Blaze of glory: FCT International a glowing success

From a nondescript warehouse in Thebarton in Adelaide’s western fringes is a global company that has quietly worked away on spectacular flame effects watched by millions worldwide.

FCT Flames has been behind the man-made flame effects on show at every Olympic Games ceremony since 2000, and despite the international reach and presence of the company, Adelaide has always been home.

“With the way communications and travel have changed in the last decade or two, you can do business from almost anywhere, Adelaide is a good place to be located,” says FCT International managing director Con Manias.

“We generate quite a bit of revenue for the state, everything we do is export and it’s certainly significant. Our technologies are good, they’re homegrown and we’re able to offer them around the world.”

FCT Flames falls under the FCT International group of companies which also include FCT Combustion and FCT ACTech. While developing the flame technology for major sporting events around the world is certainly the talking point of FCT International, the industrial combustion side of the business generates the most revenue.

FCT International managing director Con Manias holds the Sydney 2000 Olympic torch. Behind him (on right) is a test rig of the tornado-style flame cauldron used in the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics. Photo by JKTP.

FCT was born in 1984, engineering industrial burners for the cement industry and has since grown to become a leading global supplier of burner systems for the cement, iron ore pelletising and lime industries.

FCT holds a competitive spot in the iron ore pelletising market for burner systems, dominating about 70% of world sales of systems with rotary kilns and indurating furnaces.

“People who manufacture cement, lime or iron ore pellets need burners to operate their plant because they are high temperature processors. We design and supply the burner systems they use,” Con says.

“A lot of the design happens here (in Adelaide) and some are manufactured here, but some are also manufactured in other parts of the world depending on where the project is.”

Con says exports make up the majority of its market, with 95% of FCT Combustion products and services heading offshore, with the company’s reach extending to all continents of the world except Antarctica. FCT Combustion has operating offices in Canada, the US, South America, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

“It’s always been an international business, we have always done a lot of our work in other countries,” says Con, who has been involved with FCT for 23 years.

“What’s happened more recently is that we’ve grown quite a lot and we’ve been able to better access our markets in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.”

FCT International has a workforce of about 45 people, the majority of which are highly skilled and educated engineering, mechanical and technical employees, some of which hold PhDs.

The Adelaide base employs 28 staff, but Con says the supply chain also highly benefits as “for every one person we employ, there’s probably another three or four people employed by businesses we work with”.

FCT started out as an English company that was bought by Adelaide Brighton Cement in 1995. In 1999 it became independently owned and has since been under the same ownership and management.

A year later, in 2000, FCT Flames burst into the international spotlight when it was chosen to design and construct the relay torches and cauldrons used at the Sydney Olympic Games, with star athlete Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony remaining one of the most iconic sporting moments in Australian history.

FCT’s Olympic rings of fire.

Since 2000, FCT has been involved in supplying the flame equipment and effects in every summer and winter Olympic games, including the Olympic rings of fire at Athens in 2004 and the spectacular ‘burning man’ for the European Games in Azerbaijan in 2015.

“The flame is key because it carries the spirit of the Olympics,” Con says.

“The flame comes from the sun, it’s lit in Greece in Olympia which is where the Olympics were held 2500 years ago, and then that spirit in the flame gets transferred through relay torches to the Games venue. The climax is then the opening ceremony and lighting of the cauldron.”

For Olympic flames, FCT Flames usually has 12 months – sometimes fewer – to undertake research and development, testing and construction at the Thebarton workshop.

“In Athens we had flames burning on water, really spectacular stuff, but to work out how to do that it took a lot of testing and R&D and making sure it was stable under all conditions,” Con says.

“It was all quite technical and a very nifty project to ensure all that happened faultlessly.”

Con Manias is Brand South Australia’s most recent I Choose SA ambassador for the trade and investment sector.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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‘SA manufacturing is far from dead’: Levett Engineering

For a rather small, specialised company such as Levett Engineering to be awarded Exporter of the Year at the Business SA 2018 Export Awards speaks volumes about the quality of work this aircraft component manufacturer delivers.

However, founder and CEO Paul Levett believes it says more about the company’s organisation structure and workforce ability.

“Making the part is the easy bit for a manufacturer,” says Paul. “The quality and efficiency of your project management is the essential criteria that customers are examining, and your ability and capability to meet demand in good time is the key.”

From its base in Elizabeth South, Levett Engineering now derives 90% of its revenue from exports, with key customers including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Gulfstream already having some contract orders in place until 2027.

