Food Leaders Australia launches in Toowoomba with ambitious plan to make southern Queensland ‘the silicon valley of food innovation’

With the mining boom slowing in southern Queensland, a new group has been established as a vehicle to drive a food innovation and agribusiness boom.

Food Leaders Australia; a partnership between the Toowoomba Surat Basin Enterprise and the University of Southern Queensland, is positioning itself as a “one stop shop” for helping agribusiness develop new products and access new export markets, particularly in Asia.

Jo Sheppard is General Manager of Agribusiness and Export at the Toowoomba Surat Basin Enterprise, she said the key to accessing new markets is working together.

“There is a change in mindset with business looking at some of those enormous markets that are emerging and there is a bit of a movement of businesses turning their thoughts to how they can collaborate and how they can find synergies with other businesses,” she said.

“For the first time in a long time in Australian food and ag (sic) there is a real sense of the opportunity of being able to value add here.

“Obviously in China and other countries in Asia, food safety and quality of their food, is really important and some of the consumers are now going, you know, not only do we want the food to be produced in Australia, but we want it to be processed and packaged there as well.”

Ms Sheppard said there are opportunities for many food products, and particularly beef, to move further down the supply chain and away from commodity production and into the area of value-adding.

“Beef is the low-hanging fruit, obviously there’s enormous global interest in beef and Australian beef in particular,” she said.

“Customers in China and other Asian countries are actually purchasing, or doing most of their purchases, through an e-commerce platform, where they order their meat for tomorrow night’s dinner through e-commerce.

“[That] is very different to how we shop here in Australia, but it’s very real over there and I think processers in Australia and particularly in this region, are looking at how they can access business-to-consumer sales.” 

USQ’s Kevin Norman is the Executive Manager of Food Leaders Australia, he agreed that there are amazing, untapped opportunities in Asia.

“The statistics are staggering, we know we’ve got 1.3 billion people in China and there’s no doubt that they’re growing in wealth and so they’re demanding some of the food products, in particular, that we take for granted.”

Mr Norman said plans are well underway to utilise the new Wellcamp airport, just west of Toowoomba, as an export hub.

“The key thing at the moment is that it’s only just started,” he said.

“It’s getting underway and it’s all about getting cargo planes, freight planes full of our great produce into some of those markets.

“We’re doing a lot of work on that and we’re already getting indications that we may have some of those planes heading out later in the year.

“The (airport owners) Wagner’s are going full steam ahead in terms of getting up their international capability and licenses to be able to do that.

“So there’s quite a few steps in the process and it’s not something that you can just do overnight, but there are indications that we’ll be doing that in a few months time, later in the year.”

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