Country News: When Coca Cola Amatil took over SPC there were high expectations of a transformation under a leading Australian marketing company. Some people are surprised it is taking so long for change.
Alison Watkins: ‘‘I think it’s fair to say we have learned a lot since 2006 when we acquired SPC and maybe some of the original thesis has not played through as we expected, and often that happens, with things like consumers changing, the competitive environment changes, but with SPC we have recognised it is best run as a focused business.
‘‘We support the team and contribute a lot of expertise and marketing, through the supply chains ... these are all things that enable us to add value to SPC.
‘‘However, the SPC consumer does have particular needs and a fairly focused approach works a lot better than adding it in to the sales force of our beverages. They are different kinds of products.
‘‘We have invested $100million over the last four years and we are really proud of the dramatic transformation to substantially improve the quality of our products, like tomatoes, and riding on the back of the MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules craze, that’s been a good category for us.
‘‘The snacking capability, the snack packs to do the Goulburn Valley Crunch. These require specialised manufacturing capabilities and the $100million has payed a role in getting this.
‘‘And the investment is transforming the de-seasonalising of the business. We no longer have to pack everything into a can straight away. We can store processed fruit, allowing us to be more responsive to needs of the market at any time as well as improving the economics.
‘‘The transformation has been substantial and business is much stronger for it.’’
Country News: Will CCA invest more money in SPC?
Alison Watkins: ‘‘We will keep doing what is right for the business — $100million is a substantial amount and we have made a lot of changes, but the facility is ageing and there is always something more to do.
‘‘As long as financials stack up we will keep doing what is right for that facility to make sure it is strong and competitive and relevant in years to come.’’
Country News: How long will the CCA board tolerate losses at SPC?
Alison Watkins: ‘‘In 2017 we turned in a modest profit. ‘I think our board has demonstrated a willingness to invest in the business by their actions, and actions speak louder than words, and that’s how you should judge us.’’
Country News: Is SPC in the right place for the growth in healthier products?
Alison Watkins: ‘‘Yes, it has the health and convenience and the provenance of the Goulburn Valley, which appeals to not only Australian but Chinese consumers.
‘‘I think it has a bright future. It is in a process of transition. We are still reliant on peaches and apricots and beans and spaghetti, but over coming years will see a transition to more of the healthier snacking products as those core categories continue to mature.
‘‘We are invested in the right areas and the areas that will deliver growth.’’
Ms Watkins said she visited the Shepparton factory up to three times a year. ‘‘SPC is an important part of our business.’’