Posted June 06, 2018 12:18:24 In Australia, the meatpacking industry has become synonymous with the construction of giant buildings, factories, and warehouses that make our country look like a giant pig’s hide.
But that was a decade ago.
Now, a new generation of Australian entrepreneurs is building a meatpacker’s paradise on the Long Island medium, a vast stretch of land that is home to Australia’s only two remaining large meatpacking plants, but also an array of small, independent, and community-based businesses.
“It’s a really interesting, exciting time in the meatpackers history,” says Tim Murphy, a long island farmer and president of the Long Islanders Farmers’ Association.
“The industry is growing at a pace of around 30 per cent a year, but there’s still plenty of room for growth.”
A few decades ago, the industry’s growth was mostly driven by overseas markets.
But now, the bulk of the meat industry’s overseas growth is coming from Australia.
“A lot of these small, locally-owned businesses that were struggling for a long time are now doing really well,” says Murphy.
“I think it’s been a real positive story.”
In 2018, Australia produced about 9,500 tonnes of meat, making it the third-largest meat producer in the world behind the United States and the United Kingdom.
The industry’s exports, according to the Department of Agriculture, have also increased dramatically, reaching $1.7 billion in 2018.
“Australia’s the number one importer of meat in the whole of Europe,” says Peter Smith, CEO of the Australian Meat Institute, an industry trade group.
“That’s really huge.
Australia’s got a really, really high standard of living, and that’s a big reason for the growth of the industry.”
The meat industry has historically thrived in Queensland and the Pilbara region, where meat processing is a primary industry.
In 2018 and 2019, the region produced nearly 1.5 million tonnes of beef, pork and lamb, accounting for more than a quarter of the country’s meat exports.
In the early 1990s, Queensland was a major meat exporter, exporting about 10 per cent of its annual output, but its meat imports have fallen to about 3 per cent.
“Queensland has always had a great meatpackery tradition,” says Smith.
“And Queenslanders are very supportive of their local businesses.”
But while the industry has grown in Queensland, it’s not the only part of the region producing the most meat.
In 2017, New South Wales exported more than $1 billion worth of beef and pork, which made it the biggest meat exporters in Australia.
In Queensland, there are more than 40 smaller meatpacking businesses, which have all grown to become regional players, including the Meatpig’s, Meatpigs, the Longest Pigs in Australia, and Meaty and the Shortest Pigs.
“We are very proud of our regional economy,” says Shane Rafferty, chairman of the Meat Industry Council of Queensland.
“But we’re also very proud that we have a great local meatpackerie, and a great small business.
That’s really important.”
And now, in 2018, meatpacking in the state of Queensland is expected to grow by 20 per cent over the next five years.
The meatpackage boom is being fuelled by a boom in online orders for Australian-style meat, and by a growing awareness of the health benefits of eating locally.
“Meat is now a national health issue,” says Rafferity.
“There’s a huge appetite in Australia for local products.”
“The meat industry is seeing a huge boost in sales, with a huge increase in online demand, especially from people who have no idea what it is, and have no way of knowing how much meat they are buying,” says Chris White, president of Meatpackers Australia.
A number of meatpacking chains are taking advantage of the rising demand, launching meat-focused websites in the coming years.
And, as the industry expands its footprint, it will also face competition from a growing range of alternative meat options, including grass-fed beef, antibiotic-free pork, organic pork and organic lamb.
But as Murphy points out, “there’s no question that our meat has a huge potential for growth in Australia.”
In addition to growing demand for Australian meat, the long-term prospects of the business are bright.
“Our business is going to continue to be here in Queensland for the foreseeable future,” says White.
“If the industry grows, and if we keep doing well, we’ll continue to grow in Queensland.”
But for now, there’s a lot more work to do.
The Australian Meat Industry is supported by the Australian Government, the Australian Rural Health Service and the Rural Health and Wellbeing Commission.
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