Levett Engineering CNC machinist Hari Shunmugavel, left, and CEO Paul Levett.

“What we have done is a very big symbol of what’s possible on the world stage from being based in South Australia,” says Paul.

It has been a steady rise since the company began in 1989, when Paul, a fitter and turner who had worked in defence, started manufacturing customised components from his backyard garage.

After 18 months, he took on his first employee, and two years later the expanded operation relocated to an Elizabeth West shed, which they outgrew and moved to their current site on Philip Highway in 2004.

In those days, a dark cloud hung over the future of manufacturing in SA, with hard questions asked about whether locally made goods could be cost competitive in a global marketplace.

Levett Engineering was smart and nimble enough to specialise in specific components that required high expertise and precision, rather than generalise in manufacturing.

Paul took a different tack by searching out gaps in local supply chains that could lead to global opportunities.

“For our business to thrive we had to look far beyond what all the other small part manufacturers in Australia were already providing – far outside of the automotive industry, and outside of Australia. We had to look where no-one else was going, to cut our own path,” he says.

Paul flew to the US as part of a trade mission in 2003, in the wake of the Australian Government’s 2002 Free Trade Agreement with the US, and began pitching for work in the aeronautical and defence industries, although the process tested his patience and persistence.

“It took five years of courting to keep showing what we are capable of. We had to prove ourselves, especially about how well we were managed, to build trust for us to obtain those crucial orders.”

Levett Engineering’s Claire Guichard.

By 2007, they had been awarded their first small contract, and soon won favour for their reliability. Levett remains the only Australian business producing machine components for the F135 Jet Engine, developed by US aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, and used in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.

“We make components from an aircraft’s nose to its tail, including airframe and jet engine components, electronic enclosures, and vacuum brazed assemblies,” Paul explains.

The credibility attached to such a prestigious contract has enabled the company’s output to expand, covering many international defence, aerospace, medical, electronics and commercial engineering sectors.

Such progress has occurred through the company proving the efficiency of its component delivery. For one particular aeroplane part, Levett Engineering was initially contracted to provide only 30% of the order, while the remainder was locked up by a long-time US firm.

That has now reversed, with Levett being the majority provider due to its ability to meet order deadlines with maximum efficiency, and prove it has the facility to provide even more.

In December 2018, the company purchased new Japanese equipment at a cost of $2 million that will increase production, enabling a 40% reduction in product delivery times to its suppliers this year.

Levett Engineering inspector Jared Pound.

Growth continues, with the workforce recently doubling in size to 60 people, working through three shifts across six days a week, on the back of 40% revenue growth for the past two years.

Manufacturing is now spread across two sites – at its original Philip Highway shed, and adding a new location 18 months ago, across the road at Lionsgate, the former Holden automotive factory in Elizabeth.

Paul can envisage moving all operations into a larger space within the Lionsgate complex, as Levett Engineering’s status as a Tier 1 Supplier to the world’s largest defence company is generating even more contract discussions with leading aeroplane companies.

“The extent of global supply chain needed to keep feeding the demand for elite plane building is staggering – and we are now positioned right at the very heart of that business,” says Paul.

“It has been a lot of hard work to reach this point, but our success on the international stage proves that manufacturing is far from dead in SA.”

Top image features Heather and Paul Levett at the Lockhead Martin Australian F35 rollout ceremony.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Tomich Wines takes a different path to export markets

Exporting Australian wine is a meandering, often maddening route, especially for small brands that make up the bulk of this nation’s 2400 wine producers.

Boutique Adelaide Hills brand Tomich Wines has forged its own unconventional path to global customers by exploring and entering different types of trade partnerships, to ensure enduring export sales.

“As a reasonably new wine brand, we need to find new opportunities to enter the market, which means we have to look at things quite differently,” says Tomich Wines director and winemaker Randal Tomich.

The Tomich family established big vineyards in Adelaide Hills from 2000, comprising 27 blocks across 130ha, and initially sold all the grapes to Penfolds.

By 2003, small volumes of fruit were being retained to start the Tomich wine label, and by 2009, when the contracts with Penfolds ended, their emphasis changed.

Tomich Wines’ city cellar door on King William Road, Unley, Adelaide.

“We got serious about selling wine,” explains Randal, noting the steady rise of Tomich Wines to now produce about 60,000 dozen wines annually.

