Heinz moves beetroot, sauces to NZ

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 27th May 2011

In a shakeup of its Australian operations, Heinz has announced it will move its beetroot, sauces and some of its meals from factories at Girgarre, Brisbane and Wagga Wagga, to its facility in Hastings, New Zealand, while investing $25 million in its Echuca baby food plant and beverage production in Brisbane.

“Heinz operates a number of factories across Australia and New Zealand.  Our decision to consolidate manufacturing is a critical step in our plan to become more competitive in a challenging environment, and to accelerate future growth in both markets,” said Heinz Australia CEO Nigel Comer.

“Heinz is committed to Australia, with more than $20 million being invested to upgrade the beverage manufacturing facilities at Northgate and $5 million invested to enhance the capabilities of the baby food facility in Echuca, Victoria.

The decision will result in the loss of 160 jobs at Golden Circle’s Northgate plant in Brisbane, 146 jobs at Girgarre in northern Victoria, which will be closed entirely, and another 38 jobs at Wagga Wagga in NSW.  The company said it expects the changes to be completed within 12 months.

“After reaching this difficult but necessary decision, our goal is to support affected employees over the coming weeks and months,” Comer added.

”The company will provide redundancy packages, counselling, job search services, new skills training and retirement planning services.  Affected growers are being offered financial and other assistance for transition to other crops or supply arrangements.”

Peak horticulture organisation Growcom said the move would be a devastating blow for beetroot growers in the Lockyer and Fassifern Valleys, particularly after the floods earlier this year.

Growcom’s Chief Executive Officer Alex Livingstone said that some of the growers had a long association with the company going back 50 years and it was devastating news for them.

“There are immediate farm management and investment decisions that they will have to make in the days ahead,” he said. “Clearly, this is a business decision which Golden Circle has had to make, the same as a grower would on their farm, but it will be sad to see the end of beetroot production in Queensland: an iconic product and an industry worth around $10 million a year. The bulk of tinned beetroot will come from overseas in future,” said Mr Livingstone.

Livingstone said that while the company had assured the growers that it would support them this season and would offer financial and other assistance for transition to other crops or supply arrangements no details of this support had been yet offered to the growers.

“Golden Circle has treated growers with integrity in the past and one can only hope this will continue to be the case.

“The company has given assurances it will process the beetroot crop that is already planted in the ground – between now and November. However, there are no other practicable processing options after this year for Queensland growers,” he said.