IT is not just Western Australian businessman Andrew Forrest who wants to see Australian food exports to Asia prominently promoted as Australian.
The mining and beef billionaire’s views are shared by many who actually live in markets such as China.
They say a national farm product labelling effort from Australia would likely capture consumers, and the imagination of retailers, far more effectively than the jumble of different Australian food brands and State-focused marketing pitches which vie for recognition.
“There’s a bit of frustration in China about Australia not promoting itself well with a single brand or logo to cash in on the recognition the name enjoys here,” said Shanghai-based Craig Bowyer.
“I think the main reason South Australian exports make a relatively good impact here is because they’re fortunate to have the word “Australia” on the label.
“South Australia means much more to most Chinese than something branded as produce of Victoria, New South Wales or Queensland.
“There’s also a feeling that southern Australian beef is better quality – probably from European cattle breeds such as Angus.”
Mr Bowyer’s perceptions were based on his lengthy experience in the food supply chain in China, where he is operations director of the big Swire Pacific Cold Storage business.
“I think a lot of people I deal with, or know of, share similar views,” he said.
“Consumers like a recognisable symbol.
“Australian product needs to be simply branded with a recognisable logo such as a map, or something as effective as New Zealand’s silver fern.”
Mr Forrest has made the Australian label issue a personal campaign for several years.
He has argued Australia’s food and marketing message to Chinese shoppers, in particular, is chaotic and confusing.
Despite efforts by Austrade to encourage exporters to adopt certain “brand Australia” labelling protocols, the Fortescue Metals Group chairman repeated his concerns at a Melbourne agribusiness event, saying clear and generic branding messages were badly needed to promote our quality, premium-priced food exports.
Shoppers walked “for miles in Chinese supermarkets” without easily identifying the safe, clean, quality Australian products, he said.
These same shoppers were willing to pay up to $50 for a packet of Weet-Bix worth $5 in Australia.
At last year’s National Farmers’ Federation conference he said one of the more notable critics of multiple Australian companies and State and federal government agencies pushing different brands and product agendas was Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
“States are fighting territories and other States on branding, governments compete with companies on messaging and there are a multitude of different logos,” Mr Forrest said.
“This industry is fragmented, unfocused and characterised by honest, well meaning people, who have disparate and non-aligned export goals.
“It’s like a malignant cancer creeping up, you never know it’s there until it’s too late.”
If one clear logo was not made a priority Mr Forrest believed Australia would be forced to spend most of its export market effort competing on price against cheaply processed output from nations such as Brazil and Uruguay.
In China, Mr Bowyer said he had observed many parliamentary and trade delegation groups pushing their marketing agendas.
The Canadians had been guilty of the same conflicting provincial marketing messages, although their thinking had changed of late.
But NZ tended to adopt a unified “single desk” approach to support its trade agenda.
“There’s a lot of interest in Australian food products, but the Chinese don’t care what State the stuff comes from,” he said.
In some cases exporters did display a map of Australia as part of their product branding, or made a point of encouraging food service retailers to promote the map on their menus.
“But you often have to look hard to find citrus or dairy products retailed with an Australian logo,” he said.
Mr Forrest’s message has been taken up by the Australian Sino 100-year Agriculture and food safety partnership (ASA100) with the Chinese government.
Many agribusinesses involved with the ASA were keen to develop a national relationship with the Chinese market, but Mr Forrest has argued an Australian brand must be driven from a federal government level to avoid rivalry between States or different companies.