This change saw export strategies become an important part of the business plan, but as a new wine label, Randal felt he needed to explore different opportunities rather than follow the same crowded trade routes to US and UK customers that were already filled with scores of Australian wine brands. Instead, from 2009, Randal looked to Hong Kong and China.

“I see these as great areas of opportunity, places where we can establish our own clear identity,” he says.

Selling strong and consistent amounts of wine into China has not been an easy progression, but Randal has persevered, while shifting strategies and learning to embrace different cultural and business practices.

Randal’s current Chinese business partners have suggested to him that Australian wineries need to be more creative about how to market their wines in China; for example, obtaining an endorsement from an esteemed entrepreneur such as Jack Ma of Alibaba fame or a Chinese media celebrity would be much more influential than promoting high scores from respected Australian wine critics.

Tomich Wines has three cellar door tasting rooms and sales outlets throughout China.

While Tomich Wines has not pursued the endorsement path, it has opened its own elegant cellar door tasting rooms and sales outlets in Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing (located in the foyer of a five-star hotel) and employing professional Chinese wine staff to represent the company, where other Australian exporters have employed language students for similar sales roles, with mixed success.

Establishing a strong physical presence in major Chinese cities has been crucial for Tomich Wines to establish necessary sales networks. It now has 17 distributors working in different parts of China, in a complex and surprisingly fragmented system.

“You can’t think of China as one country, because there are many, many small networks built around individuals rather than a highly complex and evolved distribution system,” says Randal.

Still, having established a string of functioning networks throughout China, Randal is also considering other strategies, including starting new wine businesses with Chinese partners, in which he would be prepared to take a minority shareholding.

“It would show that I’m not trying to take advantage of any Chinese partners, and ensure that I would not be a barrier to growth. It’s not the way business partnerships work in Australia, but China demands a significantly different approach and mindset if you are going to make headway.

“I’m an entrepreneur and I can see great opportunity there,” he adds. “I believe the future of wine is in China, and that the time to invest in China is now.”

China is only a part of Tomich’s export strategy. The company’s presence in the US is also unconventional, built on the back of Randal’s successful vineyard excavation business Soilworks, which uses advanced soil ripping techniques that help prevent soil erosion, maximise water retention efficiency and accelerate successful establishment of new vines.

Soilworks started winning vineyard-ripping contracts in 2008, and by 2011 the Tomich family had become partner in a 70ha vineyard in Pasa Robels, California.

The resulting T&C wine range comprises small volumes of elite cabernets and zinfandel which carry prestige in US retail outlets, and has provided an opportunity for Tomich Wines to piggy-back into the same markets – which Randal says are notoriously difficult for high-value Australian brands to break into.

“Everything gets categorised in the US, and Australian wine is categorised as sitting with (lowest-priced) Yellowtail wines,” he says. “It’s a perception that can’t be shaken, so for our higher-end wines, we had to find a different way in.”

While exports currently account for up to 40% of Tomich Wines’ production, Randal says he wants to realign the business focus to increase sales in the Australian market.

“Export is a key but we still get the highest value from our sales in Australia,” he says, although he remains committed to pursuing unconventional pathways, outside traditional distribution networks.

“Forget the old models,” Randal suggests to emerging wine entrepreneurs. “There are new and different opportunities, but you have to go and hunt for them.”

Header image features Randal Thomich, left, and Patrick Zhu.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Thomas Foods links exporting and innovation

Prosperous export businesses don’t succeed by chance. Thomas Foods International has grown to become Australia’s third largest meat producer – and the sector’s largest family owned business – with an annual turnover of about $1.3 billion.

CEO Darren Thomas says this is the result of 40 years’ work in international markets, built around a strong but highly flexible business strategy.

“The goal is not just about establishing export trade, but thinking about the market you are going into, and the relevance of your product in that market,” Darren told a full auditorium at a recent Brand South Australia I Choose SA industry briefing on the trade and investment sector.

Implementing this idea means examining the numbers to understand precisely what your product means to a global market, and this has prompted Thomas Foods to move far beyond its original business of meat processing and distribution.

Thomas Foods’ original business was in meat processing and distribution.

“Australia cannot feed the world,” says Darren.

“We can produce enough food to feed about 60 million people, and the markets we are already exporting to have a population of three billion people, so therefore we are always going to be a boutique producer, no matter how much the company grows in size and reach.

“This understanding was behind our very first decision, which was to concentrate on premium products.”

Darren says a key to export success, which now represents about 80% of Thomas Foods International’s business, has been through investing directly in markets where Thomas Foods International is trading.

