garner little exposure are hitting the wall all over the place, Golden Circle gone, Goodman Fielder on the skids, growers are going broke across the board, dairy processing almost all owned overseas, about all that is left is meat, because we are amongst the biggest producers, and horticulture, because most fresh produce does not travel well.
Now, if we continue to go the way it seems we are destined to go, housebrand NPD will eventually overtake proprietary NPD as it has now done in the UK, and you need to ask where that NPD will occur. Certainly not here, because not only have we seen off the manufacturing businesses, we have substantially depreciated the technical capabilities necessary for innovation. Even the CSIRO is a shadow of its former self in the food industry, having removed much of the intellectual infrastructure as its masters re-aligned the priorities to other areas, and progressively trimmed the resources.
The recent drop in the $A will help, just a pity there are few businesses left to take up the slack.