Geoffrey Thompson Holdings Limited, more commonly known as Jeftomson, has received a $15 million grant from the Federal Government for its ‘FRUITCo’ project. The project consists of the purchase of high-tech new food handling equipment that will significantly reduce packing cost, which will allow the Australian industry to be more competitive in the international market.
“The Australian fruit growers do a great job in growing fruit where the key production and quality measures are as good as the best in the World, however once the fruit is delivered to packing sheds that’s where the problem starts,” said Garry Parker, Managing Director at Jeftomson.
“The Industry has been crying out for a step change like the FRUITCo project, but it’s a big bet and it needs a large player to lead the investment because the stakes are high,” said Garry.
“Jeftomson are making the majority of the investment and wearing the majority of the risk.”
Garry said that while New Zealand has consolidated packing to half a dozen large scale packhouses, Australia has not, and so can’t compete internationally. With the installation of new equipment, that’s about to change.
“The FRUITCo project is all about driving export sales. Currently, we can grow and harvest fruit competitively, but our post-harvest costs render us uncompetitive on the global stage,” he said.
“This project will allow Australia to sell at World price, which will mean more money for growers.”
Once up and running, the FRUITCo project will see apple and pear growers both sell more fruit and receive higher prices for their fruit. The project will deliver significantly lower grading and packing costs, so growers will not only be able to sell more volume at globally competitive prices but incur less handling costs on the way through.
The project will initially generate around 200 jobs through the construction phase, and by year five Shepparton Council modelling predicts this figure will grow to 1350 jobs, made up of net 52 new jobs in the facility, 350 new jobs in orchards, and 947 new jobs in the broader community.
Various groups had been attempting to get a similar project off the ground for years, but it was only in 2016 with Jeftomson’s purchase of Ardmona Cannery and talks with SPC (The Shepparton Preserving Company) on handling their volume through the project that it became financially viable.
“We believe this will be a game changer for the industry and allow it to get on to a more sustainable footing,” said Garry.
“Management estimates incremental export sales of around $50 million by year five.”