It has built infrastructure and distribution hubs in the US, entered business partnerships with foreign companies and purchased several others to establish a solid beachhead in 85 key international markets – from Dubai and Cairo, to South America, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Recently Thomas Foods International purchased a company in the Netherlands, which had been a long-term customer, strengthening the company’s position in Europe.

“If you want to succeed in other countries, you have to get closer to the customer – there is no other way,” says Darren.

The expansion of Thomas Foods International also signals that progress depends on being reactive to what happens in the market, rather than staying fixated on your existing products.

With this in mind, Darren says he is aware that selling traditional boxes of meat will eventually be phased out altogether, which is why Thomas Foods International is a keen and active participant in emerging e-commerce technology and marketing strategies.

“You have to keep asking yourself how you remain relevant,” says Darren. “It’s crucial to keep abreast of technological changes in your sector, to know what your opposition is doing in the same competitive space, and to understand what your customer’s customer wants.

“We need to read and understand consumer habits and preferences, to embrace change in the marketplace as it happens.”

This has seen the company expand to include food retail label Thomas Farms, meat wholesaler Holco, ready-to-cook meal business Thomas Farms Kitchen, and sustainable seafood export business Thomas Cappo Seafoods, a collaboration with Cappo Seafood.

Some of these businesses have taken off internationally in ways that don’t happen in Australia – such as surging US popularity in prepared meals.

Thomas Foods Fresh Produce is Australian owned and Australian grown.

This underlines the need for an expansive exporting company to have separate businesses that can react swiftly to how customers evolve and buying trends erupt in different markets.

Darren has noticed that leading global tech companies dominating the retail sector – Alibaba and Amazon – are now investing in new-style bricks and mortar retail shops that have hi-tech purchasing models, with the first checkout-free Amazon Go shop now operating in Seattle.

This has inspired the company to trial new food packaging and marketing ideas in South Australia first. Eight months ago, Thomas Foods combined with Tony and Mark’s grocery stores and Uber Eats to introduce the world’s first home-delivered fresh food packs, providing ingredients for chef-designed, ready-to-cook meals via a phone or online instant delivery service.

It’s an innovation that Darren believes will soon find traction in the international market, and therefore give his company a competitive advantage.

“It’s a snapshot of opportunities that can exist,” he says, “so it’s important to get out and have a go.”

Such progress is a powerful positive statement from a company that was hit by an unexpected disaster when a fire destroyed its Murray Bridge abattoir and meat processing works in January 2018.

The company has underlined its firm commitment to rebuild in Murray Bridge, and is looking to invest in next-generation technology to improve cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

Darren says that taking this approach reinforces that Adelaide will always be home base for the company.

“There need to be improvements – especially for governments to knock down existing trade barriers if we are going to grow further – but we have a strong platform in SA to build a strong export business on,” says Darren.

“We are very confident of the future. I believe we can afford to be bullish in our business forecasts.”

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Port Lincoln’s tuna industry explores further export markets

South Australia’s bluefin tuna industry – often recognised as Port Lincoln’s greatest seafood success story – is increasing exports beyond its key market of Japan.

Industry spokesman Brian Jeffriess says that while Japan will remain the southern bluefin tuna’s main export market in the long term, the industry had recently increased its trade to Korea and China.

“Most of the tuna – 98% – is going to Japan, that was until about five years ago,” says Brian, CEO of the Port Lincoln-based Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association.

“Since then we’ve increased our exports to Korea and China considerably and we’re hoping to achieve a higher level this year – about 5% of our total exports – but for all premium tuna producers in the world, countries like in the Mediterranean, Canada and the US, Japan will certainly remain the main market for a long time.”

Southern bluefin tuna is highly sought after in Japan and consumed as sashimi, a delicacy consisting of usually fresh, raw fish sliced into bite-sized pieces.

The southern bluefin tuna is a prized saltwater giant.

“Sashimi is a tradition, they (the Japanese) have been accustomed to very high-quality tuna that most countries just haven’t had access to,” Brian says.

“It’s a buoyant economy in Japan so demand is very strong, so there’s no reason to think that market will reduce. The problem for us is having an over-dependence on a single market and a single currency because we get paid in yen.

“That provides challenges every year, so we have diversified into Korea and China and we hope to take that even further in the next five years.”

Brian says the domestic market for southern bluefin tuna is also increasing.

