Victoria on the menu

Business ‘speed dating’ a good match for Victorian produce.

JOKE if you will about Melbourne’s ever-changing weather, but the city has the last laugh when it comes to its enviable eating and drinking culture.

Fuelled by the excellent produce Victoria has to offer, the capital is used as the “brand” for the state known as the food bowl of Australia with its supply of one-third of the country’s total food produce.

But it isn’t just Melburnians and other Australians who get to enjoy the produce. Last year, Victoria exported over RM700mil worth of produce, mostly dairy, to Malaysia.

To up the ante, the Kuala Lumpur-based State Government of Victoria for South-East Asia organised a business matching session recently to introduce local outfits to some of Victoria’s offerings from eight food and beverage companies involved in wine, cheese, olive oil, meat (beef), vegetables, seafood (abalone, crayfish) and Melbourne coffee.

The day-long meetings, which one Australian executive likened to “speed dating for business”, culminated with a “Best of the Best” dinner at Hilton Kuala Lumpur that showcased the items supplied by the companies.

Tim Dillon, Victorian Government commissioner for South-East Asia, said that the one-on-one sessions had been “extremely positive”.

“Most of the (Malaysian) companies I’ve spoken to have said yes; we’ve made some good contacts. The Victorian meat company, for example, had seven meetings and they said they could probably sell meat to six of them (local businesses) tomorrow,” he said.

Mike Murray, managing director of Prestige Foods International Pty Ltd, Australia, who acted as special trade envoy for the food mission from Victoria, said there was no big mystery about what the consumer wants.

“The simple fact is that the consumer of food wants very simple things: they want good wholesome, natural, safe food, and one of the great things about Victoria is we have all of those components,” said Murray, a New Zealander who has lived in the Australian state for 30 years.

“We are one of the few countries that has had no major viral diseases that would affect our food quality. If you look at issues involving pesticides and antibiotics, this fact becomes really important.

“Victoria is one of the most pristine and viable agricultural areas in the world and, with the growing emphasis being placed on provenance within the food industry, we are very proud to be able to provide a service that offers traceability and the highest quality systems and standards,” said Murray.

“People in the world today want to know where their product comes from, how it is handled, how it is looked after and if it is safe. And the Victorian Government has put a lot of money into this system for this to happen.”

The Victorian food industry has a turnover of A$25bil (RM74bil) a year, A$5.6bil (RM16.6bil) of those in exports.

“As far as the future goes, there are a lot of opportunities in South-East Asia and particularly Malaysia, and that’s one of the reasons the Victorian Government has set up office here on the ground, to get closer links with industry,” said Dillon.

Of total exports to Malaysia, dairy makes up the bulk, with RM225mil worth of produce last year. In fact, Victoria is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of dairy products at 13%. “A lot of it is in the form of milk powder or bulk cheese that end up on the pizzas you eat, for example,” said Murray.

Other exports to Malaysia include grains (RM136mil), prepared foods (RM112mil), meat (RM148mil) and horticultural products such as fresh vegetables, juices and nuts (RM62mil).

However, Victoria only exports about A$6mil (RM17.7mil) of its wine to Malaysia.

“Malaysia isn’t one of our top markets as you can imagine, but with higher income levels, increased affluence and a higher expectation in tastes and standards, it’s certainly a growing market,” said Dillon.

Judging from the conversation and tastings during dinner, it was obvious that Malaysians did not have a problem with Victorian wines and knew enough about wines to be able to talk with authority about them.

The five dishes that were served also brought out appreciation for the food – it was a corker, as the Australians would say. There was no doubt that diners enjoyed the finest in produce starting with salad served with roasted beetroot and Feta cheese, followed by risotto with crayfish medallion, abalone, pan-fried striploin and ending with a mascarpone granola and boysenberry ice-cream dessert.

Dillon said similar business-matching sessions will be held in the future. He also emphasised that trade will not move just one way between Victoria and Malaysia.

“Going forward, my office is looking for opportunities to do two-way trade and one of the advantages is that Malaysia has some fantastic tropical fruits which are counter-season to Australia, so where there are seasonal cycles there are also good opportunities for us to help each other out,” said Dillon.

Murray pointed out that there have been times when Malaysia has actually helped Australian exports.

“At Prestige Foods, we supply countries with certain tropical fruit, but when we couldn’t source the fruit out of Australia, particularly Victoria, we got the fruit out of Malaysia to keep the supply constant,” he said, giving examples such as custard apple, starfruit and dragon fruit.

“It’s important that there has to be bilateral ties, a two-way street for trade to continue,” he said.

At present, Victoria imports mostly petroleum from Malaysia, as well as computers. In terms of food products, palm and coconut oils are the state’s major imports.

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