Shepparton’s own milk processing plant, run by Australian company Freedom Foods, is ramping up its processing capacity and is looking to this region for more milk supply.
The UHT factory exports about half of its production, with 85 per cent of exports going to China.
Freedom Foods managing director Rory Macleod said last year the factory produced about 85million litres, this financial year it is expected to be more than 150million litres and in the next year the company hopes it will produce about 200million litres.
To achieve those goals, the factory was recently upgraded and will put in further filling capability for 2018-19.
Some equipment will be moved from the company’s factory in Taren Point, Sydney, to Shepparton to allow the range to be diversified by next June.
The company has just finished a $30million investment and another $10million will be spent on further expansion in the UHT plant in the next six months, and the nutritional plant will have at least $40million expenditure in the next 18 months.
The expansion will create more employment, but the production is not labour intensive. There are 75 to 80 full-time positions at the moment, which will increase by up to 10 positions with this year’s expansion.
A new nutritional plant could provide jobs for up to 15 people in the next few years.
The company is looking for good skilled workers to operate highly automated lines, and others to work in quality systems.
The factory has been receiving 100million litres of milk under an agreement with its former partners, ACM, and will continue with this arrangement, but will also be looking for new supply directly from farmers.
One of the goals of Freedom Foods group general manager of dairy and grains, Corrie Goodwin, is to recruit new supply from the Goulburn Valley and southern Riverina.
‘‘We brought on our first direct supplier in August,’’ Ms Goodwin said.
‘‘New referrals have come thick and fast after that. We’re looking for farmers who have a mindset, appetite and drive to build a strategy with us.’’
Mr Macleod said they were looking to engage suppliers for a long-term commitment.
Although he wouldn’t say what price they were paying, he said they would be concentrating on delivering a fair price with less volatility.
‘‘We would pay on average a price better than most of the commodity processors,’’ Mr Macleod said.
‘‘We only take the milk we need. We build for what we need, and our price parameters are different.
‘‘We’ve gone through in the last four months, a fair bit of capacity expansion, with big upgrades in processing and installed extra filling capability, finished in August.
‘‘Our volumes are increasing for our customers in Australia and we are seeing a more stable customer base in China and South-East Asia.’’
The company is also on the brink of building a nutritional plant to produce products like sports performance foods, adult nutrition and infant nutrition, for their own products.
‘‘We have an ambition to be a much bigger, consumer-branded nutritional product business. This nutritional platform is a key area of growth for us,’’ Mr Macleod said.
The Shepparton factory, in Old Dookie Rd, was built about three years ago and concentrates on mostly UHT liquid milk in full fat, low fat or skim milk.