“My aim, my goal, my sole purpose of being here, is to set this company up for the next 40 years.”
Mars-Wrigley’s Ballarat plant director Stuart McKay is very familiar with the day-to-day running of the chocolate factory.
The former project engineer, 47, has spent 17 years at the company, beginning as a graduate in 1996.
While he has moved back and forth in the last few years, he has returned to Ballarat for the third time, now at the reins.
Discussing his return with The Courier, Mr McKay said he was focused on innovation and making sure the company keeps up with the market, as it heads into its 40th year in Australia.
The factory produces a range of well-known Mars products, including Maltesers and M&Ms, but Ballarat is also home to research and development.
Mr McKay said the future-focus is key to staying relevant, something he learned during his time away from the company.
“(It’s) understanding what the consumer is actually asking for,” he said.
“One of the good things is that we’re a family owned business, we’re not necessarily slaved to quarterly reports - that gives us a lot more freedom.”
Most recently based in China, Mr McKay said there was a lot to learn from other markets, including in the online space, which he believes is a niche Australian businesses could explore.
The comparisons were interesting, he added.
“I got the opportunity to come back after working for two other companies - they were manufacturing companies, one was in food,” he explained.
“What I found with these other companies is that they tried to be like Mars but they just couldn’t be like Mars, they didn’t have the same culture, the same investment in the culture.”
He referred to company statements on the use of palm oil in the chocolate products, which aims to only use sustainably sourced oil, and on natural ingredients, which Mars has been working on since 2016.
Mars has “purchased 100 per cent of our palm oil from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil -certified sources via the group’s mass balance program since year-end 2013. We have committed to source fully sustainable and traceable palm oil that is free from deforestation and produced with respect for human rights,” the statement read.
“We continue to work closely with our suppliers to find alternatives (to artificial colours) that not only meet our strict quality and safety standards, but also maintain the vibrant, fun colours consumers have come to expect from our well-loved brands.”
Another aspect of moving the company forward includes incorporating renewable energy into manufacturing.
Recently, the company announced a partnership with a solar power plant in Ouyen, and Mr McKay said the aim was to be “sustainable in a generation” and 100 per cent carbon neutral.
It’s also a tangible sign of the company’s longer term investment strategy, which includes holding onto the Ballarat facility.
“Our Mars family is very committed to this site here, because they actually helped start this site, here and in Bathurst, which is 40 years (old) this year,” he said.
“There’s a strong sense of presence here, so we see that as ongoing.
“There’s always going to be manufacturing pressure from competitors overseas, and … their cost pressures are going up as well.
“It’s happening everywhere, and we’re constantly improving, whether it be new technology, new ways of working, all sorts of things that keep us competitive.”
Mr McKay noted the company had strong community links, with more than 350 employees in Ballarat, the majority being locals.
“As we invest in this site here, a lot of that gets returned back to the community through the different companies that are supplying services to us as well, that’s a massive thing,” he said, noting the community programs and sponsorships the company also provided.
Despite his new responsibilities, Mr McKay said he aimed to walk the factory floors every day when he could.
“I was in the factory for about an hour and a half this morning,” he said.
“This gives me not only a feel for what’s going on out there, but it gives me a chance to actually talk to people and that’s the biggest benefit, these guys are the experts on these products, and it’s my job to listen to them and help them be able to do that.
“I love manufacturing, my heart’s in manufacturing - we make stuff.”