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Staff at Minerva Foods’ Shark Lake meat processing facility at Esperance.

Minerva Foods brings new life to regional communities in Western Australia

Investment by Brazilian agribusiness giant Minerva Foods is reviving two regional communities in Western Australia. The company and its joint venture partner Saudi Agricultural Livestock and Investment Company have invested US$35 million (A$48 million) in 2 meat processing facilities. It is the first such investment for both companies.

In the town of Tammin, the investment has secured 50 jobs in the local community and stabilised operations at the Great Eastern Abattoir. In Esperance, Minerva has upgraded and reopened the Shark Lake facility. It created jobs for 50–60 people initially with plans to scale up to 220. It is sourcing sheep and cattle from local farmers, investing in staff training and development programs, and embedding itself in the local community.

‘Minerva is continuing to look to expand its footprint in the Australian red meat sector,’ says Iain Mars, CEO, Minerva Foods Asia. “We have received great ongoing support from Austrade, which has helped with the development of our operations here in Australia. This support gives us confidence in our investments and our planned future investments in Australia.”

‘The Australian meat industry has an enviable worldwide reputation in producing good-quality beef and lamb, backed by world-class systems and controls in all aspects of its production. We look forward to continuing working with Austrade in exploring further investments here.’

A top destination for sheep and beef processing

Minerva Foods is one of South America’s largest beef producers. The company has processing plants in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia. In 2020, it started looking for investment opportunities overseas as part of broader expansion plans.

Top of Minerva Foods’ list was Australia. It wanted to leverage its Australian trading operation, Minerva Foods Asia, to access export markets around the world. Investing in Australia would also allow the company to integrate with the Australian operations of its joint venture partner, the Saudi Agricultural Livestock and Investment Company (SALIC).

Minerva Foods was interested in entering the Australian sheepmeat sector. In an investor briefing, it said: ‘Australia is by far the most efficient place to produce sheepmeat in the world, in terms of scale and capacity to allow exports. The country’s meat products are perceived as of higher quality, which is reflected through higher prices.’

Investment in regional meat processing plants

Minerva Foods looked for investment opportunities in Western Australia. The state has around 15 million head of sheep and delivers turnover of around 5.5 million head each year. SALIC also has substantial investments in sheep production operations in Western Australia.

In 2021, Minerva Foods and SALIC invested US$35 million (A$48 million) to acquire 2 meat processing plants in regional Western Australia. The Great Eastern Abattoir is a sheep processing facility near Tammin, about two hours from Perth. The Shark Lake facility near Esperance processes sheep and beef. Both facilities are primed for expansion and licensed to export.

Austrade worked with the former Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce (GBTAT) and the Western Australian Government to progress the investment. Austrade met with Iain Mars, the CEO of Minerva Foods Asia, in 2020 to discuss details of the potential investment. Austrade also provided advice on Foreign Investment Review Board processes and EU export approvals.

The GBTAT granted a Global Talent Visa for Iain Mars. Key Minerva Foods staff were also granted work visas. Austrade supported Minerva Foods through state border closures to ensure key personnel were onsite.

Bringing new life to Tammin

Before 2020, the Great Eastern Abattoir in Tammin processed up to 1,200 sheep a week. It has been operating sporadically since COVID-19 hit export supply chains, creating uncertainty for workers. While operational, the ageing facility needed upgrading.

Minerva Foods set about refurbishing the facility to ensure it complies with best practice workplace health and safety, food security and animal welfare standards. The facility’s electrical system has been upgraded and new rain collection tanks installed. Minerva Foods also bought and is upgrading the adjoining railways barracks as staff housing.

The facility now employs 50 staff and processes around 900 sheep a day. Minerva Foods expects to increase production by 50% and grow the workforce by 20–30% in the short to medium term.

‘It was great to get the local guys back on board and support local families,’ says Cory Hogg, Director Operations, Minerva Foods. ‘Some of our people have been working here for 20 years.’

Creating new jobs and industry in Esperance

The Shark Lake processing facility at Esperance stopped operating when COVID-19 shut down export supply chains. It had been processing up to 1,700 sheep and 120 cattle on alternate days.

Minerva Foods has installed new steam boilers and hot and cold-water systems, replaced the electricals, floors and ceilings, and upgraded staff amenities.

‘We reopened on 18 July 2022 with 50–60 staff,’ says Hogg. ‘When we move to business-as-usual operations, that number will rise to 110 people. As we expand, we hope to increase to 220 staff.’

Minerva Foods is also in talks with the Port of Esperance to build a Reefer Terminal. This would allow the company to ship products worldwide from Esperance rather than trucking to Fremantle.

Minerva Foods has big plans for the Shark Lake facility. Hogg says the company wants to expand the facility to include manufacturing value-added products for supermarkets and restaurants.

Supporting the local community

Minerva Foods is sourcing sheep and cattle from farmers and livestock agents in Tammin and Esperance. The company has brought on an experienced livestock agent to work with local farmers.

‘I’ve also been speaking at local farmer meetings about our operations and plans,’ says Hogg. ‘We’ve also put up signs outside both facilities inviting people to come talk to us. The nearest meat processing facility to Esperance is 4–5 hours away. Having a mixed processing facility here means local farmers can save on transport costs and ensure animal welfare.’

Minerva Foods is planning to set up staff programs in Tammin and Esperance. These range from meat-processing training to professional development courses that prepare people for a long-term career in the meat industry. The company will assess staff skills to ensure they receive appropriate training.

Community integration and pastoral care is also important. Minerva Foods will offer workplace health and safety programs to ensure staff, their families and the community are looked after.

‘The community response has been great,’ says Hogg. ‘Once they hear about us, what we want to do and our commitment to staying local, they’ve been hugely supportive. We’re very excited to be here.’

Published: 9 May 2022

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