The demand for cheaper supermarket beef in China has prompted a new Australian joint-venture to directly source and process cattle for boxed export.
While the vertically integrated business model is already used by larger agribusinesses, Spinifex Beef does not own infrastructure or breed its own livestock. Instead it purchases cattle from producers and has the meat processed and packed on contract by existing abattoirs.
Supported by the 3 Mark Group, which already exports chicken and seafood to Asia, the company hopes to capitalise on existing customers to sell its beef.
Spinifex Beef has only sourced cattle from Queensland to date, but hopes to expand further, particularly into northern Australia.
Chief executive Ian Bradford said the company was targeting supermarket clientele as its market segment in China.
“We’re after a 500-gram-sized piece of meat, pre-packed here in Australia, labelled here in Australia, sent to China and pulled straight out of the chilled boxed onto the shelf,” he said.
“It’s a good model given we’ve got established clientele up there already.”
While agribusiness Elders is already well-established in the Chinese market targeting the high-end restaurant trade, companies operating out of northern Australia such as Hancock Pastoral and Australian Agricultural Company have taken steps recently with the intention to export live cattle and boxed beef to China respectively.
However the high price of cattle, and lack of available supply, make it difficult for firms to meet the much-heralded hunger of the Chinese.
Even if Spinifex Beef could source more stock from the north, Mr Bradford said there was a lack of available accredited processors.
“We’re hamstrung — we’d like to do a lot more out of the north without a doubt, however it’s just a lack of facilities,” he said.
“The type of meat that we’d like to produce for the supermarkets is more suited to come from our northern cattle because of the fat content.
“It’s a non-fat cut, very similar to the South-East Asian preferred type of meat that is boiled in a pot.”
While AACo’s Livingstone Beef processing facility near Darwin is currently seeking accreditation to access China, some other beef processors in Australia suffered a setback recently — hit with a temporary export ban.
Mr Bradford said he would like to engage with northern processors to have them slaughter cattle on a contract basis.
“Hopefully on the horizon we can organise a facility or get a facility across the line that can be accredited to go straight into China,” he said.
By Carl Curtain