Archive for March, 2019

SunRice makes a meal of it

SunRice’s Rob Gordon.SUNRICE is fast increasing its taste for diversification in the ready-made heat-and-eat meal market, including products which don’t even use rice.

A big post-drought product innovation push by the iconic Australian brand has helped drive up SunRice revenue, locally and overseas, as the company targets more value-added earning opportunities.

New packaging, rice product blends and meal packs (55 new product releases in total) have largely transformed its domestic market offering in the past 18 months following the farmer-owned company’s rebound from a decade of drought pressure on earnings and capital spending.

Total sales revenue has climbed from $809 million to $1.15 billion since 2010 and is on track to break $1.2 when the trading year ends in May.

Highlighting the brand’s momentum in overseas markets have been a recent run of serious sales gains in the Middle East following a social media advertising campaign which spurred Australia’s share of the market to new post-drought highs – 30pc better than a year earlier.

Best performers included Kuwait and Jordan, up 36pc and 27pc respectively.

At home last calendar year’s core gluten-free white rice product range lifted its retail sales volumes almost nine per cent in a market segment that grew just 3.3pc.

Microwave sachet pack and cup sales increased 12pc and value-added rice cakes, including new mini bites pitched at the school canteen and lunch box market, grew 8pc.

The innovation and marketing push has included more value-added packaging for Asian markets, and across the Pacific and the Middle East where SunRice products enjoy exceptional loyalty and brand recognition rivalling Coca-Cola.

The offshore and local marketing push has contributed to SunRice’s annual earnings (after tax) almost trebling to $34m in the past four years.

Its October 31 half-year after-tax profit jumped 39pc on the same period in 2013 to $22.7m.

“We’re intent on growing the size and profitability of our market to bring better returns back to our growers and shareholders,” said chief executive officer Rob Gordon.

“We’ve got a trusted product and strong brand equity and heritage, so since coming out of drought we’ve used that platform to invest in new products and marketing strategies.

“Rice remains very much our core business, but we are extending our experience in convenience meals to be a packaged meal business with other ingredient blends and meals outside rice.”

Pasta-based snacks are already part of SunRice’s heat-and-eat range, as are lentils, chickpeas and other grain mixes in new “health and wellbeing” lines which Mr Gordon described as “going like a train”.

Particularly popular were rice blends with so-called “super foods” quinoa and chia available in heat-and-eat formats or as part of the new re-sealable household pantry packs.

The SunRice offering extends to organic, exotic red and black gourmet rice, and “clever” low glycemic index Doongara white rice (with a GI of 54).

Low GI rice also has strong potential in Asia, where concerns are mounting about a spike in diabetic health problems associated with the population’s increasingly westernised diet.

Meanwhile, the growing popularity of gourmet Japanese cuisine in developing Asia was also opening up markets for short and medium grain Australian sushi-style rice.

“Thailand, despite having its own sizeable rice stockpile, is becoming one of those premium markets for us because, like most of Asia, they only really grow long grain,” Mr Gordon said.

With 80pc of the the Australian crop exported, SunRice was focusing on beefing up exports of retail packaged and consumer convenience meal lines, rather than relying as heavily on earnings from bulk tender contracts with foreign governments and traders.

Mr Gordon said value-added packaging and convenience lines adapted from products developed for Australian consumers were bolstering overseas revenues, and volumes continued to grow despite the price premiums attached to the SunRice brand.

“We’re certainly not without our competitors or market access challenges,” he said.

“The US built a strong presence in the Middle East when we were unable to supply Australian rice during the drought, but we’ve recovered our old volumes and more – and we generally sell at a premium to Californian rice.”

However, while Europe and many potential Asian markets remained relatively untouched because of trade barriers and the crop’s political sensitivity in regions such as the Indian sub-continent, SunRice was focusing on better servicing existing customers and shaving distribution costs.

“We play a genuine food security role in many of our traditional markets,” he said.

“We are blessed with an extraordinary brand reputation, but comes with considerable social responsibility, particularly in the Pacific and PNG.”

A chip off the old blockBrown rice chips are notching up an impressive debut for SunRice in the salty snack food market as the brand takes on traditional name such as Smiths, Doritos and Red Rock Deli.

Since September’s launch of the gluten-free healthy snacks, SunRice has been “hard pressed to keep enough on supermarket shelves” according to chief executive officer Rob Gordon.

The 158 gram packs retail at a health food premium price of about $5 each.

SunRice is currently sourcing its chips from the US, but Mr Gordon is keen to explore other local processing options if demand continues to be as robust in the whole food aisles of Coles, Woolworths and IGA supermarkets.

