Tanya Barden, CEO, Australian Food and Grocery Council
COLUMN | While almost everyone is familiar with the essential items Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing industry puts on supermarket shelves daily, perhaps not many people know it is the largest manufacturing sector in the country.
Australia's food and grocery manufacturing industry employs nearly 300,000 people and has an annual turnover of over $133 billion.
Food and grocery manufacturing is a vital industry. One of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the importance of Australia having its manufacturing capabilities. The toilet paper hoarding of 2021 and the $12 lettuces of 2022 were only the high-profile examples of systemic challenges that got people thinking about the supply chains we rely on to deliver everyday essentials to supermarket shelves. There is much greater awareness of the need to make things in the country.
In its landmark report, Sustaining Australia: Food and Grocery Manufacturing 2030, the AFGC presented a plan to grow the value of Australia’s food and grocery industry to $250 billion by 2030. That plan envisages building Australia’s high-value exports to growing markets, particularly in Asia, and, despite the recent years of disruption, the goal has not changed.
Central to that ambition is increased innovation and increased investment. At the same time, sustainability is growing as both an industry focus and a community expectation. Food and grocery manufacturers understand these drivers and are responding to them.
The AFGC is leading the development of a national soft plastics recycling scheme that captures used plastic packaging at the curbside and turns it into new, food-grade packaging in Australia. This industry-supported and funded initiative will drive the creation of a new, advanced recycling industry in the country.
Innovation is also taking the form of new packaging designs that increase recyclability, increase the use of recycled packaging materials and decrease food waste. Mars Wrigley introducing paper wrappers for its Mars, Snickers and Milky Way chocolate bars, and Nestlé wrappers containing 30 percent recycled plastic for KitKats, are great examples of businesses responding to the sustainability challenge.
The global and economic disruptions of recent years mean every aspect of making food and groceries in Australia has become more expensive and complex, and the challenges of attracting capital are constant in a changing global marketplace.
The AFGC continues to advocate for new incentives to encourage investment in domestic manufacturing capabilities. The federal government has signalled that it understands the importance of sovereign manufacturing capabilities in Australia with the establishment of the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
The work of growing Australian food and grocery manufacturing is ongoing. With 40 percent of the industry’s workforce in regional Australia, it is especially important for the future of the communities outside our major cities. Food and grocery manufacturing isn’t just an economic driver for the nation – it’s communities’ lifeblood.