“The domestic market is quite small and the reason for that is there are so many other tunas available to restaurants on the east coast, but some of our farmers are trying very hard to penetrate the domestic market,” he says.

“Last year was the best year we’ve had, it was about 220 tonnes to the domestic market. Five years ago it was 40 tonnes, so it’s growing all the time.”

The Australian tuna industry farms about 8500 tonnes a year with 99.9% of it heading overseas, worth $150 million.

Sashimi is a delicacy popular in Japan.

“When you turn that into total income to the region and jobs it’s very substantial and by far the largest aquaculture export in Australia, and it’s consistent and growing,” Brian says.

“It (the tuna industry) certainly underpins the Eyre Peninsula economy … the official figure is about 850 jobs in the industry itself and another 1000 at least … if you look at the hospitality industry in Port Lincoln, a lot of it – the marina, the hotels, the accommodation – was developed on tuna money.”

Southern bluefin tuna is farmed by fishers who travel out to the Great Australian Bight to catch the species in a purse seine (net). Over two weeks the tuna are slowly towed to static ranching pontoons off Port Lincoln.

The tuna are fed sardines – an industry in itself that is the largest tonnage fishery in the country – and once grown, the majority of the harvested tuna is processed and shipped directly from Port Lincoln. A smaller amount – about 10% – is chilled and flown to Japan, where it can land within two days of processing.

Australia’s main competitor in the Japanese market is Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Malta, however, SA has the logistical advantage of a shorter airfreight time to Asia.

“Obviously to fly big fish from there (the Mediterranean) to Japan is expensive and challenging at times,” Brian says.

“Ours is quite simple due to the credits of the transport agencies that exist in Australia. People don’t realise how efficient Australia is in terms of a lot of things; transport, processing in factories, people here really do work hard.”

Port Lincoln’s southern bluefin tuna story dates back to the 1960s and ’70s, when the unregulated fishery was booming. But by the late ’70s the industry was warned that the species was being overfished and in 1984, fishermen were issued quotas to prevent exploitation of the industry.

With the wild catch quota cut by almost 70%, hardworking migrant fishermen in Port Lincoln revolutionised the industry to ensure the fishery could survive, by moving away from poling individual wild fish and towards tuna farming.

Many of Port Lincoln’s pioneering tuna fishers have since gone on to establish leading seafood enterprises, including German Hagen Stehr and Croatians Sam Sarin and Tony Santic, turning the town’s fortunes around.

Brian was brought in to head the tuna industry association in the late ‘80s, bringing with him vast business experience in various highly regarded roles. He says the performance of Port Lincoln’s overall seafood industry on a global scale is “remarkable”.

“Prawns, mussels, oysters, and now with abalone farming as well, the potential growth is remarkable and Port Lincoln will be the centre of it,” he says.

“It’s not just because of the environmental qualities, it’s the people. You can have a lot of positive driving factors like the environment, transport networks, things like that, but it’s the people that make successful businesses.”

Today, six countries are part of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, with catch allowances increasing in recent years as stocks recover.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Harbour Bottling enters new export markets as love for SA wine grows

A growing taste for South Australian wine overseas has led to a boost in business and new export markets for an Osborne bottling plant.

Wine export business Harbour Bottling, located near Adelaide’s major shipping container port, began exporting wine to India, the UK and Canada last year, on top of its usual trade to China.

Previously, all its products were exported to China – a market that Harbour Bottling director Wayne Chao says is also continuing its love for SA wine.

“Because of the nature of our clients, 100% of our products went to China, but since last year we started our first export to India and since late last year we are going to the UK and Canada,” he says. “So we are now opening more doors for exporting to different countries.”

AWTE Enterprise is the company behind Harbour Bottling, which provides contract wine bottling, packaging, warehousing and exporting services to the wine industry.

Harbour Bottling processes about 4000 wine bottles an hour.

The bottling plant, the only of its kind in Australia located so close to an export hub, produces about 4000 bottles an hour, equating to an average of 40,000 bottles a day.

The facility has a capacity to fill 600 shipping containers a year, a limit Wayne says is expected to be reached within the next two years, prompting plans for a second production line and a possible relocation of the business in the area.

“Last calendar year we produced more than five million bottles, that’s about 400 containers a year,” he says.

“Our bottling line capacity is about 600 containers (a year) so with the increasing trend of orders, we are about to reach our limit in maybe the next 12–24 months.”

According to Wine Australia’s export statistics from 12 months to September 2018, SA exported 408 million litres of wine, a 7% increase on the previous year.

