A SOUTHERN New South Wales beef producing family supplying Woolworths’ new certified grassfed beef program has for the first time won the national retailer’s annual Protein Supplier of the Year award.
Each year Woolworths acknowledges the performance of its supply chain partners across a range of food and grocery commodities – traditionally with a dazzling dinner held in recent years at Sydney’s Darling Harbour. Due to COVID restrictions, this year’s awards were a ‘virtual’ event, held online last night.
The Supplier of the Year Awards recognised suppliers to Woolworths in 12 categories.
The Protein Supplier of the Year award looks at suppliers who have gone ‘above and beyond’ to support the retailer to deliver high quality food and everyday needs to its customers, and enable the supermarket to bring new products to the market to meet customer demand.
The protein division competition is based around compliance with company specifications, as well as showing evidence of being progressive, and responding to challenges.
Woolworths a year ago launched its in-house certified grassfed offer ‘Woolworths Grass’, after earlier relying on third-party certified grassfed brands. The company has recorded double-digit growth in its grassfed beef offering in the last 12 months.
This year, Princess Pastoral Co, a family owned business run by Peter and Cate Brooks, was awarded the Protein Supplier of the Year award. The citation applauded their “commitment and ability to deliver Woolworths with a new grassfed beef product, despite extraordinary conditions.”
Last year’s drought across eastern Australia severely challenged beef production of all types, but especially grassfed programs.
“Princess Pastoral Co’s resilience and determination has seen them become the majority supplier of grassfed beef for Woolworths’ Certified Grassfed Beef program,” the company said.
PPC had provided more than 6000 head into the Woolworths Grass supply chain in the past year, utilising three properties located near Berrima, Goulburn, and Oberon NSW.
“The Brooks family’s input and dedication to the Woolworths Beef Certified Grass program’s success had been truly outstanding, delivering 280 high quality cattle on a weekly basis ensuring high compliance and eating quality index scores are achieved every delivery,” the company said.
Processing and retail-ready packaging takes place at Woolworths’ Tamworth facility.
Woolworths’ head of meat and seafood, Tim Dudding, said Princess Pastoral Co was a great example of an Australian business rising to the occasion despite unprecedented circumstances.
“More and more of our customers want grassfed beef and we’re pleased to have partnered with Peter and Cate to make it more accessible,” Mr Dudding said.
Peter Brooks told Beef Central that last year’s seasonal conditions had created enormous challenges, so soon after the Woolies grassfed program’s launch.
His business had been operating under certified grassfed conditions for some years, supplying farm assured commercial supply chains before joining the new Woolworths program around this time last year.
Last year, with so little grass about, operations were heavily reliant on pellets approved for certified grassfed production, with only around 20pc of ‘normal’ feed reserve available in the paddocks.
“In hindsight, we started the program at the worst possible time, but we managed to maintain supply, until it rained. It was drier around Berrima than it has ever been since records began. As recently as February, Cate and I were sitting down having conversations about how much longer we could fight mother nature,” he said.
“As often happens, the turnaround was dramatic. We got 350mm of rain on 9 February, and haven’t skipped a beat since.”
Mr Brooks admitted that the inherent challenge in supplying a program like Woolies Grass was continuity of supply. The business is already on the lookout for another property in another area to complement the three currently in use, for backgrounding or fattening.
“In a grassfed program like this, for every B-double that goes for processing, you nearly need 1500 cattle in the system – so you are not pushed into a corner,” he said.
The company has access to 2000ha of intensively improved former dairy country at Berrima, plus leased country at Mossvale, and 2000ha of share-farmed country at Goulburn.
Backgrounders, mostly 350-400kg liveweight, are bought out of the saleyards or paddock, quality type British or strongly British influenced, taking them out to 530-550kg liveweight before slaughter. Buying takes place within a 500km radius.
Most are finished on intensively-managed ryegrass-based former dairy pastures, sown every year, switching to summer crops of brassica and millet, all complying with grassfed protocols. Cattle are turned over on average every four to six months, depending on seasonal conditions.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and equally, it takes a ‘village’ to produce a good grassfed steak”
“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and equally, it takes a ‘village’ to produce a good grassfed steak,” Mr Brooks said.
“There’s a lot of people who have contributed to our program’s performance, right down to people like Goulburn Livestock Transport, who do our transport work out of this area,” he said. “Everybody in our chain deserves credit for this award.”
Mr Brooks said his interpretation of ‘grassfed beef’ extended well beyond the basic dietary claims, and no HGP/antibiotic. Animal welfare handling standards also played an important part, he said.
Across the full cycle over the past 12 months, MSA compliance on the Princess Pastoral grassfed cattle was around 98pc. Virtually all were milk-teeth at slaughter, with the add twos.
While last year, due to prevailing weather conditions, the program was feeding mostly heifers, this year, with the savage competition for breeder replacements, the emphasis has swung to backgrounder steers. At the height of the recent store market boom for young cattle Princess Pastoral has paid up to 430c/kg liveweight for backgrounders, before coming off the boil a little, more recently.
He said part of the secret in maintaining regular weekly supply under a large-scale grassfed program like this was constant two-way dialogue with Woolworths.
“We try to under-budget, where we can. If you are aiming to deliver a B-double load a week, better to be set up to load a B-double and a half.”
- Previous winners of the Protein Supplier of the Year award have come through Woolworths’ grain-finished contract holders or processors, including last year’s winner, Victorian red meat processor Frewstal; New South Wales’ Junee Prime Lamb in 2018; and New South Wales feedlot operators Darren and Lisa Frankel, who operate the Frampton Flat feedyard in 2017.