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Consumer insight drives SunRice’s export growth

Consumer insight drives SunRice’s export growth

To celebrate 30 years of support for the Australian Export Awards, CommBank asks award-winning exporters how they have successfully navigated an ever-changing global trade environment.

In 1950, SunRice was running a single rice mill in the Riverina region of New South Wales. Today, the business is one of Australia’s pre-eminent exporters, with processing, packaging and value add food plants in Australia, as well as subsidiary companies in the US, the Middle East and Papua New Guinea, that supply rice and rice based products into most major global markets.

For SunRice, building a successful and sustainable export strategy means understanding consumer needs and working with staff, partners, communities and governments to help the business adapt to changing market conditions.

SunRice’s General Manager, Consumer Markets, David Keldie explains that given around 80 per cent of the Australian rice crop is exported in an average harvest year, a sharp focus on innovation is critical to maintain and build these offshore markets.

“SunRice is a trading, branding and multi-faceted business that’s moving all the time and you need talented, adaptable people and partners that can effectively manage the supply chain. If you lose that skill, you can very quickly lose markets,” Mr Keldie says.

Close collaboration with a broad network of supportive partners is a critical component of navigating export markets for SunRice, extending from financial, risk management and technology providers to tapping into the expertise of local operators.

As the biggest regional rice brand in the Middle East, SunRice has experienced first hand the benefits of a strong local partner to help navigate the changing retail market for its products.

“In the Middle East, our distributors supported us to successfully scale our supply chain as the local market expanded. When we first entered the region, it was a wet market that then evolved into small stores, and today is host to a more sophisticated supermarket network.”

A key part of growing SunRice’s global supply footprint is developing innovative strategies to capitalise on emerging consumer trends. One example is the company’s ongoing conversion of its grower base to produce superior short grain rice and meet the growing demand for sushi across the globe.

“The temperate growing environment in the Riverina region in New South Wales allowed us to grow a superior product that was particularly suited to the Japanese market, but also ideal for North Asian cuisine.

“We capitalised by improving our quality handling and supply chain, to provide a high quality product into premium markets such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan. We are now marketing our sushi rice across the world.”

SunRice has also developed and exported products that tap into the growing consumer focus on health and well-being.

“We have developed rice products with the lowest GI content anywhere in the world to help address one of the most prevalent diseases world-wide – diabetes. This is a major health issue and we are working closely with governments in the Middle East and Asia to help address this challenge.”

Managing a vast global supply chain can also present hurdles, from geopolitical issues through to adverse seasonal and weather related events, but David explains that having a long term strategy can help offset risks.

“We have to constantly be on top of geopolitical issues that could impact our business, for example Syria has traditionally been a big export market but has now become very challenging to operate in.

As part of their strategy to provide consistency of supply, SunRice has also developed a global production base that can be brought online in the event of drought conditions.

“Where our crop in Australia has to flex due to water restrictions, we can draw on our assets in similar growing regions such as Sacramento Valley in the United States to ensure continuity of supply.”

The next region on the agenda for SunRice is to capitalise on its expanding export profile is South East Asia. Particular focus is on those countries whose rapidly expanding middle classes have an increasing appetite for quality products, preferably with a ‘clean and green’ provenance (a differentiator that Australian rice can satisfy). SunRice recently opened an office in Singapore to help the company get closer to these South East Asian markets.

“We are looking to enter growing South East Asian markets with value add and unique propositions in rice. We have hired the right talent and are taking our time to understand the consumer needs, particularly around health and lifestyle, which is becoming increasingly popular across the region.”

While SunRice continues to grow its export footprint into new and unique markets, at the core of its export success, and no matter the jurisdiction, remains a commitment to understanding the local environment and remaining flexible enough to adapt to rapid change.