Look ahead, look again – Meals SA is 10 years previous

Catherine Sayer

This month Food South Australia turns 10, but in a way it's also our 21st birthday. Food SA remains the only industry association of its kind in Australia and was officially established in 2010 when two long-standing and respected organizations – Food Adelaide and Flavor SA – merged.

By Catherine Sayer, CEO of Food South Australia.

This far-sighted decision drew on the foundations of the founding of Food Adelaide as the first industry-government collaboration in the 1990s, and with the creation of Food South Australia created a single competence base, an industry-led association model and most importantly, a focus for Access and advocacy for the food and beverage industry in South Australia.

As the founding CEO, my first priority in 2010 was to build and grow this new organization. Fortunately, the establishment of Food SA received strong support across the industry and from the government of the time, as it has since then. With this goodwill and our shared vision for an industry that is the linchpin of the South Australian economy, we have made a good start. Food SA has a team based in Adelaide and market support from our offices in China and Japan.

Everything we do has to be industry-led. We are primarily a membership-based organization, and since our membership includes industrial service providers, our membership is effectively a cluster for innovation and collaboration. While we are here to support our members, we are inclusive and have many programs across the industry backed by our ongoing industry-government partnership in developing and delivering programs that are geared towards industry-wide growth.

Industry and government have different ways of communicating and acting. Most of the time, I think that one of my key roles is being a “translator”, bringing industry needs and concerns into “government talks” to allow for better understanding and vice versa. It is a very special position to be the trusted source.

The most rewarding aspect of this role and of Food SA is supporting businesses. It can do this by introducing someone who is providing expert assistance in a particular aspect of their business, helping them move through a problem, or by facilitating or providing a solution to a challenge that can transform the business.

Now, looking back, I see two characteristics of Food SA that have been critical to the success we have had in helping food and beverage companies realize their growth ambitions over the past decade.

One of these is our independence, which has enabled us to build a level of trust with our members and stakeholders across the industry. Trust, confidentiality, and clear communication have always been and always are essential to enable us to provide effective assistance and industry leadership.

The other unique feature of Food SA as an organization is our ongoing partnership with the Government of South Australia. This partnership assists us in designing and facilitating industry-wide growth programs based on evidence of industry demand.

Our overarching approach to these programs is that business priorities can, do, and sometimes should change, and that the help provided must be relevant to the business priorities at that time. We have worked extensively with stakeholders at all levels of government over the years to raise awareness of the practicalities of effectively supporting industry.

Our remit began to expand when we began hosting and administering the South Australian Prime Minister's Food and Beverage Industry Awards in 2012 and overseeing the steady growth of this program, which recognizes excellence and innovation in the sector. Another milestone was our success last year in obtaining a grant from the Australian Government, backed by the South Australian Government, for the delivery of the South Australia Food and Beverage Export Hub, a step-by-step program that improves businesses at all stages of export development can increase their skills and sales. Our home state activities continue to grow as we now also manage the I Choose SA program for the food and beverage sector in South Australia on behalf of the Department of Trade and Investment.

Each day brings us different questions to answer and problems to be solved. I know this will continue because if Covid-19 has taught us anything, we must all be flexible and ready to respond to whatever comes our way and be here to support and side our industry at all times To stand side with our industry to help them in such turbulent times. That is the new normal in a nutshell. This also inspires the Food SA team every day.

About Catherine Sayer

Catherine has led Food South Australia since its inception in 2010 and is passionate about leading the development of the industry's governing body with a focus on industry growth and advocacy. She is also a member and chairman of a number of boards.


About Essen South Australia

Food South Australia is the state's umbrella organization for the food and beverage industry, dedicated to supporting and sustaining the industry in the state by helping businesses of all sizes develop their markets, capabilities and industry connections. Food South Australia is independent, industry driven and membership focused.


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