Last Australian food cannery turns off the light
Australia’s only wholly Australian-owned cannery, Windsor Farm Foods Group Ltd, has shut its doors. The industry body that represents Australia’s vegetable and potato growers, AusVeg, says the closure has broader implications for the entire Australian food growing and manufacturing sector.
Windsor Farm Foods Group Ltd, which is based in Cowra in Central West New South Wales, went into voluntary administration on Tuesday 12 March 2013. The closure resulted in 70 workers at the Cowra site being stood down with no pay.
“Losing Windsor Farms has been another nail in the coffin in the industry,” said William Churchill from AusVeg. The closure is another example of a ‘death by a thousand cuts’, with the tough economic climate, retail space competition, and the supermarket duopoly putting more and more pressure on both growers and food manufacturers, he added.
The AusVeg spokesperson said that AusVeg was supportive of the investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the conduct of major supermarkets, and calls for a ‘Supermarket Ombudsman’, but he said government support was necessary, and suggested that the Australian Government’s Clean Technology Food and Foundries grant program should be expanded to include food growers, not just food manufacturers.
Windsor Farm Foods Group was established in 1975, originally under the name Mushroom Growers (Co-op) Society. The Group, which also owns Illawarra Jam Company, Warringah Foods, and Prima Herbs and Spices, acquired the Cowra factory in 2000 when it took over Cowra Export Packers Pty Ltd.
The cannery itself has been in use since 1943, and for much of its history was used to process vegetables, such as peas, beans, tomatoes, carrots and beetroot, grown nearby. In 1995, the factory began canning mushrooms, red kidney beans and canned bean mixes for major supermarkets. Foods were packed at the site for the ‘Edgell’, ‘Cowra Gold’, and ‘Lachlan Gold’ brands, as well as for supermarket labels ‘Homebrand’, ‘No Frills’, ‘Savings’ and I.G.A.
In 2003, facilities for processing baker’s jams and fillings, and fruit straps were constructed at the Cowra site.
Administrators, Grant Thornton Recovery and Reorganisation Partners, said they would review Windsor Farm Foods Group’s business operations in an effort to sell the business for the benefit of the Company’s creditors.
Australia has had a spate of food manufacturing closures in the last few years. Most recently, Australian Food News reported that iconic Australian brand Rosella – most well-known for its tomato sauce – would cease operations. Heinz Australia also closed its tomato sauce factory in Gigarre, Victoria, in January 2012. Coca-Cola Amatil’s subsidiary cannery operation SPC Ardmona in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley is currently being reorganised after a restructuring that saw many jobs being lost.
In mid 2011, Heinz’s move of its Golden Circle beetroot and fruit processing facility fin Queensland’s Lockyer Valley was shut down as its business was partly shifted from Australia to New Zealand. This closure resulted in the immediate loss of 340 Australian jobs.
Australian Food and Grocery Council figures show that in the 2011-12 year, 7000 Australian jobs were directly lost because of food business closures – as 335 businesses in the Australian food sector closed down or moved overseas.