This November marks 10 years since a fire caused by an electrical fault burnt Western Meat Packers Group’s O’Connor, Western Australia, factory to the ground.
Today, WMPG is a successful fully integrated domestic and export operation, with an abattoir and farm at Margaret River, farm at Brunswick, state-of-the-art boning and packing facility at Osborne Park, specialist hi-tech packing facility at Bibra Lake, Perth Skin and Hides at Coogee and offices in China, Thailand and South Korea.
In 2009, WMPG’s then headquarters and boning room at O’Connor was burnt to the ground.
Although owner Rod Russell could have walked away from the business, he chose not to and continued to employ his equally dedicated workforce, despite dropping to 100 cattle a week and having to access temporary boning facilities, before later gearing up to full capacity at the company’s current Osborne Park premises.
“A bit like Phoenix, we rose from the ashes, emerging stronger, smarter, bigger and better from what could have been a catastrophe for us, our customers and our staff,” Mr Russell said.
WMPG has since invested millions of dollars into upgrading machinery and technology at its Osborne Park beef and lamb facility, where 150 people are now employed. About 450 people work across the Group’s operations.
Mr Russell started WMPG in 1983. Today it is 100 per cent owned by him and wife Shana.
In 2019, Mr Russell is a Director of the business, while CEO Andrew Fuda, a qualified butcher like Mr Russell, runs the $150 million a year turnover business.
Mr Fuda described the WMPG journey in the 10 years since the devastating fire as one of measured growth, targeted marketing, product differentiation and brand development, all underpinned by the founder’s personal philosophy of customer first and last, with everything in between focussed simply on supply of quality meat, second to none.
A celebrated example is WMPG’s Margret River Fresh premium branded beef, one of the company’s high profile success stories on domestic and export markets in recent years.
“While the Margaret River region has long been globally recognised for its fine wines, our Margaret River Fresh branded beef is now serving up a beef taste sensation to Australian and overseas consumers,” Mr Fuda said.
“In all of our export markets, including Vietnam, Japan, Korea, USA, Hong Kong and Singapore, there is high demand for sustainably sourced, clean products and the Margaret River region is renowned for these qualities,” he noted.
“We’ve built on this reputation and the growing consumer trends around sustainability, hormone-free and animal welfare by ensuring we meet these expectations.”
Looking to further its reach into other export markets beyond established partnerships is part of the current business growth strategy within WMPG.
The Margaret River Fresh trademark is registered with IP Australia to WMPG and used exclusively to package the group’s premier products.
Cattle are selected after grazing on natural pastures and then raised and fattened almost exclusively on pasture, before carrying the Margaret River Fresh brand after processing at the WMPG abattoir located on 250 hectares in the Margaret River region.
Margaret River Fresh striploin from WMPG was again successful this year at the Perth Royal Branded Beef Awards, with silver in grass-fed and bronze in grain-fed classes.
In 2018 it won Champion Large Producer after earlier winning gold in Class Five for Pasture Fed 52 Weeks Grass Finished Beef.
“We are excited to now be making significant changes and improvements to all areas of our business, including production, quality assurance and human resources, while creating innovative ways of working as we strive to be an employer of choice,” Mr Fuda said.
He sees Western Meat Packers’ future as one of innovation, especially in terms of product and pack development, with its state-of-the-art Bibra Lake operation, which specialty packs beef mince, a shining example.
Mr Fuda and Mr Russell regularly travel overseas, including spending time in Germany, UK and Asia at trade and industry fairs to assess the very latest in handling and packaging technologies, plus showcasing product and enjoying face-to-face contact with customers.
“It’s all about brand building and product integrity and better informing consumers, here or overseas, of our meat product’s particular provenance,” Mr Fuda said.
“Western Meat Packers Group reads the market to learn where to best position ourselves and we then go about consistently producing a quality assured meat product that delivers taste and nutrition to our increasingly discerning domestic and overseas consumers,” he concluded.