Food and Agribusiness has been named one of five key growth sectors in the federal government’s $188.5 million Industry Growth Centres Initiative.
Industry veteran Peter Schutz, who will chair the Food and Agribusiness Industry Growth Centre, says a key aim will be to help small and medium businesses (SMEs) innovate to develop new, high-value niche products that can be sold both domestically, and to expanding overseas markets in Asia.
“The opportunities there are immense really,” says Mr Schutz. “As their economies are growing and their middle classes are increasing at an extraordinary rate, that creates a lot of opportunity.”
The industry growth centre will encourage collaboration between SMEs and Australia’s many universities – to support the development of new products and new processes.
Australian SMEs will be encouraged to develop consumer-driven products to suit specific markets, rather than just exporting products designed for an Australian market overseas.
Mr Schutz says food manufacturing is the biggest manufacturing sector in Australia, with around 13,000 companies employing more than 220,000 workers. Almost all of those companies are SMEs.
The food industry is already a vital component of Australia’s economy, making a particularly significant contribution in regional areas, according to the Department of Industry and Science.
In 2014, food and beverage manufacturing represented 25.8 per cent of all manufacturing jobs with sales of more than $98 billion. Australia exported $18.9 billion of processed food and beverage products.
Among the biggest exports were processed meat, dairy, wine, sugar and general food products.
Victoria, historically the epicentre of Australia’s food manufacturing sector, still manages to produce and export more food and fibre than any other state – despite claiming only three per cent of the nation’s total land mass.
Food and fibre exports are the state’s largest export sector, growing 12 per cent from 2012-13 to reach $11.4 billion in 2013-14.