SA’s wine export value was also up by 15% on the previous year at $1.67 billion. SA’s top export market by value and volume was China, followed by the UK.

Wayne says he believes the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) entered in 2015 has made “quite a bit of difference” to the wine trading market.

“In the past three years our business has been growing by about 30–40% every year. For us that’s a big increase and I think it’s definitely a benefit of the ChAFTA,” he says.

In January this year import tariffs on Australian bottled wines to China were abolished, meaning more wine is expected to make its way to the east Asian country.

Habour Bottling was established in 2017 by four Chinese entrepreneurs to help cater for Chinese demand for Aussie wine. Directors Jason Zhao, Jonathon Li, Simon Hou and Wayne Chao had each pursued different study and career pathways, including winemaking, computer science, media, medical science, real estate, civil engineering and wine exporting, before launching their business venture.

AWTE Enterprise and Harbour Bottling director Wayne Chao.

Together they saw a gap in the market for a “one-stop wine exporting logistics solution”. They were fond of Adelaide’s lifestyle offerings and the state’s world-class wine regions.

“We saw the opportunity in wine exporting. SA has many world-class wine regions that produce a lot of wine,” Wayne says.  “Australian wine has been a growing market in China, especially in the last couple of years. It’s a booming business.”

Harbour Bottling’s major client is Orchid Wine Estate – owned by Jonathon Li and Jason Zhao – which exports about 200 containers a year. Harbour Bottling works with local producers and wine brands from various leading wine regions across SA.

One of Harbour Bottling’s four directors Simon Hou recently stepped away from the business after being elected as an Adelaide City Councillor and taking on an extra workload.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Adelaide-based SEAPA excelling in international markets

Existing outside the oyster industry has enabled Adelaide-based plastics fabrication company SEAPA to forge radical ideas that have revolutionised oyster farming systems and built a globally influential business.

The popularity of its innovative oyster harvesting baskets has seen SEAPA take out the Agribusiness Award and Australian Exporter of the Year Award at the 2018 Australian Export Awards in Canberra.

This underlines the company’s spiralling success, building on its 2018 Business SA Export Agribusiness Award for outstanding international success in the field of agricultural products.

“Our background is in plastics injection moulding – not oyster farming – so our strength has been forming close partnerships with primary producers and coming up with innovative solutions to their problems,” says Andy Will, SEAPA group general manager.

“The ability to adapt rather than impose our products on customers has made them more beneficial to specific needs.”

SEAPA group general manager Andy Will, left, accepts the Export Agribusiness Award from Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham.

Oyster farmers around the world have embraced SEAPA’s long, plastic mesh baskets that are laid horizontally in the water from adjustable long lines, which enables shifting ocean tides to rumble the oysters inside the baskets.

This marks a significant departure from the older fixed rack and rail system, involving growing oysters on fixed trays along submerged wooden rails.

SEAPA’s horizontal basket system provides the flexibility for farmers to adjust the height of baskets to accommodate tidal movements, encouraging more rapid growth and development of well-cupped oysters with a clean hard shell and high meat content.

“All of our customers want the same outcomes – higher quality oysters, produced with greater efficiency,” says Andy.

“They want a farming system flexible enough to react to different seasons and environmental conditions, so that’s what we have worked closely with them to design and manufacture.”

For this system and these radical ideas to enjoy success beyond South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, where they have been trialed and successfully implemented, it has been necessary for SEAPA to be patient and strategic.

The oyster harvesting baskets in action.

Many countries that have employed the same oyster harvesting systems for centuries are wary of implementing change; France is very dogmatic about continuing traditional methods, Japan even more so.

“None of this happens overnight,” says Andy. “We have been in the US since the early 2000s, and more than a decade in France.”

“We have to make sure that the initial systems that we introduce into these countries are operating with optimal success in their farms, and we want their neighbours to notice that our systems involve a lot less labour and more impressive yields, because we know they need to see something in action before they believe it works.”

Since 2001, SEAPA has been exporting its range of products manufactured in Adelaide, with 75% of SEAPA’s revenue in the previous financial year coming from international markets.

Asia has emerged as a key buyer of SEAPA products, with significant sales progress in China, Japan and Korea stemming from the recent removal of prohibitive tariffs.

Continued growth in these markets represents a significant prize; while 13,000 tonnes of oysters are produced annually in Australia, 2.2 million tonnes are produced in China each year, and SEAPA’s footprint there is currently small but with the potential for rapid growth.

