See inside the McCain Foods Ballarat French fry factory

MCCAIN Foods has thrown open its doors to The Courier for the first time in more than a decade.

One Ballarat’s most recognisable manufacturers and among its biggest employers has allowed unprecedented access to its French fry factory and packaged food production plant at its Wendouree headquarters.

The tour provided a comprehensive look at how food is produced at the plant, from the arrival of potatoes to the factory to its departure as packaged food. 

It represents a desire by the company to build and improve its relationship with Ballarat and its suppliers in the surrounding district, in the face of the threat to manufacturing from foreign competitors.

McCain manufacturing director for Australia and New Zealand Dahlson Forsyth, who has been based in Ballarat for two years, said it was in interests of McCain and the Ballarat community to work together because not doing so could have consequences for both.

“Manufacturing in Australia, especially food processing, is under a lot of pressure. The growers, the suppliers and the food processors need to work much more as a partnership and much less as an adversarial relationship,” Mr Forsyth said.

“More people are starting to see that. The attitude from all parties is poles apart from even two years ago.” 

Mr Forsyth said he has been struck by how little people in Ballarat knew about what happened at the McCain Ballarat site.

He said it was not because the company was inherently secretive, apart from a desire to keep commercially sensitive information out of the reach of competitors.

“A key driver for us with (the tour) is we have a lot of people who work here who are proud of what we do here,” Mr Forsyth said.

“I don’t know if anyone has asked us what we do here before. There is no harm in people knowing more.”

"In the supermarket, I turn over the bag and make sure it's ours"

McCain Foods is a privately owned company based in Canada. After arriving in Australia in 1968, it bought a small potato processing plant in Daylesford before building the Ballarat plant in 1975.

The Ballarat plant is the company’s largest in the southern hemisphere and employs 400 permanent staff, 250 salaried staff and 80 casual staff. 

Sue McInerny, who works in the packing room as senior controller, has been with McCain for about seven years.

She has a team of 10 people who oversee the packing of frozen fries in bags before they are shipped off.

“In the supermarket, I turn over the bag and make sure it's ours,” Ms McInerny said.

“The biggest challenge is to manage people to achieve the company’s high standards. Everything we do here is all about quality.

“We have improved our efficiency greatly in the past couple of years. It is good to get what we’ve scheduled done so we know we can continue into the future and all have jobs in 20 years time.”

gavin.mcgrath@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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