Trade

Famous Borthwick name lives on with value-added beef exports to Japan

James Nason, 28/03/2018

Angus Borthwick from Borthwick Food Group exhibiting the company’s cocktail Angus burgers at Foodex in Tokyo earlier this month.

A direct descendent of one of the oldest names in the Australian meat industry and the meat processing company that pioneered chilled vacuum packed beef exports to Japan is now exporting Australian beef in value-added products to Japan in his own right.

Angus Borthwick from Borthwick Food Group in Melbourne is a fifth generation descendent of Thomas Borthwick, a butcher from Edinburgh who started Thomas Borthwick & Sons in the late 1800s. The importing company went on to become a major meat processor and leading player in the export beef trade between Australia and Britain for several decades.

As recorded by former AMIC CEO Steve Martyn in his meat industy history “World on a Plate”, Thomas Borthwick & Sons pioneered the vacuum packed chilled beef trade to Japan in the late 1960s (more on Thomas Borthwicks & Sons below).

Given his family’s history it was perhaps inevitable that Angus Borthwick would inherit a strong passion for the meat industry.

After working for a food importing company in the 1980s, he established his own business in Melbourne specialising in supplying gourmet fine foods to the food service and hospitality industries.

Borthwick Food Group has developed its own range of value-added gourmet foods for retail and food service including Angus beef burgers and an innovative cocktail Angus beef burger Do-It-Yourself kit, which was named best Australian Made Product at the Australian Made awards in 2014.

Available in packs of 10 and 20, the kits contain 100 percent pure Angus cocktail beef burgers, brioche buns and tomato relish with bamboo skewers.

Starting with a frozen product, it takes only a few minutes using a fry pan/grill for the beef and an oven for the buns to prepare the cocktail burgers, offering a highly convenient home cooking, food service and catering solution.

The unique products, described as a “party in a box”, have proven a hit in Australia, and now sell through Costco’s Australian stores, including other retailers.

The partnership with Costco has also provided a springboard into the export arena.

Borthwick Food Group products now sell through Costco stores and other retail outlets in Asia including Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong and more recently Japan.

The small family company has also used international trade shows to build its brand presence in export markets.

Beef Central caught up with Angus and Jane Borthwick at the large Foodex trade show in Tokyo earlier this month, where the cocktail burgers served from their stand on the Victorian Government site were attracting a steady stream of sample tasters from the passing crowds.

In addition to Costco, Borthwick Food Group supplies products including cocktail burgers and crab cakes to distributors to the food service trade in Japan.

“We had our first container go into Japan last November and we are now onto our fourth container coming up in May,” Angus explained.

“We are also looking for other value-added ideas to take over there.”

Historic meat industry connection

The entrepreneurial spirit of the Borthwick Food Group reflects that of Thomas Borthwick, the butcher from Edinburgh who history records as having taken an enormous risk to start what became one of the word’s largest meat companies.

It is documented that in 1872 Thomas Borthwick invested his savings to charter a new sailing ship with a refrigerated hold to New Zealand.

At the time, all meat imported to the UK from New Zealand was transported pickled in brine.

Upon his arrival in New Zealand, Thomas bought mutton and lamb for a knock-down price, filled the refrigerated hold with the meat, and set sail for home.

During the return voyage, the refrigeration broke down and the meat perished and had to be thrown overboard.

The ship turned around and returned to New Zealand where another cargo of meat was loaded into the now repaired refrigerated hold.

On returning to the UK, Thomas Borthwick made a large profit on the frozen meat.

He went on to develop the company into a large meat wholesale and distributing business.

In 1895 his sons became partners in the company, which took the name Thomas Borthwick & Sons Ltd in 1904.

A recreated Thomas Borthwick & Sons shopfront in the Flambards Victorian Village in Cornwall. Image: Flickr Photos Flambards Picssr

 

The London-based company established abattoirs and freezing works in New Zealand and Australia, including Portland (1905), Brooklyn (1905), Moreton (1909), Burdekin (1928), Bowen (1933), Albany (1948), and Yahl, near Mt Gambier (1948), and branch offices in Christchurch, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Borthwicks also had several properties in New Zealand and Australia and was a dominant player in the livestock trade from  Australia and New Zealand to Britain.

