The gala dinner in Ho Chi Minh City illustrated the true strengths and depth of Brand Australia. Premium lamb and steak were among the highlights, along with fresh lobster, abalone and mussels. The dishes were teamed up with fresh citrus, seasonal vegetables, almonds, macadamias, Australian butter, yoghurt, cream cheese and ice cream. Each course was paired with wines from some of Australia’s premier growing regions.
But more than just a gourmet celebration, the Taste the Wonders of Australia event was an important part of the Australian Food and Wine Collaboration Group’s latest push to expand export market opportunities for Australian producers.
The new collaborative approach to improving market access has provided representatives from Dairy Australia along with Wine Australia, Seafood Industry Australia, Meat & Livestock Australia and Hort Innovation the opportunity to meet face-to-face with more than 480 customers, trade contacts and government officials in three key export markets over the past 12 months – Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam. All three countries increased their imports of Australian agriculture products last year by more than $1 billion each.
At gala dinners and associated roundtables and events, discussions have focussed on market access, consumer demand trends and future growth opportunities.
Dairy Australia General Manager Trade and Industry Strategy Charles McElhone said the events are about leveraging the combined strengths of the five organisations to build on one of the most important elements of international trade – relationships.
“The success of Australia food and wine is based on the value of relationships,” Mr McElhone said. “These events enable us to meet with all the key trade contacts and customers, the food services operators, retailers and traders in each country.
“These are the people who are actually buying the product, and we can build those relationships in a professional but low-pressure environment with a view to gaining invaluable insights on how we can better service their needs.”
Mr McElhone said it helped to have government representatives from both the host country and Australia in the room.
“Trade in food and wine can involve technical challenges at times, with complex protocols around food safety testing, quarantine, and biosecurity,” he said. “There are a lot of different elements that you need to build confidence in to ensure the supply chains flow.
“If shipments of fresh produce are held up for whatever reason, especially when it’s a perishable product and it’s held up in a port in tropical conditions, it can cost a lot of money. It’s critical that we have government-to-government relationships that are open and positive.”
Mr McElhone says Australia’s agriculture industry has developed good market access in the past but must continue to work hard to maintain these while building new opportunities. This is especially the case where economies are developing and consumers are looking up the value chain for better quality produce.
“Australia is a pioneering country when it comes to exporting. We’ve been exporting to Southeast Asia for many years, back when markets like Vietnam were traditionally seen as difficult, and not the big, high value markets that they are today.
“But as economic growth continues in countries like Vietnam, we are seeing a lot more competition from elsewhere.
“We know we have built solid relationships over a long time, but we need to ramp up our efforts to ensure we are at the forefront to meet that wave of demand for high-value premium products.”
The Team Australia approach and Australia’s Nation Brand are proving successful when it comes to developing export opportunities and optimising valuable resources across the five member organisations.
“These key trade customers are buying dairy today, wine tomorrow and red meat the next day so it makes sense for us to work as a group when we talk to them,” Mr McElhone said.
“We are all big industries, significant exporters in our own right and have been working in Vietnam for many years with our own individual commodity programs, but this gives us an added opportunity to come together and work as one unit.
“There’s a huge amount of expectation with regards to efficient management of resources from levy payers, members and government and, through this collaboration, we are able to leverage off each other.
“It is taking us into a zone that many of us are unfamiliar with, and it takes a lot of effort, but we are learning so much from each other about different ways to successfully navigate through these export markets.”
Mr McElhone said the Collaboration Group is also learning to manage the differences within each market, whether it’s Vietnam, South Korea or Thailand.
“They’ve all got very different supply chains, big ranges in expectations and market nuances, whether it’s their approach to sustainability or their cold chains or their retail environment,” he said. “Vietnam, for instance, has a much stronger reliance on the more traditional wet markets compared to say Korea, so we need to develop more of an understanding on how we play into those markets.”
The Australian Food and Wine Collaboration Group is supported by an Agriculture Trade and Market Access Cooperation (ATMAC) grant of $500,000. An additional $600,000 grant announced earlier this year will see the partnership continue, with target markets including Taiwan slated for the next two years.
“With each new sprint we are also getting a better understanding of how to deliver the outcomes we are seeking in these markets. We know what’s working well and what’s not working well. We are confident that over time this will continue to evolve and pay off in the long-term.”
As for what’s next, Mr McElhone said the Collaboration Group is focussed on how to continue building the relationships already developed with the first three market activities, as well as turning their attention to the next target country - Indonesia.
“Indonesia is an incredibly significant market,” Mr McElhone said. “It’s seen by the Australian food and wine industry as the next big thing after China, with a significant population and an enormous trade profile. We are really looking forward to building that partnership for the future.”
* Data reference: ABARES, September 2023:
The Australian Food and Wine Trade Collaboration was created to promote quality Australian food and beverages in key international markets. The members and funding partners are Dairy Australia, Hort Innovation, Meat & Livestock Australia, Wine Australia and Seafood Industry Australia.