Australia’s Tomato industry: Reinventing a new Industry
While the bad news for tomato-growers on Friday January 6, 2012 was that all Heinz tomato-sauce and ketchup ceased production in Australia, the big picture is that several massive investments in glasshouse tomatoes are creating opportunities for a new world-leading tomato industry in Australia.
Many were disappointed by the Heinz closure of its Gigarre operation, which had been foreshadowed by Heinz seven months earlier (as Australian Food News reported on May 27, 2011). Job loss concerns still exist for Coca Cola Amatil’s foreshadowed rationalization of its subsidiary SPC-Ardmona’s tomato-processing factory at Mooroopna (as reported by Australian Food News on August 3, 2011). Nevertheless, the development of two independent, very large, glasshouse tomato business operations, in NSW and South Australia respectively, illustrates how new technologies are spawning a new agribusiness industry for Australia. Furthermore, it is likely that this reinvented modern tomato industry will create additional business opportunities for processing in future.
Blush Tomatoes’ story
The Costa Group, one of Australia’s best-known families and one of the country’s largest distributors of fresh fruit and vegetables, has built, at a cost of $65 Million, Australia’s largest glasshouse tomato farm known as Blush Tomatoes. It is located at Guyra, near Armidale in northern NSW.
About 350 tonnes a week are currently being harvested from the 20 hectares of glasshouses (2 glasshouses each of ten hectares) at Guyra. About 12 million kilos of tomatoes are picked per year at the Guyra glasshouses from the 300,000 plants.
The glasshouses use many world-leading technologies and robotics. There are major plans underway for expansion of the business with many new varieties of tomatoes being developed and being accompanied by innovative branding and marketing.
A similar story is taking place in South Australia.
In February 2011, d’VineRipe, a Joint Venture between one of Australia’s leading private conglomerates The Victor Smorgon Group (led by its CEO Peter Edwards) and the Sydney-based fresh food marketing company Perfection Fresh Australia (led by CEO Michael Simonetta), completed Stage 2 of its high-tech tomato glasshouse operations built for $30 million, as part of a $65 million investment, at Two Wells about 40km north of Adelaide in South Australia.
Spanning 17 hectares, the world-class glasshouse has the capacity to produce up to 10,000 tonnes of truss and specialty tomatoes a year. Stage 1 opened in 2007.
Mr Simonetta said the glasshouse’s expanded capacity in Stage 2 better placed d’VineRipe to provide consistent year-round supply, minimise peaks and troughs and respond faster to shortfalls.
Dutch glasshouse construction company, van der Hoeven greenhousebuilders, designed and built both the d’VineRipe glasshouse stages. More than 100 new jobs were created within the glasshouse and packing facility. The glasshouse also uses leading-edge technologies from Italy and Israel.
The leading-edge technologies and operating systems at the glasshouse include a co-generation plant which runs on natural gas to control the glasshouse climate, water sourced from Adelaide’s waste water supply via the Bolivar Water Reuse Project, a closed watering system, and innovative packing lines. The feasibility of generating renewable energies such as biogas to compost its own waste and an on-site nursery to propagate seeds are on d’VineRipe’s future agenda.
In June 2011, Jon Jones, an experienced project manager with a background in the Australian and US automotive and mining industries, took on the key management leadership role of d’VineRipe. Mr Jones has a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan,USA (2008) and a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of South Australia (1994). He is a member of the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers of Australia (APESMA) and Protected Cropping Australia.
The business has a five-year vision that includes doubling the glasshouse facility and its production output and establishing a seedling nursery. Technology called Fusion to track work rates and evaluate efficiencies has already been introduced early in Mr Jones’ tenure.
In July 2010, Australian Food News reported the takeover of the Echuca-based business of tomato-processor Cedenco Australia by a Japanese group in Victoria. The closure of the Heinz Gigarre plant may create opportunities for expansion of this tomato-processing business.
Other Tomato Processors
Despite the high Australian dollar and tough competition from imported tomato-paste based products, there are opportunities for more Australian-based processors or brand-managers looking to source Australian-grown tomato ingredients for packaged foods lines in Australia.
CCA would need to be exploring the options for introducing new and alternative tomato processing lines as part of the SPC-Ardmona restructuring.
Writing off the Australian tomato-growing industry following the Heinz shutdown of the Gigarre factory is a bad case of looking at a glass half-empty.
The true story is one of a glass half-full with lots more still able to be filled.
The future for tomatoes in Australia is a good news story . It is a story still in the process of development but the future is far rosier than that portrayed by the current news about those leaving the processing industry.