News

v2food to close Wodonga plant

Emma Alsop, 16/02/2023

v2food sells a range of meat alternatives at supermarkets across the country. Photo: v2food

AUSTRALIA’S highest-profile plant-based meat company, v2food, has plans to close its manufacturing facility at Wodonga.

The news comes following the departure late last year of v2food founder and CEO Nick Hazell, who is now focused on other start-up opportunities.

Launched in 2019, v2food is a partnership between CSIRO’s investment arm Main Sequence Ventures and Jack Cowin’s Competitive Foods Australia, the parent of Hungry Jack’s.

Apart from making patties for Hungry Jack’s Rebel Whopper, v2food manufacturers plant-based meat products which retail in Australian supermarket chains and other outlets.

Vision delayed, not dead

Partner in Main Sequence Ventures and v2food director, Phil Morle, said it was a difficult decision for the company to make.

“We feel sad about it, because it’s still important to us in the long term, to be committed to…the primary processing,” Mr Morle said.

“Right now, we’re just going to make decisions that keep the company successful in the near term.”

Mr Morle said the Wodonga plant will be closed “incrementally over the next year” as manufacturing of v2food products switches to other sites while v2food works to develop new products.

“We will continue to do what we were doing at Wodonga, but we’ll do it with third-party suppliers.

Phil Morle

“We’re still continuing to do the R&D work on different protein sources, different ways of processing those proteins, which I think will open up other opportunities back down to primary production.”

He said despite this setback, v2food had not abandoned its strategy to have a plant which goes from making isolates through to finished product in Australia.

“Obviously many have tried and failed to get that done over the decades.

“We’ve had a crack at it and not really been successful.

“I will say it’s not a dead plan, but it’s pause for now plan.

“We haven’t given up hope yet, it’s just a mammoth undertaking.

“We need to do it in a time when the company can get to the other end.”

Wodonga plant had big expectations

In December 2020, v2food opened the Wodonga facility to make a plant-protein ingredient which could be transformed into a range of products out of imported soy isolates via an extrusion process.

The company spent $20 million at the site, which included fitting out the 55,470m2 building with new equipment.

The plant reportedly employed 25-30 people and had “room to grow”, according to a release from Invest Albury Wodonga in October 2021.

“[T]hey plan to grow their production capacity and global exportation efforts,” the release said.

Following this strong growth period which saw the company take 40pc of the Australian alternative protein market, v2food is now winding back to consider its best steps forward.

Continued sales growth

Mr Morle said the continued demand for alternative proteins and v2food’s products has been a positive for the company.

“I’d say what we’re seeing in terms of v2food is it has still continued growth and…is absolutely dominating the category.”

In terms of the wider plant-protein industry, Mr Morle said investment has eased, but there was still strong consumer demand for the product.

“We had a high peak, which was bigger than anything I’ve ever seen.

“That’s come back down to earth, no doubt.

“I think the world is looking at alternative protein now to actually come through the other side.

“I think that’s very much in process; that’s a job for us all to do.”

Meat not going away

Mr Morle said the overall aim of v2food was not to disrupt the meat industry, but to be a “companion product”.

“We’ve always believed that the sort of core behind all this is that we’ll always have animal meat.

“For us, we don’t have a mission to stop animal agriculture.

“We believe in that, and we know, there’s really sustainable ways of doing it and certainly, we know what we like to eat.”

He said the growing global population has made it an imperative to find new ways to produce alternative proteins in tandem with the animal-meat industry.

“We just have this inevitability of more people; we need more ways of making the things that those people like to eat.

“I certainly I do have the belief that that will be really difficult to do just with animals forever and ever and ever as long as that grows.”

It is this goal that has pushed v2food to continue R&D programs designed to make its products taste more like animal meat and align with its traits.

“We will need [alternative protein] products, but the products won’t succeed unless they’re as good as this excellent food which we’ve eaten for millennia.

“This is the job we’ve got to do.”

Hopes to collaborate with meat industry

Mr Morle said this mission to feed a rising population will mean that both industries will have to work together.

“I still hope that in time we do that together with the meat industry because, I think, together we’re all making a chop or a burger or whatever.

“We can all make the primary products that go into it; we can all sell those products that make our businesses bigger.”

He said the animal-meat and alternative-protein industries should be able to work together to grow the market.

“It never turns out well when people try to disrupt an industry; it’s always much better to grow an industry – everybody wins then.”

New leadership

In a statement, v2food said chief operating officer Tim York has taken over as CEO.

“After four amazing years as CEO, the company bid farewell to founder, Nick Hazell, as he transitions away from an active role in v2food,” the statement said.

The statement said Mr York will continue to drive the growth and success of the organisation.

“Tim has been with the company for two years and will see the company through its next phase.”

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