An interview with Catherine Sayer, CEO of Food South Australia, on the SA Premier’s Food and Beverage Industry Awards.
When reading the press release for the Finalists of the South Australian Premier’s Food and Beverage Industry Awards for 2019, I noticed a familiar name up for the Sustainability Award, Ochre Nation, the company of an ex-guest of the program, Brendan Carter.
After congratulating the man, I got in contact with Food South Australia, the entity behind the awards – for some comments on the awards themselves and business trends.
How were award winners selected? What was the process and what factors were you looking for to decide on winners?
The South Australian Premier’s Food and Beverage Industry Awards categories are independently judged by experienced industry professionals for each award category using specific criteria.
What the judges are looking for depends on the award category but across the board they are all interested in business excellence through finding out what each business is doing now, what they are planning in the future, how they monitor outcomes and how the business has grown and changed over time.
What common denominators have you seen in emerging food and beverage businesses?
Our recent benchmarking surveys revealed South Australia has a concentration of smaller, younger businesses who are strongly entrepreneurial.
They are typically six to 10 years old, with a turnover under $1.5m and under 15 employees. These are businesses whose product focus is on meeting changing consumer demands – for example in the gut health and functional food space. They are very open and keen to grow, and engage with us to focus on building their capabilities and capacities as much as to access support to enter new markets.
It’s a much over-used word, but the other common denominator really is their passion, and this is another reason we enjoy working with them to realise their dreams.
How is the SA government working with its constituents to foster the development of the Food and Beverage industry?
In South Australia we have had a unique partnership in place between Food South Australia – itself a unique industry organisation in Australia – and the State Government.
Food South Australia is an independent body and our Board is made up of experienced industry professionals. Our role includes ensuring industry priorities and needs are the focus for policy and programs.
The State Government supports us with program funding to develop and deliver a range of growth-focused programs and activities for the industry in South Australia.
The State Government recognises our sector as one of the nine key sectors identified in their ‘Growth State’ plan and looks to Food South Australia for information, evidence and advice on the most effective strategies to support industry growth.
Other than this support, what are the key drivers that you’ve identified to be contributing to industry growth (and possible decay)?
One defining characteristic we see in South Australia is the unusually high level of trust and collaboration between businesses. Our industry is dominated by small and medium enterprises, often privately owned family businesses but there is a strong current of cooperation and a big picture focus. We frequently hear leaders in our industry talking about the importance of ensuring growth across the whole industry in South Australia rather than just focusing on their individual business outcomes.
The value of this attitude can be seen in the results. The food and beverage industry in South Australia is the only sector in the state to have shown consistent growth, year on year, for over two decades.
Our research has shown that regardless of age, many businesses lack operational business skills and are exposed to risk through not having established robust and sustainable business systems. We have been working with many businesses through our Business Growth Program to help build these skills because it’s only when an emerging business gets these systems and skills in place that they can confidently plan for growth. For the industry as a whole, this is critical because it’s a sustainable foundation that enables long term success and growth in jobs and sales.
How has that changed in recent years? (what specifically, over what period of time) – and how is this evolving?
Typically, a new food business here will focus first on the local market before extending their reach into other states and overseas markets. We work with them through these phases of growth and connect them to the expert support they need at each stage. We have learned that the key to success for them is to be able to access support that is relevant to their needs and objectives at whatever point of the business life cycle they are in, and it is this ability to ‘dip in and out’ as needed that has marked the success of our programs.
What are you doing to maintain your industry pulse?
Food South Australia surveys the industry regularly to ensure we are focusing on real priorities and objectives rather than making assumptions about ‘what industry needs’. This has helped us provide evidence to governments at state and federal level of needs and changes in the industry.
For example, in our most recent survey we saw a shift from bakery goods and cereal crop products as the majority of food manufacturing in the state to convenience products. There is a lot of activity in this space with the focus on both health and wellness and decreasing amounts of time available to prepare meals and because so many of our state’s food and beverage manufacturing businesses are smaller and privately owned, they are also agile and flexible. They are able to respond very quickly to these changing demands.
Food South Australia also facilitates connections between our members and buyers and customers in international markets, enabling us to connect a buyer or retailer with a business here in South Australia who has the capability to work with them to produce a product to specification for their market.
Food and beverage manufacturers and producers run very lean, and they are always busy, so if the support isn’t relevant at that moment in time, they won’t get involved. Our focus is always on ensuring our support meets those needs and our advocacy activities are evidence-based.
Most importantly, we talk to our members constantly.
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