31 May 2016

What is Brand Australia?

The following opinion piece first appeared in The Weekly Times on 30 May 2016.

Australia’s agricultural and food manufacturers need a united, single brand message if they are to compete in Asia.

We are a competitive lot here in Australia.

Whether at school, on the sporting field or in business, we love to compete to gain ‘bragging rights’ about who is the best.

But is our competitive streak holding us back from reaching our full potential?

Is our inherently competitive nature preventing our agricultural and food manufacturing sectors from reaching their potential and the rewards that would come from a united, single brand renowned as a reliable and safe supplier to the growing middle class in Asia?

There over 150 different export brands representing Australia – with even more brand messages – attached to products being exported to China.

As a result Australian producers are competing against each other and in the process, running the risk of confusing Chinese consumers.

Contrast that with New Zealand, where exporters have worked tirelessly to build a unified brand message, evoking quality and consistency in the minds of Chinese consumers.

 The 100% Pure New Zealand has worked to the benefit of that country’s agriculture sector.

Don’t get me wrong, competition is a good thing, but if we want our export industries to thrive, we need a unified Brand Australia.

One brand will make Australian agricultural produce super competitive across Asia.

On the road with our customers recently for Australia Week in China I was continually amazed by the incredible and innovative Australian agriculture sector on display.

As Australia’s largest business bank and agribusiness bank we know our exporters are uniquely positioned to succeed as more of Asia shifts from the ‘build’ stage to the ‘grow and consume’ stage of their economic development.

Free trade agreements are opening doors throughout the region, the lower Australian dollar is making Australian business more competitive than they were 12 months ago, and changes in technology are allowing small businesses to compete globally.

Chinese demand for food is projected to double by 2050, underpinned by rising middle class incomes and increasing urbanisation.

Food safety is paramount in China, and their demand for agriculture grows every day.

China’s overall size and growth profiles mean that it must be considered as multiple markets across different regions and city tiers. This requires an understanding of local consumer behaviour, routes-to-market and distributor dynamics.

Australian businesses must target consumers willing and able to purchase ‘premium-niche’ products.

The agribusiness must be unified and work together as the Chinese market is too big and complex for individual ventures to fully succeed.

Australia is risking being left behind in China.

As a country we export 75% of our beef from 59% of our land yet we represent only 3% of the world’s production. Developing nations such as Brazil are already ahead of us in chilled supply chains to China.

Complacency is a risk to our economy. Fragmentation is worse.

Demand is so great that the sector must work collaboratively to take advantage of the opportunity.

The increases in domestic Chinese agrifood production will be smaller than the increases in demand – there will be a shortfall, particularly for high-value food.

For ‘Brand Australia’ to succeed and be accepted by the Chinese middle class it needs to consistently remind people of its key attributes – that our produce is clean, it is green and it is fresh.

This will only be achieved through a unified and consistent brand message.

The Australia Sino One Hundred Year Agricultural and Food Safety Partnership(ASA100) is helping the industry reach its potential, by providing leadership and strategic direction for the collaboration of three of its key associate members – Dairy Australia, Wine Australia, and Meat & Livestock Australia.

They have decided to come together in an effort to create a single, unified set of brand messages and consistent themes for the Chinese market and Chinese consumers.

Here we have three leading industry bodies, diverse in a variety of ways, each with their own set of competing interests and stakeholders, coming together to find a common message that suits all agriculture industries.

Austrade and ASA100 members will test the success of the common messaging across China and via online trials.

While there is still much work to be done, this represents a critical step to ensure the positioning of the Australian agriculture food sector as the first choice provider of clean, green, premium food to the booming Chinese middle class.

Innovation and bold thinking like this will turbo charge the benefits of the Chinese Free Trade Agreement and provide more opportunities for Australian business seeking to expand, grow and take their products north.

A single unified brand will harness that inherently Australian competitive streak and create an even more powerful presence on the global stage.

Cathryn Carver is the Executive General Manager of Corporate & Specialised Banking at NAB and Deputy Chair of ASA100.

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