The Western Meat Packers Group Story

The Western Meat Packers Group Story

When ambitious young butcher Rod Russell commenced trading as Western Meat Packers on October 17, 1983, in a small butcher shop in Jersey Street, Jolimont, he was too busy to imagine that in 2020 Western Meat Packers Group (WMPG) could be processing 2000 cattle a week and employing 500 people.

WMPG’s integrated operation today includes abattoir at Margaret River, boning and packing facility at Osborne Park, specialist hi-tech packing facility at Bibra Lake and Perth Skin and Hides at Coogee.

WMPG remains proudly family owned, with Rod and wife Shana owning the business, which is managed day-to-day by Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Fuda.

Rod’s commitment to the industry and WMPG was dramatically underlined in 2009 when its headquarters and boning room at O’Connor was burnt to the ground due to an electrical fault.

Although he could have walked away from the business, Rod chose not to, continuing 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 Osborne Park.

“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,” Rod said.

WMPG has since invested millions of dollars into upgrading machinery and technology at its Osborne Park beef and lamb processing and packing facility, where about 300 people are now employed and which now hosts a substantial, well resourced training facility to upskill staff to meet the challenges of modern meat processing and handling.

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 successful in 2019 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.

In July 2020 WMPG welcomed a WA Government $300,000 grant to help facilitate further processing of offal and other products at its Western Meat Processors’ Cowaramup abattoir operation as part of a $10 million expansion of its integrated operations.

WMPG CEO Andrew Fuda said that investing in this new manufacturing capability would help fully maximise yields from each beef animal and open up new markets, resulting in at least 50 full time new jobs and a host of indirect opportunities for the company and the local community.

“We’ve identified strong demand for high value offal products, including white tripe, from our existing customers in Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, plus we’re optimistic we’ll receive export license approval for China, a key target in our marketing strategy,” he said.

The Cowaramup upgrade would also enable processing and chilling and freezing to be done at the same premises, which was a requirement for an export license WMPG has sought for China.

“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,” Mr Fuda concluded.