Surprise at ‘low’ sale price

By Country News

While the final sale price of SPC has surprised some, growers around the region are hoping for a more positive future under its new owner.

After buying the business for almost $500million and investing a further $250million, Ardmona orchardist Peter Hall said it was ‘‘interesting’’ to see Coca-Cola Amatil sell the business for $40million to Shepparton Partners Collection — a coalition of two Sydney investment firms.

‘‘It seems like an unusually low number,’’ Mr Hall said.

‘‘If I ran my orchard at a rate like that, I would have given it up years ago.

‘‘People pay what they think it’s worth and people accept what they think they can get.

‘‘I’d hope that someone sees the value of Goulburn Valley fruit and preserved fruit.’’

For former Fruit Growers Victoria chairman and Kialla East orchardist Gary Godwill, the business was simply never able to reach ‘‘critical mass’’.

‘‘We’re in it together, we need each other,’’ he said.

‘‘If they can increase the throughput, that’s got to be good for growers.’’

However, Mr Godwill did label the $40million selling price ‘‘very low’’.

‘‘But the new owners obviously see potential ... We’re yet to meet them but I certainly look forward to it.’’

Local politicians and community leaders have also cautiously welcomed the sale.

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum was ‘‘relatively confident’’ the new owner could turn the company around.

‘‘The 64-million-dollar question is, we have a major company that owned it and never made a profit — what are the new owners going to do differently to make this business profitable,’’ Mr Drum said.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said the new owner needed to be sensitive towards SPC’s long history in Shepparton and its iconic status within the community.

‘‘I note that while the company is called Shepparton Partners Collective, it appears to have no particular connection to Shepparton,’’ she said.

‘‘I would hope the passion for the ongoing operation of this company is maintained.

‘‘The people of our region will be anxious to see the new owners grow the business and strengthen its operations.’’

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell was confident the new owner could meet growing demands for the company’s products with an innovative approach.

‘‘Though the processed fruit market has been challenged by a number of headwinds over the past 10 years, we are sure that with future thinking and innovation the company can leverage on the skill and natural advantages of our agricultural producers to create and sell regional food products to growing demands, both domestic and export,’’ Mr Birrell said.

As the new owner takes stock and sets a strategy moving forward, Mr Hall believes it will be beneficial to see a stable management team drawing on local knowledge and expertise operating the business.

‘‘I think that’s a step in the right direction,’’ he said.

‘‘I think for our town it’s important than an SPC remain.’’