Beef reared in our backyard feeds world market
IT'S NOT hard to imagine produce from the Southern Downs ending up on dinner plates across the world - it's the daily reality with produce from John Dee Warwick.
Right now someone in Asia or the Middle East could be dining on quality beef prepared in their own cuisine that was bred in our backyard.
In 1939 Frank Hart established John Dee Pty Ltd and today his family members still own and operate the company.
"My father started off as an engineer constructing meatworks machinery, which led the family into processing and trading," Bob Hart said.
"My brother Frank and I moved from Sydney to Warwick in 1947 once the site was purchased here.
"We started exporting beef from here in 1957."
In 1947 John Dee employed 10 people. Today, nearly 70 years later, the site employs more than 400 staff across a whole range of positions such as processing, packaging, sales and marketing, and administration.
More than 100,000 cattle are processed through the John Dee plant each year, with meat being exported to Russia, Europe, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, United States and the Middle East.
In the past two years the company has been focusing on servicing the emerging market of China as well.
John Dee also services the Australian domestic market with trucks heading to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth each week.
General manager Warren Stiff has been with the company for 20 years and says the key to success is repeat business.
"It's about selecting the right cattle to produce a high quality product," he said.
"The John Dee reputation has for many years been based on the highest quality product that meets exact customer specifications.
"We deal a lot with the end-users, more so than traders.
"For example a burger pattie manufacturer in Japan will set their monthly order and we will meet those requirements."
John Dee sources much of the livestock from the Darling Downs and New England regions.
Bob said export was a natural development for the company.
"You have to get the best value for production - different countries see different cuts of meat as having more value."
Warren gave the example of the Asian market not holding rump steak in as much esteem as Australia does.
He said Asian consumers were more likely to enjoy their beef thinly sliced into strips than as a big steak on their plate.
"Each country prefers different cuts of meat," he said.
A large part of John Dee's success is due to its highly trained and committed workforce.
"We provide a lot of in-house training for our employees," Warren said.
"Over the years numerous staff have completed their apprenticeships in the engineering and electrical fields.
"Everyone in the company has a key role, from stockman to engineering and plant cleaning.
"The business runs around the clock with night and day staff all working together, which helps maintain the quality of our final product."
Warren said many employees had been with the company for several decades.
"Over the years the company has seen employees come here when they are young and single, watched them get married and have a family and retire."
For a business that relies on produce from farms, the drought has also affected them in the tough times but, like the farmers, John Dee has simply done its best to make it through.
"When I wake up of a morning I check the weather and the value of the dollar," Warren said.
"Those are just two of the things that really drive our business.
"Any movement in the dollar affects our export," he said.
Because most of John Dee's business is export, they must adhere to numerous overseas requirements, as well as those in Australia.
"If China demands that their meat arrives frozen and labelled in Chinese , we have to do it that way," Warren said.
Over the years technology has also changed the way John Dee does business, with an example being the automated downward hide-pulling machine developed by Frank Hart, which went on to become the industry standard.
"Prior to that the slaughtermen used to have to lean over the bodies on the floor to remove the hide, so the use of a mechanical drum revolutionised the industry and worker safety," he said.
Transport and communications have also changed a lot over the years.
"Warwick has doubled in size since we moved here," Bob said.
"I remember when it used to take four hours to get to Brisbane.
With more than 400 employees, it takes less than a week from livestock-sourcing for a beast to be processed and be sitting on the docks of the Port of Brisbane waiting to be shipped overseas.
Looking forward to the future, John Dee is keen to investigate the potential advantages of Toowoomba's planned Wellcamp airport.
"There's already lots of cargo going by air but we will definitely look at sending it from Wellcamp," Bob said.
- Offering employment for more than 65 years.
- If an employee stays for more than three months, they are likely to stay for three years or more.
- They employ committed staff who take pride in the product and in the John Dee brand, which is well regarded in overseas markets where it is known as Export Establishment 243.
- Lots of labelling requirements and regulations they must know and follow.
- Animal welfare is a high priority.
- Lots of connections to long-standing businesses in the area. Wherever they can, they source goods and services locally.
- John Dee's workforce not only works here but lives here in Warwick and are part of the community - and everyone, even the truck drivers, goes home every night here.