New retail technologies drive TFI abattoir rebuild

New retail technologies drive TFI abattoir rebuild

Sheepmeat
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Thomas Foods International will consider the latest technologies for its Murray Bridge abattoir rebuild.

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FACILITY FUTURE: Thomas Foods International CEO Darren Thomas talked about plans for its new Murray Bride processing facility at a recent Agribusiness of Australia lunch.

FACILITY FUTURE: Thomas Foods International CEO Darren Thomas talked about plans for its new Murray Bride processing facility at a recent Agribusiness of Australia lunch.

THOMAS Foods International has consumer trends and demands in mind when considering the latest technologies, some world-leading, in its Murray Bridge abattoir rebuild.

"Getting through that fire was one of our biggest challenges, but it also presented an opportunity we would never have gotten if we hadn't gone through what we did," TFI chief executive officer Darren Thomas said.

Speaking at an Agribusiness Association of Australia CEO lunch in Adelaide on Friday, Mr Thomas gave an insight into what they believed the modern customer wanted in food retail and how that would affect the way they rebuilt their processing facility.

"Life in manufacturing is getting harder and more competitive," he said.

"Gone are the days of processing meat, putting it in a box and getting it out to markets as quick as possible.

"That model just doesn't work today."

It (traceability) is not just a marketing tool anymore, it's a requirement. - DARREN THOMAS

Mr Thomas said globally, customers wanted product traceability.

"It (traceability) is not just a marketing tool anymore, it's a requirement," he said.

"You need to be able to tell people, particularly the emerging younger generation, what happens in the manufacturing process. And it's not just Asian customers, this is a worldwide push."

Mr Thomas said this encouraged the company to become the first in the world to use the IBM Food Trust platform.

In March, IBM announced Australia's largest, family-owned meat processor (TFI) and largest independent grocery retailer Drakes Supermarket would pilot the blockchain-based food ecosystem solution.

The platform traces the entire lifecycle of a food product, from region to plate, and updates the record in real-time.

"We can now trace meat right back to its origin, through the use of blockchain technology," Mr Thomas said.

Its not the only partnership TFI and Drakes work together on, with the supermarket also the sole stockists of Thomas Farms Kitchen Recipe Bags - a ready-to-cook meal kit featuring fresh meat.

TFK also provide a home delivery, fresh food service, which was recently added to the UberEats platform.

"We are the first company in the world to do fresh home-cooked meat packs with UberEats, all through a touch on your phone," Mr Thomas said.

"This is what our customers are demanding."

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Mr Thomas also talked about hi-tech purchasing models dominating the retail sector, used by leading global tech companies Alibaba and Amazon.

"Amazon Go is retail in a very different format - virtual carts and no checkouts," he said.

"A modern processing plant needs to plan for this and we will be making a significant investment in technology at the new plant to cater for this."

Early last month, TFI announced it would be rebuilding its Murray Bridge abattoir at a greenfield site, eight kilometres from the previous site on Mannum Road.

The build is expected to cost several hundred million dollars and create about 2000 jobs when fully operational.

Career paths extend beyond meatworks

THE Thomas Foods International abattoir rebuild at Murray Bridge will be unprecedented, according to chief executive officer Darren Thomas.

"There will be nothing undertaken of this scale in the world," he said.

"We are investing many hundreds of millions of dollars in the new multi-species plant and it will feature the very latest in technology."

Before fire devastated the former plant in January 2018, TFI were processing up to 4500 cattle a week and 120,000 sheep and lambs - making the company the largest small stock processor in Australia.

Mr Thomas said the new facility would aim to process 30 per cent more small stock and 30-40pc more cattle.

The self-proclaimed "parochial South Australian" said the company also wanted to create an "attractive" work environment.

"In the past, it has been incredibly hard to get labour," he said.

"This new facility is not just a meatworks anymore, it's a food processing plant and some of things we are doing now are not the usual meatworks jobs.

"We are going to need programmers, people with artificial intelligence and computer sciences experience.

"Will we also place a big emphasis on training.

"Because of TFI's global networks, we can offer an incredible career path, particularly with this new state-of-the-art processing facility."

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