By the 1980s the trade to Britain had declined and many of the company’s meatworks had closed.

The company’s significant chapter in the Australia meat industry ended with the sale of the Mackay meatworks to Nippon Meat Packers (now NH Foods) in 1988, which continues to trade today under the name Thomas Borthwick & Sons Mackay.

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Comments

  1. Bryce Victor Ricker, 24/02/2022

    My Mothers Brother James Erskine Drysdale Bryce was the Sydney Manager for the company for some years about 1935 when I visited he and his wife Hilda at their Sydney address at the age of 7. Unfortunately He Died in an accident at the works soon after.
    I heard, that Thomas was a friend of my Grandfather Robert Bryce of Essendon Who was an Elder of the
    Presbyterian church of Essendon when his employment was arranged’

  2. Bryan G Hemmings, 28/05/2021

    I was employed by The UK Division of TB&S from July 1954 to August 1988 (I have my Gold Watch) and enjoyed every moment starting as Depot Manager at Walsall and progressing up the Ranks to that of UK Sales Training Manager. I am now 92 years of age and often wonder what has become of the many friends made during my time with TB&S….Malcolm Borthwick…Philip Curtis…Malcolm Campbell…. and many others……….

  3. Vicki evans, 05/07/2020

    I see my sister has written so I will too. I worked at Brooklyn borthwicks for about 2 yrs. it was definitely different to what I’d always done but I learnt a lot. It’s lovely to read about Borthwick and how it became the meat works.
    Thank you.

  4. Diann Mcclelland, 03/06/2019

    Having worked for Thomas Borthwick & Sons head office in Market Street Melbourne 1968 – 1972, my husband was an Industrial Relations Officer in Brooklyn during that time, and my sister worked at the Brooklyn works also, I have enjoyed this article sooo much! Thank you so much.

  5. Michael Bull, 03/04/2018

    In the 1800’s the Borthwick brothers married two Bull sisters – not sure of the connection

  6. douglas hurst, 29/03/2018

    Best wishes to Angus & Jane for a successful trade into Japan & other export markets ( hopefully ) . Having worked at the Brooklyn plant on numerous occasions , I can agree with John Urquhart that Borthwicks were an extremely innovative company & set the bar & high standards for others to try & imitate . The high dedication & loyalties of Borthwicks Staff to the company were a reflection of the professionalism & achievements of markets & standards that Staff & company gained in their markets ..

  7. Helen Walker, 29/03/2018

    Yes John Urquhart all employees were made feel part of the family by the extended Borthwick family. My late dad, Ted Walker joined TB&S in 1946 when he came home from the war firstly based as a cattle buyer at Hughenden, then transferred to Longreach, then to Mackay when they bought the newly built state government owned abattoir at Bakers Creek. In reality he worked for Borthwicks all his adult working life until retirement, and was definitely treated like part of the family. It was not work to him, but his and our life.

  8. John Urquhart, 29/03/2018

    A great article. The tradition of Borthwick innovation lives on. I wish Angus well. From the early 1900s till their sad demise, seventy odd years later, Borthwicks were mainstay employers wherever they had plants. In Portland, Bowen and later Albany, they were the lifeblood of the town. Like Helen’s family the Urquhart family had a long connection with TB&S. Dad (Alec), Uncle Ewen his daughter and myself clocked up 110 years with Borthwicks. The Borthwick family encouraged loyalty and it was openly given in return.

  9. Helen Walker, 28/03/2018

    A lovely story on Angus Borthwick a direct descendant of the founder of Thomas Borthwicks & Sons. My family had a long involvement with members of the Borthwick family through my father’s long employment with Thomas Borthwicks & Sons, including Angus’s father Thomas, grand father Patrick and fondly referred to as Pat, and uncle Sir James.

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