The company is currently cranking up production of mini rice cakes and heat-and-eat meals previously made in Thailand as part of an $8.5 million investment in food processing capacity at its Leeton plant in southern NSW.

The project, employing 20 extra staff at the site, will be fully operational next month and follows another $8.5m investment in the nearby CopRice pet food kibble extrusion plant and its northern Victorian feed mills last year.

SunRice invested about $32 million last financial year on new equipment and efficiency initiatives to help boost its capacity and product range.

“Some of these food lines start off being made in Thailand when we introduce them, but we look to bring more of our sachet and cup meal lines back to Australia,” Mr Gordon said.

“The vast majority of what we do is here, creating jobs in regional areas and bringing jobs onshore at a time when others are going offshore.

“We think we’re a really good news story for the Australian food sector – we’re very proud of what we’re achieving.”

Since 2010 SunRice had also doubled its investment in marketing to support and invigorate new product packaging changes.

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Badge of dishonour

Storm over VW’s HQ. Picture:Getty ImagesALMOST as soon as governments began testing vehicle emissions, auto makers found ways to cheat.

In the 1970s some cars were found to be rigged with “defeat devices” that turned off the emission systems when the airconditioning was turned on. Others had sensors that activated pollution controls only at the temperature regulators used during the tests.

“The concept of a defeat device has always been there, because there’s such an incentive for the manufacturers to cheat on the emissions tests,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety. Volkswagen “took it to another level of sophisticated deception we’ve never seen before”.

The scandal now engulfing VW, which has admitted to outfitting cars with software designed to give false readings on emission tests, is unique both for its size and digital complexity. But it’s not the first emissions-cheating case, even for the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company.

On July 23, 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency accused the auto maker of installing defeat devices in cars it wanted to sell in the 1974 model year. VW then admitted it had sold 1973 model year cars with the devices, which consisted of temperature-sensing switches that cut out pollution controls at low temperatures.

The EPA suspected VW sold 25,000 vehicles with the cheating technology. Then-attorney general Elliot Richardson took the company to court for violating the Clean Air Act. They settled with a $US120,000 fine without admitting any wrongdoing.

“Our relations with the EPA are too important to permit us to become involved in an adversary proceeding on a matter of questionable significance,” VW said at the time, explaining why it paid the penalty.

General Motors agreed in 1995 to pay $US45 million after being accused of circumventing pollution controls on 470,000 Cadillac luxury sedans. The cars’ 4.9-litre V8 engines were tuned to turn off pollution controls when the airconditioning ran, the EPA said at the time.

The government alleged the engines, which were installed from the 1991 through to 1995 model years, ended up releasing 90,000 tonnes of excess carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. GM disagreed, saying it was paying the fine as part of a conciliatory approach to dispose of enforcement cases more quickly.

“We strongly disagree with the allegations made by the federal government,” GM said at the time. “This is a matter of interpretation of current regulations regarding the complex issue of off-cycle emissions.”

Besides agreeing to cover $US25 million in recall, GM paid an $US11 million fine and agreed to spend $US9 million in “corporate community service”. To help the cause of cleaner air, the Detroit-based auto maker agreed to buy back older, more polluting cars and provide school districts with buses powered by batteries or natural gas.

The EPA says VW has admitted to using defeat devices in the 482,000 cars now under investigation in the US. The agency says the device built into the cars sensed when they were being tested on a dynamometer. During those times, the car uses an emission-control system that traps nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog. When the car senses it is on the road, it cuts back on the emission control – releasing from 10 to 40 times the permissible amount of nitrogen oxide.

“It takes a very savvy program to fool the computer and detect the sophisticated test cycle,” said Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, which is also investigating VW. “This was clearly well thought out and took a lot of programming.

“Engines these days are very complicated,” he said. “So there is a sophisticated and powerful computer inside all cars, and that was where this algorithm, this ‘second routine,’ was embedded.”

VW could be fined as much as $US18 billion and may have to recall and fix the cars in the US. European authorities are conducting their own investigation, as are those in South Korea, which could result in further penalties.

VW has apologised for the cheating and vowed to earn back the trust of consumers. Chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn quit on Wednesday, saying the company needs a fresh start.

The current VW case resembles a 1998 case involving seven manufacturers of heavy-duty truck engines: Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack Trucks, Navistar International Transportation Corp, Renault Vehicules Industriels, and Volvo Truck Corp.

