You have just stepped down after four years as the Australian chief executive of Kraft Foods, now known as Mondelez. You have had long career in the food business. What attracted you to it?
It all comes back to family and memories; if you think of the happiest moments in your life, it is likely that food, family and fun were in the mix together. This, combined with my love of brands, led me into the food and beverage sector — from Kraft Foods/ Cadbury, Barbeques Galore, Maxxium [global spirits and wine], Lion Nathan and McDonald’s. It has been a privilege to have worked with some of the world’s most iconic brands, in Australia and abroad.
What has inspired me throughout my career is the ability to effect change for an industry that is fundamental to most local economies, and absolutely fundamental to the future economic success of our
nation. There are significant food and agricultural structural shifts occurring in our nation and it is fair to say the soil is shifting for the better.
What do we need to do to promote Brand Australia in the foodmarkets of Asia?
We are verymuchseen as the lucky country— clean, spacious and safe, high standards of education, full of minerals and natural wonders, and a producer of quality produce and safe infrastructure.
Australian food, as a brand, is extremely well positioned, but for many companies, particularly our SMEs [small and middle-size enterprises], the
thought of accessing Asia is far too risky. We need to better align our national assets, and governments need to show companies the pathway to Asia. This will fuel innovation across the manufacturing sector with less tell-me-what-to-do, and more collaboration and show-me-what-to-do.
We want Australia to be the food bowl of Asia. What’s holding us back?
Food innovation in Australia has declined over the
past two decades. We have lost significant research and development centres and talent to Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. When I travel through
Asia-Pacific, it is clear that Australia is not seen as a high-value food innovator; we are seen as a critical supplier of food commodities for the region. We must convert our farm-gate commodities into value-add food brands.
We need to make significant inroads in more efficient intermodal transport, achieve greater human capital and incentivise innovation assets within our manufacturing plants. We need to reduce red tape, create a culture of responsibility and stop laying blame for complex societal issues on corporations and brands.
We need to back our strengths and develop innovation frameworks that motivate manufacturing and cluster multinational enterprises, SMEs, higher education and national science together with common commercial outcomes, which is what we achieved with the Mondelez International Food Innovation Centre in Melbourne.
Kraft is a household name butMondelez?
I had the honour to lead a company that has been a part of the Australian landscape for more than 125 years, producing iconic brands such as Cadbury and Vegemite — brands that are in more than 98.5 per cent of households. They are brands I’ve grown up with and brands that I well and truly love. Mid-last year, the Kraft Foods business in Australia changed company names as part of a global transition to Mondelez International, one of the world’s largest snack companies. Although the company had a new name, we carried forward the same values of our legacy organisation.
Are Coles and Woolworths too dominant in Australia? Should we limit the expansion of private labels?
My longstanding view is that if you are a branded player, and you can deliver a branded product that consumers love and will pay for, you have a formula for success. Brands that continue to surprise and delight consumers will withstand an array of pressures.
We have a newgovernment with a tough line on industry assistance for companies such as SPC Ardmona. What does that mean for the food industry?
Policymakers have an important task ahead to stimulate growth in industries that will secure our economic future. We can’t afford to play in sectors where we frankly don’t have a right to win. In saying that, we need policymakers to create a pathway to help businesses and employees transition to right-to-win areas of our economy. I have spoken to many senior Coalition ministers and I believe that they are establishing the valueadd pathway for Australia food to access Asia. The 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia is
“When I travel, it is clear that Australia is not seen as a high-value food innovator; we are seen as a critical supplier of food commodities for the region”
an excellent platform for engagement, and I think we need something similar for southern Australia’s premium food regions.
Is manufacturing dying in Australia?
If you review in detail those companies failing in the manufacturing sector, you see a pattern of underinvestment in brands, poor innovation cycles, underinvestment in capital and associated productivity, a sector in fear of the future and, in my view, an absence of leaders who inspire hope.
How has the food business changed since you have been in it?
Businesses, including those in the food industry, are increasingly realising that collaboration and cocreation can accelerate success, which is why I was part of the design of the Mondelez International Food Innovation Centre in Melbourne. We opened the largest food innovation centre in the southern hemisphere, and opened our doors to the wider food industry by connecting SMEs, people, state and federal governments, industry, higher education and technology through collaborative programs — all with an aim of developing and sharing insights and building the platform to deliver world-class innovations. The centre de-risks innovation and is a rare example of a multinational company leading industry outcomes and focusing on the greater good of the food industry. SMEs can access these facilities and launch a new product at about onetenth of the cost of doing so outside the centre.
Your long-term view of the global demand for food?
With half the world’s population growth set to take place on the doorsteps of our nation in Asia, the future looks very bright. We do, however, need to motivate capital investment in the food and agriculture sector. Many other nations believe in this sector, but Australians appear hesitant. But to be fair, we haven’t developed many winners. Imagine if we could create commercially led food and agricultural hubs to leverage investment, support regional development, enhance workforce skills and attract more people to regional areas?
Did the Asian century report last year achieve anything?
We will win in Asia, our neighbours will win and our planet will win if we truly understand Asian consumer insights and play a part in our neighbourhood. But it’s time to move from “telling me” that I should be accessing a part of the world that has immense growth potential to “showing me” how to do it, with the right pathway and a comfortable level of risk.
The late McDonald’s president, Charlie Bell, was a mentor. What did you learn from him?
After my graduation from Monash University in the late 80s, I moved to Sydney, to take a marketing role with McDonald’s. I worked under Bell, who led with absolute authenticity and inspired people to realise their potential on a daily basis. He encouraged me to do things that most people in their 20s would not even contemplate doing. He quickly became my breakthrough mentor. The hope he instilled in me still motivates me to lead authentically, make a difference and motivate others to do their best.
Rebecca Dee-Bradbury, in Melbourne’s Southbank, argues that food companies need to be shown a low-risk pathway to Asia