Technical innovation has been a pillar of SEAPA’s success, with its large range of 60 products allowing its oyster harvesting system to be used in almost any farming environment.

SEAPA group general manager Andy Will, left, managing director Garry Thompson and group sales manager Alex Jack.

SEAPA’s technological innovation is led by the design and manufacturing teams at its parent company, Adelaide plastic injection moulder Garon Plastics, which uses advanced design tools and 3D printing to rapidly develop and deploy new ideas for testing and refinement, giving farmers the tools they need, when they need them.

Being based in Adelaide has several advantages for SEAPA, from its established and progressive manufacturing plant, to performing extensive research and development through working closely with SA’s league of oyster farmers.

“We see the farmers that use our products as our partners in the design of the system. We wouldn’t be able to develop the products without their input,” Andy says.

However, having its head office and manufacturing plant located a long way from international markets means that SEAPA has needed to be nimble and strategic in forging its global sales network across 20 countries, benefitting from establishing local offices in its target markets across North Asia, Europe, and North America.

While SEAPA has already enjoyed a strong performance in the current financial year, Andy can see that global oyster eating trends are changing, with a rise in premium oyster bars in the US and Asia meaning that demand for excellent oysters in shell will increase, and therefore provide increased opportunities for the introduction of more of SEAPA’s innovative oyster basket systems.

“There is great success that we have enjoyed through the first 20 years of this company, but greater opportunities now lay ahead,” says Andy, “and we have to remain innovative and agile to make sure we can reap the benefits.”

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Trade and investment sectors offer endless opportunity

A highly competitive business environment, a skilled and educated workforce and a culture of innovation are some aspects that make South Australia a prime spot for trade and investment opportunities.

Our state is often celebrated for its enviable lifestyle offerings and cost advantages matched by no other Australian state, providing the perfect platform for outside companies to invest and develop, and for homegrown businesses to grow and thrive.

SA also has a 24-hour connection to key international markets and a solid reputation for producing world-class products and premium services.

Throughout January and February, Brand South Australia is exploring the trade and investment sector, as part of its successful I Choose SA campaign.

Here on Brand SA News, we’ll bring you examples of businesses who have chosen our state as the base of their operations as well as success stories of those exporting their goods and services to the world.

We’ll also share articles on international businesses choosing to invest in SA, develop a presence here and take advantage of our highly skilled and educated workforce.

One example is German battery giant Sonnen, attracted to SA by its can-do attitude and its deep, technical manufacturing skills base developed from a long history in the automotive industry.

The official launch of Sonnen at the former Holden factory in Adelaide’s north.

It’s of course also relevant to note British steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta, owner of the Whyalla steelworks, and his plans for major investments and ambitious upgrades to the steel city. We’ll also tell you about SA businesses that have come under foreign ownership – companies like Pirate Life Brewing, Udder Delights and Mojo Kombucha.

Although their ownership has left SA, these three businesses are still based in the state but have the opportunity to expand, create more jobs and continue to deliver the premium products we love.

SA’s goods and services are valued by key international markets, thanks to our outstanding freight connections and cold chain logistics to South East Asia, the Middle East and within Australia.

As well as successful commodities such as iron, copper and energy resources, SA is renowned for its food and wine exports due to impeccable food safety standards. Other industries, including education, defence, advanced manufacturing and space, also have ties to our trade sector.

Among the most exciting investment opportunity is Australia’s Space Agency, to be developed in Lot Fourteen (old Royal Adelaide Hospital), boosting our capabilities in innovation and technology.

Interested to learn more about SA’s trade and investment industry? Head along to Brand South Australia’s Industry Briefing at the Adelaide Convention Centre on January 31.

Guests will hear from Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, David Ridgway.

What: Brand South Australia I Choose SA for Trade and Investment Industry Briefing
When: January 31, 4.30–6.30pm
Where: Adelaide Convention Centre
Tickets: click here to purchase

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Sweet export deal for SA-made chocolate icon

The iconic South Australian-made chocolate bar, Violet Crumble, will make its way from Adelaide and into the hands of American chocolate lovers as Robern Menz expands its export plan in the US.

A 20-ft shipping container holding 77,000 of the chocolate honeycomb treats will leave Adelaide for Los Angeles and San Francisco this week, following a deal between Violet Crumble’s maker Robern Menz and distributors British Wholesale Imports last month.