The companies agreed to spend more than $US1 billion, including $US83.4 million in penalties, to settle the case – the biggest civil fine to that point for violating an environmental law. Then-attorney general Janet Reno cautioned the industry that “an ounce of compliance is worth a pound of penalties”.

As with VW, the truck-engine makers used software to alter pollution control technology under highway driving conditions. The engines met emissions limits when they ran on the EPA’s 20- minute federal test procedure. On real-world highways, they spewed up to three times the legal limit for nitrogen oxide, regulators said. The result was 1.3 million tons of excess nitrogen oxide in 1998 alone.

The industry agreed to spend more than $US850 million to accelerate the development of cleaner engines, to rebuild older engines and recall pick-up trucks that were equipped with defeat devices.

Also in 1998, the Justice Department and the EPA settled a $US267 million case with Honda and a separate $US7.8 million case with Ford for selling cars with systems designed to defeat emissions control.

Last year, Hyundai Motor Co and Kia Motors Corp agreed to pay the equivalent of $US350 million in fines, forfeited credits and certification testing to settle US claims that they overstated fuel economy on the window stickers car buyers see at dealer showrooms. The companies tested cars only at optimal temperatures and used the best results rather than averages, according to the EPA. The inflated mileage claims affected 1.2 million vehicles sold in the US.

“Hyundai has acted transparently, reimbursed affected customers and fully co-operated with the EPA throughout the course of this investigation,” David Zuchowski, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America, said at the time. “We are pleased to put this behind us.”

The Korean auto makers agreed in 2012 to compensate consumers for the misleading mileage claims by issuing debit cards to affected customers. The rating on the Kia Soul’s window sticker was lowered by 6 miles per gallon, and most of Hyundai and Kia’s other US models were adjusted down by 1 or 2 miles per gallon.

Ford had to lower its fuel-efficiency estimates for certain models twice in less than a year, citing a computer-modelling error. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company sent out payments ranging from $US200 to $US1050 to pay 200,000 customers last year. Bloomberg News

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PM spill motion defeated

On the chopping block: Tony Abbott faces a leadership spill motion at 9am on Monday.UPDATED 9.20am: TONY Abbott’s immediate fate as Liberal leader and Prime Minister is safe for the foreseeable future, with the leadership spill motion defeated by 61 votes to 39 at a special meeting of the Liberal party room at 9am today.

Rural Liberals and Nationals declared they don’t support the looming spill motion, while urging continued support for Mr Abbott to avoid repeating the leadership chaos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and destabilising the government.

Mr Abbott issued a statement on Sunday saying he’d the asked the Chief Government Whip to call the meeting to consider the spill motion, a day earlier than first declared last week.

“The last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty,” Mr Abbott said.

“On reflection, and after talking to my colleagues, I’ve decided that the best thing we can do is deal with the spill motion as quickly as possible and put it behind us.

“Accordingly, I’ve asked the Whip, Philip Ruddock, to convene a Party Room meeting at 9 o’clock on Monday morning to deal with this matter.

“The only question for our party is do we want to reduce ourselves to the level of the Labor Party in dragging down a first term Prime Minister.”

Labor is ‘praying for Tony’Last week, Mr Ruddock received a notice of motion from Western Australian Liberal MP Luke Simpkins, seconded by colleague Don Randall, proposing the scheduled Liberal party room meeting on Tuesday, “resolve, via secret ballot, that the senior positions of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party be declared vacant”.

The spill push arrives as discontent over Mr Abbott’s leadership has escalated dramatically in the past fortnight, following his controversial decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip and the LNP’s shock result at the Queensland State election.

Senior Liberal ministers Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison have all been touted as potential candidates – but with no declared challengers, Liberal members appear more determined to circumvent any actual leadership vote today.

However, political analysts are saying whether Mr Abbott survives any leadership vote this week, his deep-seated unpopularity and poor voter polling will continue and eventually ignite a leadership change before the next federal election in 2016.

Recognising the PM’s ongoing battle in the polls, one rural Labor MP said – tongue in cheek – that Labor party members are “praying for Tony”.

However, Victorian Liberal MP and chair of the Coalition’s agricultural backbench committee Dan Tehan declared he would be voting against the spill motion.

“I have been out and about in the electorate all week and the feedback I have received is that people want a government that is united,” he said.

“We have to stop focusing on ourselves, work as a team and get on with governing.

“My number one priority is working and delivering for the people and communities of Wannon.

“The Prime Minister has my support.”

Ditch the chaos, say rural MPsSouth Australian Liberal MP Tony Pasin – also a member of the agricultural committee – issued a similar statement declaring his support for the leader reflecting the views of constituents in his rural electorate of Barker.

