Lactalis to close Echuca factory

Lactalis will move its yoghurt and dessert processing from its Echuca factory (pictured) to an upgraded Bendigo site. Photo: Aidan Briggs. Photo by Aidan Briggs

The Echuca Lactalis dairy factory is expected to close soon, after the company announced it was moving its yoghurt and dessert processing to its Bendigo site.

The shift is not expected to disrupt milk supply from district farmers.

Lactalis is one of Australia’s largest dairy processors and purchases milk from hundreds of dairy farmers across all Australian states.

The company produces a range of dairy products across a number of brands including Pauls, Oak, Vaalia and Ice Break.

The news of potentially 74 jobs lost in Echuca was dropped when the company announced a three-year, $85 million investment to make Bendigo its primary location.

“Our long-term plan to meet future growth aspirations was made after a detailed review of our Yoghurt and Desserts Division,” Lactalis chief executive Mal Carseldine said.

“The plan sees us have one regional hub in Victoria that is fully utilised. Our selection of which site considered: milk processing capability, operating costs and site layouts.

“Based on this criteria, our Bendigo site was the most suitable option for us to invest in to meet our future needs in Victoria.

“We are now consulting with our Echuca team about these decisions, including how to best support them through the implementation.”

Mr Carseldine said there will be some opportunities for redeployment of Echuca staff.

The additions to the Bendigo facility will see more jobs, a new production line, and more yoghurt and custard capacity.

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union organiser Chris Spindler said he had been given very little information about the move from the company.

“We have very little information about what they’re proposing other than a throwaway comment about investment in Bendigo, but even that doesn’t mean much at the moment,” he said.

“We don’t know whether that results in jobs or how it impacts the people who will lose their employment.”

The union said it expected Mr Carseldine to visit the Echuca site next week and that it hoped plans for the future would become clearer.

Last year Lactalis was fined almost $1 million by the Federal Court for breaching the Dairy Code of Conduct.

Lactalis, formerly known as Parmalat, is a French-based multinational company.

Following proceedings brought by the ACCC, the court found that Lactalis had breached the code by publishing and entering into agreements with milk suppliers that allowed Lactalis to unilaterally terminate an agreement in circumstances that didn’t involve a material breach by farmers.

In particular, under the agreement, Lactalis was permitted to unilaterally terminate the agreement when, in Lactalis’ opinion, the farmer had engaged in “public denigration” of processors, key customers or other stakeholders.

The court also found that Lactalis had breached the code by failing to publish its milk supply agreements on its website, and instead required farmers to sign up to receive their milk supply agreements by email.