It is a multibillion-dollar industry built around its ideal setting in regional South Australia.
The climate, conditions and collaboration found across high-quality SA food and beverage producers has created an $11bn sector that exports premium goods around the world.
International award-winning cheesemaker and SA Food and Wine Ambassador Kris Lloyd says her home base in the Adelaide Hills is a food bowl with the perfect conditions for excellent produce.
“We’ve got some of the best apples, cherries, strawberries, honey and, of course, milk in the world,” she says.
“We are so blessed with the environment we have to grow our raw materials. That, coupled with excellent biosecurity, ensures the finest quality food can be produced, perfectly positioning our food industry at the top of the ladder.
“We are always starting off with our absolute best foot forward.”
SA is renowned for its premium food and wine, wheat, barley, beef, seafood, lamb and poultry. It is home to more than 1600 wineries, food and other beverage manufacturing businesses. Including primary production, SA’s food, wine and agribusiness sector directly employs 76,000 people, and supports further jobs in the supply chain in areas such as transport and packaging.
About 80 per cent of Australia’s premium wine is produced in SA, which is home to about half the nation’s vineyards.
Total food and wine exports from SA totalled $4.8bn last year, and along with other primary products including wool and wood, account for about half of the goods exported from SA.
It is from this base that the SA Government wants to grow the premium food and beverage business as a key economic priority, highlighting the cold chain logistics in place, food safety, agritech research, clean environment and counter-seasonal growing for international operations.
Authorities point to the successful agribusinesses already established, such as the $275m expansion of operations for chicken meat producer Ingham’s farms.
Likewise, the innovative Sundrop Farms has been developed using pioneering triple-bottom line technology to grow tomatoes, create electricity and desalinate water, all using renewable energy.
The Growth State Food, Wine and Agribusiness plan, devised by industry, was launched in September to map a pathway to increase the current earnings to $23bn by 2030.
It calls for increased technology to aid productivity, a skilled workforce, improved digital and transport infrastructure, new market opportunities, ongoing sustainable production, all underpinned by responsive and effective regulation.
Industry association Food South Australia chief executive Catherine Sayer says the plan provides a shared framework for industry and government.
She says SA has developed a strong range of its own food and wine brands over generations.
“We have probably more iconic brands in South Australia than anywhere else,” she says.
She points to the strong market share of independent retailers Foodland and Drakes as a reason for the groundswell of different food options.
“Those independents Foodland and Drakes [supermarkets] tend to give businesses their first leg up in retail,” she says.
She says the state has a strong industry built on small and medium-sized enterprises which are often privately family-owned businesses.
One such wine producer is the eponymous label of winemaker Mike Press.
Together with his wife Judy, they distribute 20,000 12-bottle cases of the classics — chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz — from their Adelaide Hills kitchen table.
A former chief winemaker for Penfolds and Seppelts, and later Mildara Blass, he set out on his own to find the perfect spot for viticulture in 1998. With his son he planted more than 60 acres (24ha) of grapes and let the vines, time and the conditions do their thing.
“The Adelaide Hills is an idyllic little spot,” he says.
“We looked around for sites and really explored the district and got to know it and really love it.”
They sell direct to members, as well as some distributors, and provide wine for export to Japan, China and Hong Kong.
“It’s a toe in the water,” he says.
“It’s got potential, and we’re interested in it.”
And best friends with wine, is cheese.
Lloyd’s Woodside Cheese Wrights turned a struggling cheesemaking business into a thriving operation over 25 years.
Kris Lloyd’s cheeses have featured at Madison Square Garden and achieved a Super Gold medal, ranking number 11 in the World Cheese Awards in 2017 out of a field of 3021 cheeses.
This accolade was for the Anthill cheese which blends the native ingredient of edible green ants, now a flagship product exported to the US.
“What we’ve got in our backyard is so incredibly important,” she says.
“It’s an Australian story we can and should be telling. That accolade wasn’t about Woodside Cheese, for me it was about Australia and our native ingredients, which are unique and indigenous to our country.
Their other specialist cheeses include the Monet, a goat milk cheese with savoury seasoning and edible flowers, while the top sellers are the goat curd.
“I’m really focused on innovation and doing things differently,” Lloyd says.
“Collaborating with other South Australian businesses is also very high on my list.”
Pictured, SA Food and Wine Ambassador Kris Lloyd of Woodside Cheese in the Adelaide Hills. Picture: Matt Turner
This article originally appeared in The Australian's Future Adelaide Special Report.