“The overwhelming message I am hearing is that the people of my electorate want the government to focus on delivering outcomes and delivering strong and stable leadership – not becoming a chaotic rabble like our predecessors,” he said.

“Under Prime Minister Abbott’s leadership, this government is delivering stronger economic ties through three free trade agreements in 17 months; helping business create 4000 new jobs a week; protecting our borders by stopping the boats; repairing the budget that was devastated by the previous Labor government; and has abolished the carbon and mining taxes.

“As a Prime Minister with a democratic mandate from the electorate we owe it to the voters to respect their decision and get on with the job.”

Mr Pasin urged his disillusioned colleagues to, “stop the mid-summer madness, stop talking about themselves and get on with the job of delivering strong and stable government for the people of Australia”.

National party members have also declared support for Mr Abbott and warned disgruntled Liberals against taking the Coalition down a similar path of disunity and instability like the former Labor government.

Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said his party is “100 per cent” behind Mr Abbott.

On Facebook last week he said, “The overwhelming feedback I’m getting is that people are sick to the back teeth of our constant fascination with the leadership”.

“Some politicians down here act like every time they have a disagreement with the missus, they file for divorce,” he said.

“We should get over ourselves and just get back to doing our jobs, which is to help make this great country even better.”

NSW Nationals Senator John Williams supported a point made by Mr Abbott last week that the Coalition is not the Labor Party and they “don’t change leaders”.

“The Australian people only have that right,” he said.

Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen said as a member of the Federal Parliamentary National Party, he doesn’t get to vote on the Liberal Party leadership.

“However, if the Liberals change their leadership next week, the Nationals will seek a new Coalition agreement and a new deal for rural and regional Australia,” he said.

Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz said Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop had been a very successful leadership team and retained his support.

“They delivered us the election victory in 2013, they have secured our borders, removed the carbon tax achieved the free trade agreements,” he said.

“They’re the team the people of Australia elected and that’s the team I will be supporting.”

Nationals Leader Warren Truss again deflected questions about his party’s support for Mr Turnbull as a potential Prime Minister due to his views on carbon trading.

“Well, we’re not there yet and we need to make sure that we never cross that threshold,” he said.

“The reality is that a government does need to be strong and united.

“I think it’s very important that the Liberal Party resolve its leadership issues promptly, that they do it decisively so that the issue can be put behind them and the government and we get on with the business of delivering for the Australian people.”

Nats back Abbott as PMMr Truss said the Nationals backed Mr Abbott’s leadership at their planning meeting in Wodonga last week.

“We remain supportive of Tony Abbott and I’m confident that his prime ministership will be renewed,” he said.

“The commitment that we gave to the Governor-General to support the establishment of the new government was to Tony Abbott and that commitment was one that I made on behalf of the Nationals and Tony made on behalf of the Liberal Party.

“So, clearly, if in fact there were to be a change of leadership, well that agreement would no longer be of value and new arrangements would have to be established.

“At this stage, the spill is hardly credible if there’s not an alternative candidate.

“The reality is that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop are standing together as Leader and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

“That’s a very powerful team.

“There’s too much important work to be done to be spent on internal discussions of this nature.

“It’s been raised now, it needs to be dealt with promptly and then we need to get on with the job of delivering for the Australian people.

“I don’t think Tony Abbott will lose the leadership.”

Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane said he would also be voting against the spill motion and the leadership argument was, “a distraction no one wants and no one needs”.

“Australia doesn’t need this, the Coalition obviously doesn’t need it,” he said.

“We need to get on with business, we need to be making sure that we’re providing the sort of legislative change that keeps our economy strong and keeps jobs growing in Australia.

“The Cabinet is absolutely unanimous in the support of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. We need to get on with it.

“I haven’t spoken to backbenchers other than those that have rung me, and those that have rung me have not only expressed their total support for Tony Abbott but their complete dismay that the Coalition is being distracted at this important time in a government’s life.

“To my knowledge there is a handful, maybe 10 or 15 people at the bottom of all of this out of a party room of over 100.

“The support for Tony Abbott in the Cabinet is unanimous and we just need to get this behind us and get on with the job.”

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San Francisco 49ers convert Jarryd Hayne inspires Brumbies recruit Chris Coyle

Tight end Chris Coyle in action for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Photo: Christian Petersen Jarryd Hayne has inspired Chris Coyle in his dream of transitioning from the NFL to Super Rugby. Photo: Graham Tidy

The Hayne Plane might not have fully taken off yet in the NFL, but he’s the wind beneath the Super Rugby wings of  ACT Brumbies project Chris Coyle.

