While industry chatter pointed towards a potential bid for Lion Dairy and Drinks, Freedom Foods managing director Rory Macleod has actually set the company’s sights much further from home.
Freedom Foods is seeking to become a bigger player in the growing market for high-value dairy products, focusing in on the booming export markets of China and south-east Asia.
Despite ongoing dry conditions causing concern about the future of the dairy industry, particularly in northern Victoria, Mr Macleod said he expected Australian dairy to again weather the storm.
The company has recently invested in expansions to its UHT facility in Shepparton, as well as a nutritionals plant which will produce protein and dietary supplements including whey protein isolates and micellar casein.
The new plant is part of a growing focus on opportunities across dairy beverages and nutritionals, plant-based beverages and specialty cereals and snacks for the company.
“We’re ultimately about brands and consumers and innovation,” Mr Macleod said.
“You still do your core of product, you still do your base, but you keep adding to and internalising the opportunity.”
With Vietnam, Philippines and Myanmar among those markets being focused on, it’s a growing emphasis on consumer products including cream, yoghurt and more specialised dairy products that will pave the way for the processor.
“Asia is not built, nor is China built, for sustaining large scale, highly efficient growing platforms for those key inputs. So Australia’s got a unique opportunity, we’ve got a very strong reputation for quality, cleanliness, all those sorts of things,” Mr Macleod said.
“For us, over time we could keep building UHT plants and keep sending milk to these markets, but is that the right thing? We’re more about evolving with the market.”
The company is expecting to process 400 million litres in the next financial year for both domestic and export markets, with large-scale farms including Coomboona Dairies becoming an increasingly important part of the equation.
“You’ve got to be prepared to invest because nothing comes easy. Building these things, it takes years. So you’ve got to be prepared to work through that and accept that there’s going to be ups and downs, there will be the occasional dry period, that’s the nature of agriculture,” Mr Macleod said.