A NEW $150 million Victorian meat processing facility which started operations last month is designed to keep pace with Woolworths’ expanding and diversifying fresh and value-added meat retailing operations across Eastern Australia.
Woolworths Food Group’s new Laverton further-processing facility in Melbourne’s southwest is the second such installation built in Australia under a joint venture with UK-based Hilton Food group.
It follows a similar, but smaller Woolworths/Hilton JV business built at Bunbury, WA in 2013. Click here to view an earlier item on the first Bunbury installation.
Hilton is a specialist in centralised portioning, packaging and value-added meat products for large supermarket clients across Europe. Its joint venture with Woolworths in the Bunbury facility was its first expansion into the Asia-Pacific region.
The new Victorian operation is part of a $500 million investment by Woolworths Food Group in infrastructure in support of new stores. The development will also include a new a $350 million Distribution Centre to be built in south-east Melbourne, scheduled to open in 2018.
The new Laverton lamb and beef processing facility plus the new DC will support more than 500 full-time jobs, the company told Sheep Central. Woolworths plans to open at least 20 new stores and refurbish 40 existing outlets in Victoria over the next three years, investing another $150 million.
Bristling with innovative features
The new Laverton facility, servicing 325 stores in Victoria, SA and ACT, is significantly larger than the joint venture’s original Bunbury plant in WA.
While the facility is still in start-up phase following its September 1 launch, it will eventually operate on two shifts per day, six days a week, with a daily production capacity of 250,000 pre-packed meat items.
Currently there are 12 production lines in place, with capacity to add more when required. The plant is currently providing pre-packaged value-added items like mince, burgers, rissoles and sausages, plus pre-packed muscle meat to all Victorian stores.
One of the many innovations in the new facility is that it is designed to operate on washable and re-usable plastic crates, replacing cartons used for inbound primals and other raw material from meat processors, and outbound finished pre-packed retail-ready trays to supermarkets. As part of this move, the facility uses a fully-automated crate washing system, with a capacity to wash and sanitise 4000 crates per hour.
The cold storage area features fully-automated robotic store order picking and packing, with a capacity to do 80 pallets an hour.
A facility of this size and throughput obviously requires extensive cold storage, and the Laverton plant operates with 280 freezer spaces kept at -25c; 200,000 crate spaces, kept at 0c and 2900 double-stack pallet spaces, kept at -0c.
The facility is equipped with a full test kitchen and can produce value-added lines such as Woolworths’ popular Jamie Oliver ready-to-cook meat products.
As part of the transition to the new facility, Woolworths Food Group has aligned with UK-based packaging giant, LinPac packaging systems, which has entered the Australian market to produce retail meat trays exclusively for Woolworths. The trays are made from recycled PET and can be recycled.
LinPac has 17 manufacturing sites across Europe, plus a plant in Changzhou, China. Australia is seen as a “key development region” for the company, with two plants now operating in Melbourne and Bunbury in response to Woolworths’ moves into Modified Atmosphere Packaging, away from more traditional trays and overwrap films.
The Laverton facility uses Mondini tray sealers which can be used for MAP or skin packaging. Vacuum packaging systems are also employed.
Drive to improve efficiency, lower prices
Woolworths director of supermarket operations, Pat McEntee said the investments in new infrastructure would help Woolworths deliver lower prices and a better offer to its customers.
“The new Laverton facility will improve our fresh meat offering throughout all our stores in Victoria,” Mr McEntee said.
“Our customers can expect to see more consistent, better quality meat and enhanced availability on shelves, as well as new and seasonal ranges following this transition,” he said.
The new Melbourne Distribution Centre due for completion in 2018 would be the largest single investment in Woolworths’ history, Mr McEntee said, and the company was confident it would deliver significant efficiency and productivity gains.
The facility will eventually replace Woolworths’ existing Distribution Centre in Hume, Victoria.
Asked whether there were further plans to establish a third, similar processing facility further north – possibly at the company’s Brismeats facility near Ipswich in southern Queensland – Woolworths told Sheep Central it was “always considering new ways to provide better products for our customers.”