AUSTRALIA can become the "clean food bowl of Asia" as China and other nations in the region seek higher levels of health and safety, says Visy Industries Australia executive chairman Anthony Pratt.
The packaging and plastic bottle manufacturer has announced plans to push its business further north as part of efforts to quadruple Australia's food exports to Asia.
Health and safety was an increasing focus in China and other Asian countries, Mr Pratt said, presenting a huge opportunity for Visy and its customers.
"We can be the clean food bowl of Asia in Australia so if there was an industry that is worth backing, it's the food industry. Australia grows things so well," Mr Pratt told The Australian Financial Review.
"Someone once said there's enough food in the world to feed everyone, it is just getting it there that's the problem. Logistics is a pivotal part of that."
He highlighted the dairy industry. "One of the biggest drivers is around 2 billion Asian people are coming out of poverty and into the middle class. There's an increasing propensity for people over there to access quality food, and protein is important," Mr Pratt said at the opening of a new $50 million Visy recycling facility in Smithfield, west of Sydney on Friday.
"Australia has some of the best dairy in the world and we're optimistic we can support the dairy industry through freight and primary packaging."
Visy exports about 60,000 shipping containers a year. The group, Mr Pratt said, was using its position as Australia's biggest export shipping container user to use its shipping container purchasing power to lower shipping rates for its food customers.
While he declined to name customers that had signed on to use the Freight Forward service, Mr Pratt said it was gaining "good traction" among clients.
"Increasingly in Asia, because of concerns about health and safety, they want a product that is shelf stable and can last, and is tamper-proof, so packaging is important in getting there in an attractive and efficient manner," he said.
"If we can do that we'll help secure the future of Australia's food and beverage industries which make up more than 70 per cent of Visy's customer base."
Visy set up a trading company in Singapore and an engineering services company called Build Run Repair, which built the 100 per cent recycled plastics plant in Smithfield – the only one of its kind in Australia.
"We aim to use these initiatives as a platform to support our customers both here and abroad," Mr Pratt said.
He unveiled the Smithfield factory with his mother, Jeanne Pratt, and wife Claudine Revere, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and federal shadow minister for industry Sophie Mirabella.
Mr Pratt said the new facility, at capacity, could take about 2 billion plastic bottles out of the waste cycle.
The $50 million investment in the facility comes on top of more than $1.5 billion already invested in NSW by Visy – the most recent example includes the $500 million expansion at its Tumut mill in NSW.
"That expansion grew our trading exports to China," Mr Pratt said.