Vale Peter Johnston

Jon Condon, 08/03/2022

RESPECTED meat industry identity Peter Johnston passed away in Sydney on Saturday, aged 74, following a long battle with leukemia.

Mr Johnston had a life-long involvement and a proud family history in the Australian meat and food industries.

Peter Johnston

The Johnston family name continues on today through some of the biggest and most respected meat trading, value-adding and retail-ready meat businesses in the nation.

Long-standing business partner David Beak remembers Peter as a humble, yet positive person always looking to the future and new possibilities, who was deeply supportive of those around him.

“He was always super-positive – the most positive individual I ever met,” Mr Beak said.

Another business partner of 50 years, Ken Dunnett, said Peter possessed boundless integrity, honesty and enthusiasm, and knew the meat industry inside-out through his early upbringing.

“In later years he became a mentor to many across the meat industry,” he said.

Peter’s father Don started the DR Johnston meat business in 1960 to trade export meat to the US market. The US market had opened up for Australia to export as improvements to shipping and freezing occurred.

The business also started domestic wholesaling and boning at Homebush abattoir.

In 1969 Peter started working in sales and wholesaling for the company and in 1971 Don’s son-in-law Ken Dunnett also started working in sales and trading. The business continued to grow with the opening of meat wholesaling businesses in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

In 1978 the company purchased the domestic abattoir at Dorrigo NSW, later selling it before purchasing the Guyra export abattoir in 1985.

Early brochure promoting the DR Johnston business. Click on images to enlarge.

Another of Don’s sons-in-law, Denis Robertson, was also working in the DR Johnston business, during which time he started the large road transport business Roadmaster Haulage.

Later in 1985 Don retired and Peter and Ken purchased the remaining shares in DR Johnston off Don and Denis to own 50pc each. Denis then independently owned Roadmaster and built it into a large trucking company.

Another milestone in the DR Johnston business occurred when US-based global agriculture giant Conagra was looking to enter the Australian market, and purchased 50pc of the DR Johnston group in 1990.

A year later in 1991 the DRJ/Conagra group purchased Australia Meat Holdings (AMH), Australia’s largest abattoir company. Peter and Ken remained as directors in the business with Peter managing grain trading and Ken, meat trading.

Peter retired in 1998 and Ken in 1999, and they both sold their remaining shares in that business. AMH was subsequently purchased by US-based Swift, and then in 2007 by JBS, the Brazilian processing giant, which has continued to expand world-wide.

DR Johnston under the JBS flag has grown to become Australia’s largest red meat wholesaler.

Independent of the DR Johnston business, Peter and Ken Dunnett in 1986 set up a joint venture with David Beak, a fourth generation meat family from the Angliss and Vestey era, to produce case-ready meat and ready-meals in Australia for large supermarkets and other customers, including the Sizzler restaurant chain.

Peter Johnston, seated left, with his father Don and business partner Ken Dunnett.

Beak & Johnston was the pioneer in the case-ready meat and portion-control meat business in Australia, followed later by chilled ready-meals. The company did some value-added export for a period into markets like Japan.

That continuing partnership Beak & Johnston now employs more than 1000 staff with processing factories at Greenacre NSW and Arndell Park NSW. Greenacre produces sausages, soups and slow-cooked meats. The City Kitchen factory at Arndell Park manufactures ready meals for the nation’s major supermarket retailers.

A third site City Kitchen 2 is under construction next door. Beak & Johnston also own and operate a processing factory in NZ (Pitango) which mainly producing slow-cooked and organic soups.

B & J also purchased 50pc of a successful food service and portion-cutting business Beak A la Carte in Brisbane with Geoff Atkinson, and also purchased Cleavers Organic Meats, which is now part of the Arcadian Group jointly owned with Hewitt Cattle Company.

After a brief retirement, Peter and Ken started a new meat trading business Dunnett & Johnston Group in 2000, of which Brad Dunnett is now CEO. The company is now a large importer and exporter of meat. The business subsequently started three meat wholesale businesses, firstly Australian Wholesale Meats (AWM) in Brisbane, then AWM Melbourne and then with Dave McNally, AWM Sydney.

D & J also purchased 50pc of a meat business in NZ, Rangitikei Meats with Bill and Mark Gleeson.

Peter had battled leukaemia for the past 12 years, but remained engaged in the businesses’ affairs up until more recent times, when his health deteriorated.

He was always keenly interested in how each business was going. He extracted great pleasure out of seeing people grow and develop in the businesses. The relationships he formed both in and outside his businesses meant a lot to him, and he loved recalling memories from the early days.

He loved the journey not just the destination.

Peter Johnston is survived by his wife, Marti, and four adult children.


  • A private service will be held in Sydney, with a public memorial event planned in Sydney at a later date. Arrangements will be posted to this article when they become available.





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