West Australian mining industry success story turned enthusiastic beef producer and processor, Andrew (Twiggy) Forrest says Australia’s food and marketing message to Chinese shoppers is chaotic and confusing.
The Fortescue Metals chief told this week’s National Farmers Federation Congress Australia needs a clear and simple branding and messages to promote our quality, premium-priced food exports.
He said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was among the biggest critics of Australia’s multiple companies and state and federal government agencies pushing different brands and product agendas in the “middle kingdom”.
“States are fighting territories and other states on branding, governments compete with companies on messaging, and there are a multitude of different logos,” he said.
Chinese middle class consumer spending would leap by $1 trillion in the next 25 years, but Mr Forrest said shoppers “walk for miles in Chinese supermarkets” without easily identifying the safe, clean, quality Australian products they look for.
These were shoppers willing to pay up to $50 for a packet of Weet-Bix worth $5 in an Australian supermarket.
“We’re confusing to China, one of our biggest export customers, and it is costing us dearly,” he said.
“This industry is fragmented, unfocused and characterised by honest, well meaning people, who have disparate and non-aligned export goals.
“It’s like a malignant cancer creeping up on you, you never quite know it’s there until it’s too late.
If strategic branding under one clear logo was not made a priority Australia would be forced to compete in export markets on price against the massively cheaply processed output from nations like Brazil and Uruguay.
Mr Forrest’s own beef industry interests include a 50,000 head Angus-Droughtmaster composite herd running on 1.5 million hectares in the Pilbara and the Harvey Beef meatworks in WA bought two years ago.
He said he went to China “enthused about our agricultural prospects” and keen to promote Australian exports to its political leaders, only to be greeted with a “ruthless response”.
The sort of diverse marketing ideas and brands which worked Australian supermarkets were not working in Asia, particularly China.
“If we want to absolutely multiply our markets, tapping into even just a fraction of Chinese potential, let alone all of world potential, we can’t do it the same way as we do here,” he said
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had bluntly described Australia’s competing states and territories, industry bodies and companies as being an overly competitive and a complex maze.
“He basically told me despite our great national reputation, Australian produce could not be easily identified and therefore its advantages could not be utilised and its market share could not grow,” Mr Forrest said.
“We must develop ourselves as a clear brand, under one clear logo.
“Huge countries and companies overseas will take Australia’s market share if we can’t be easily identified by the consumer under one brand, one logo.
“If your company or farming business does not already have $1 trillion in its bank account you can’t afford to keep pushing your own business brand and logo on the world.”
He said agriculture and its partners had to stand united to counterbalance the enormous bargaining power of overseas players.
Canberra must get on the front foot fast to find out what Chinese governments and consumers wanted from an easily identifiable Australian brand and logo message.
Mr Forrest, who initiated the Australian Sino 100 Year Agricultural and Food Safety Partnership (ASA100) with the Chinese government said many agribusinesses were on board keen to develop a national relationship with the Chinese market, but the Australian brand had to be driven from a federal government level to avoid rivalry between states or companies.
He was pleased Trade Minister for Trade, Steve Ciobo, had pushed Austrade to work with ASA in China to test and develop a potential unified brand for Australia to adopt in China.
NFF president, Brent Finlay, opened the congress, which has attracted its biggest yet audience of agribusiness representatives and farmer delegates,
He argued Australia also needed to work fast to build closer trade relationships with Indonesia in the wake of recent free trade deals signed with China, South Korea and Japan.
Agriculture should be exporting far more than the 65 per cent of production Australia currently sells overseas.
“What we export now has a farmgate worth of about $60 billion, but we need to make that market more of a focus for agriculture – we need to be exporting 90pc of what we produce.”
The story Forrest says our ag export brands confuse Chinese shoppers first appeared on Farm Online.