Violet Crumbles have been available in a small number of US outlets including Cost Plus World Market, Wegmans, Stater Brothers and 7 Eleven for more than 20 years, but Robern Menz has a strategic focus to expand internationally.

Inside the Robern Menz factory. Photo by Julian Cebo.

Fourth-generation family business Robern Menz, also the maker of the round chocolate apricot treat Fruchocs, acquired Violet Crumble from Swiss confectionery giant Nestlé earlier this year, bringing ownership of the famous purple and yellow wrapped bar back to Australia for the first time in 46 years.

Robern Menz CEO Phil Sims says the company is “thrilled” to be in a position to manage the expansion of the well known Aussie brand into international markets, including the US.

“The reception around our planned expansion in the US has been really positive; Violet Crumble’s unique taste profile and branding is really resonating with Americans, who want to know how they can buy it locally,” he says.

“It’s so rewarding to see the first shipment leave the factory and make its way into the hands of American consumers and we can’t wait to hear the reaction from many more Americans to something that Australians hold so dear.”

The Violet Crumble is known for its tagline ‘it’s the way it shatters that matters’.

Production of the Violet Crumble in Adelaide began in October, following a $4 million refit and extension of the Robern Menz factory at Glynde in Adelaide’s east.

The factory’s overall output was increased by 37% and 30 additional staff were hired to oversee production and management of the Violet Crumble.

Robern Menz is also celebrating for another reason this week, after becoming the inaugural inductee for the Consumer Award Legend at the SA Food Industry Awards.

The Violet Crumble chocolate bar has been around since 1913 when it was invented by Melbourne man Abel Hoadley.

It was made in Adelaide until 1985 before moving to Melbourne under Nestlé’s ownership.

Header image by Julian Cebo.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Agribusiness the backbone of SA economy

They help put food on our tables, contribute enormously to the state’s economy and uphold the livelihood of our regions.

South Australian farmers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare, with agriculture contributing to 25% of our economy.

Our agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are equally important to our state’s reputation for being clean, green, pest free and one of the most sustainable food and wine growing regions on the planet.

Throughout October, Brand SA News will bring you success stories and the latest innovations from the state’s agribusiness industry, as part of Brand South Australia’s successful I Choose SA campaign.

We’ll take you inside the dairy industry and why you should be hunting down local dairy labels on your weekly shop, how multi-generational farming businesses have diversified, and how women are leading the way.

Food producers at B.-d Farm Paris Creek in the Adelaide Hills, makers of dairy products including yoghurt, cheese, butter and milk. Photo: PIRSA.

First up, we will deliver an article on Thornby Premium Lamb, a longstanding family-owned farming business with a presence at Sanderston on the outskirts of the Murray Mallee, as well as on Kangaroo Island.

We’ll also hear from Grain Producers SA’s first female boss, Caroline Rhodes, who will talk to the state’s grain industry, one that last year produced an 11 million tonne harvest worth a total farm gate value of $2.2 billion*.

Wheat is our primary grain, with 4500 farms across the state contributing to the grain industry, helping keep us and our livestock fed, and assisting in the manufacturing of a range of everyday products.

We’ll also bring you something a little weird – the world of potato waste.

Potatoes SA plans to tackle food waste by using discarded potato peel and pulp to make premium vodka (which we’re happy to taste test).

Brand South Australia’s I Choose SA for agribusiness ambassadors will also be revealed, and their experiences and industry predications shared.

Our coverage of agribusiness will take you inside some of our regions – our food bowls free from fruit fly and the vine-destroying phylloxera pest.

SA is the only Australian mainland state free from fruit fly and we spend about $5 million a year trying to keep it that way through prevention, detection and eradication measures.

Aside from knowing where our food grows, we’ll also find out where it goes, with China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand among others being some of our largest export markets.

And the wine, let’s not forget the wine. SA’s 3400 grape growers produce yearly crops valued at $658 million.


Eighty per cent of Australia’s premium wine comes from SA, proving we definitely know how to make a good drop.

To help kickstart the month of agribusiness exploration, Brand South Australia will host an Industry Briefing on October 9, where guests will learn about key innovations and the range of careers and available pathways.

Guests will hear from Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Tim Whetstone, Pork SA chairman Mark McLean and Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes.

What: Brand South Australia I Choose SA for Agribusiness Industry Briefing
When: October 9, 4.30–6.30pm.
Where: Adelaide Showground, The Old Ram Shed.
Tickets: From $25–$49

Register for the event here.

*Statistics and industry figures sourced from PIRSA.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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