Coyle is trying to do almost the reverse of Jarryd Hayne – switching from American football to rugby union, instead of from rugby league to the NFL.

Injuries prevented Coyle from making it in the NFL, where he spent five days with the Houston Texans before he was released due to a shoulder problem.

It was the catalyst for the 24-year-old to code-hop his way Down Under, while the Hayne Plane left Aussie shores to chase his NFL dream.

Coyle has liked what he’s seen of Hayne’s fledgling career, after the former Parramatta Eel made his debut for the San Francisco 49ers last week. He felt if Hayne could keep himself fit then there was no reason why he couldn’t make a go of it.

“If he can secure himself a spot on special teams, which I think he absolutely can because of the type of athlete he is, [he can make it],” Coyle said.

“The biggest thing for him is he’ll have to stay healthy because he’s definitely good enough of an athlete to be there.”

And if Hayne can do it, there’s no reason Coyle can’t make a similarly successful switch to Super Rugby.

He played mostly second grade with the Gungahlin Eagles in the John I Dent Cup this year but managed to force his way into the seniors towards the end of the season.

Coyle is training with National Rugby Championship team Canberra Vikings, where he’s worked closely with Ita Vaea and Wallaby Ben Alexander.

“It is inspiring to see a guy like him go over there and conquer a sport that’s so incredibly difficult for everybody over there [in the US] that’s played their whole lives and he’s gone over there and made it to a professional level,” he said.

“It does give me hope I could pick up rugby and play here some day.

“Physically, I definitely think I can compete with these guys out here at a professional level, it’s just finetuning the mental aspect of the game.”

Vikings coach Brad Harris said Coyle had been training well and had the right work ethic to succeed.

He was unsure whether the former American footballer would break into the Vikings side this NRC season, but he felt there was a chance he could play Super Rugby some day.

“It’s a massive step, even our club boys understand the step to NRC and obviously there’s another significant step up to Super Rugby, but he’s certainly an athlete, he’s certainly in a great program and he’s improving so if he continues on that trajectory then anything is possible,” Harris said.

The undefeated Vikings will play the struggling North Harbour Rays in Sydney on Saturday.


Saturday: Canberra Vikings v North Harbour Rays at Pittwater Rugby Park, 3pm

Vikings team: 1. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Albert Anae, 3. Leslie Leuluai’ali’i-Makin, 4. Rory Arnold, 5. Blake Enever, 6. Jordan Smiler, 7. Jarrad Butler (c), 8. Ita Vaea, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 11. Jerome Niumata, 12. Rodney Iona, 13. Nigel Ah Wong, 14. James Dargaville, 15. Aidan Toua. Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Sione Taula, 18. Tyrel Lomax, 19. Dean Oakman-Hunt, 20. Rowan Perry, 21. Brent Hamlin, 22. Isaac Thompson, 23. Francis Fainifo.

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Port of Darwin expansion flagged

POLITICS has rarely been so interesting – or unnerving – for infrastructure investors.

While Queensland’s dramatic election saw $50 billion in potential privatisations go up in smoke, infrastructure funds have also kept one eye on Northern Territory’s on-again, off-again leadership spill in light of Port of Darwin’s planned sale.

The port, which cattle exports to Asian countries, makes about 90 per cent of its money from dry bulk exports for the metals and mining industry.

This week starts with NT chief minister – and Port of Darwin privatisation supporter – Adam Giles still in the chief minister’s chair, despite what at first appeared to be a successful challenge from Willem Westra van Holthe.

Infrastructure funds are back working on the assumption the Flagstaff Partners-run sale will go ahead, and are getting stuck into diligence materials.

A new contender is believed to be South Australian ports owner and operator Flinders Ports, owned by a handful of superannuation funds which are shareholders of the Flinders Port Holdings Pty Ltd entity.

It’s understood these shareholders, which include Infrastructure Capital Group, mechanics’ superannuation fund MTAA, Equipsuper, State Super NSW and Statewide Super, and their respective advisers such as Whitehelm Capital and AMP Capital, have decided to go to auction through the Flinders Port vehicle.

Rather than potentially bid against each other for Port of Darwin, it’s understood the group has asked Flinders Port management to take a look on their behalf.

Flinders Port is expected to line up against the likes of infrastructure fund managers Palisade Investment Partners and Deutsche Asset and Wealth Management.

Darwin Port Corporation, which runs the port, made a record $17 million profit in the 2013-14 financial year, on $58 million revenue. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were $17 million, compared with $11 million a year earlier.

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