By Kirra Grimes
BUSINESS is booming for Toora’s Viplus Dairy, which sold $100 million worth of its powdered milk products to a Chinese distributor last week.
A contract signed in Toora last Wednesday will see Viplus’ Toora factory provide Chinese distributor Oz Cow with 20 million bags of adult skim milk powder and adult full cream milk powder over the next three years (2018 to 2020).
With Oz Cow “anxious” to secure more product, and negotiations well advanced by the beginning of this month, Viplus has already employed 18 additional workers at its Toora factory in recent weeks and purchased additional machinery to help cope with increasing demand for its nutritional milk powder products.
Viplus exports to Vietnam, Cambodia, Dubai and Papua New Guinea, and there’s a relatively small (50,000 tins per annum) but “fast increasing” market for the company’s products in Australia.
But China, where the local dairy industry is yet to recover from a melamine scandal that killed six children in 2008, appears to be the one country where people are consuming Viplus products faster than the Toora factory can manufacture them.
Mr Chen, Oz Cow’s operations manager and the man responsible for sales of Viplus’ adult milk powders in the Asia-Pacific region, visited the Toora factory for the fourth time last week, along with 40 of Oz Cow’s Chinese sales team.
Mr Chen says Viplus has “a lot of loyal customers” in China, who’ve been struggling through a shortage of Oz Cow products for the past three months.
“It’s been very hard to get Oz Cow products in China because so many people need it. So, we’ve come to push the factory to make more!” Mr Chen said. “We’re very anxious to get more product from Viplus. It’s very necessary in China.”
Mr Chen says there are currently one million “family users” of Viplus milk powder in China, and that number is expected to triple in the next couple of years.
Viplus’ own figures state that as well as large quantities of instant milk powders for adults, three million tins of Viplus infant milk formula are exported to China annually.
“The Chinese see it as a high-quality product and because it’s made and packaged in Australia. It’s very popular in China. And there will be more sales in China and more development into the future,” Mr Chen said.
“We wish Viplus a very bright future, so that more Chinese customers can get a high-quality product and live a high-quality life.”
Viplus’ operations manager Darren Humphries said the Oz Cow contract “gives [Viplus] faith in the business going forward” and he praised a successful partnership between the Toora factory and the Chinese sales team.
“They’ve been doing these visits in the past 12 months, this is the third one, and every time they come here and go back [to China], the sales just go bang! They keep running out of stock.”
Mr Humphries says the Toora factory has, in the past month, added an extra shift to its work roster, and purchased a third machine and additional robots to assist in packaging a high volume of product.
He says the factory is still looking for “a few” more line workers.
“We’ve come a long way in the past few years. And we’re very happy to be offering more employment opportunities for local people.”
South Gippsland Shire Councillor and Toora local Ray Argento attended the contract signing ceremony last Wednesday, saying the deal was “fantastic for the community of Toora and the whole of South Gippsland” and hopefully the start of future expansions for Viplus.
“This 20 million satchels of product will be one of the largest contracts that Viplus has signed to date. So, they’ll only see it grow from here on.
“Basically we’ll see the company evolve and grow into a fairly large organisation particularly with the contacts they have in China,” Cr Argento said.
Cr Argento said the South Gippsland Shire Council had helped facilitate Viplus’ success in the Chinese market “from the very beginning” by putting Viplus in contact with “various levels of government”.
He said Chinese consumers held Australian products in high regard as they were considered “wholesome and pure and natural”.
“They come out here and they see our wide, open spaces and how green and wholesome our product is and they’re extremely happy with what they receive. And they know that our product goes through the strictest of measures to ensure that its quality is Australia’s best and that it’s a safe thing to bring into China.”
Cr Argento said Viplus’ future expansion was likely to include liquid milk processing, something the company, which began operating in Toora in 2012, has been planning for several years.