Bega Cheese executive chairman Barry Irvin says the positive reaction to his company's latest venture is a true added bonus to a home-grown success story.
The deal made public last week will see Bega Cheese pay $534million for the national milk and dairy foods processing business of Japanese-owned Lion Dairy and Drinks, including Australia's largest cold chain distribution network.
Once the deal is completed, a huge range of products will be under the Australian company's ownership, including, among others, Dairy Farmers milk, Pura milk and cream, Yoplait yoghurts, and Farmers Union, Dare and Big M flavoured milks.
It adds to 2017's $460million acquisition of Mondelez International's Australia grocery and cheese business - which included the iconic Vegemite label.
"The success story emanating out of Bega is of course something that is very satisfying...and there's nothing nicer than feeling like the whole community supports you," Mr Irvin said on Monday when ACM visited him on his dairy farm partway between Bega and Bemboka (on NSW's South Coast).
"And in my case, the community is very real. I've grown up here, lived all my life here, my family is here.
"Regardless of whether they're shareholders or not, the community feels that this is 'our Bega Cheese', and if Bega Cheese is successful, the community feels like they're successful."
Mr Irvin said that sense of community ownership of his company keeps him "centred".
"I think humility is important in business and in life - the people I run into next week with still go 'well I remember when you dropped the ball in the under 8s'," he added with a chuckle.
His humility is endearing given he has led the former dairy co-op into a deal that will see the combined business enjoy expected revenue in excess of $3 billion a year.
"All the brands I grew up with along with of course Bega Cheese and Vegemite - that's just a wonderful sense of creating a business that will be genuinely competitive with multinationals," Mr Irvin said.
"We were this very small dairy co-op when the dairy industry de-regulation started. That we've been able to buy brands and companies that were bigger than us is a great story, and a testament to people who had a vision and were consistent with strategy over a great period of time.
"In business you need to be brave, you need a willingness to take the next step, to take a bit of risk, but then having done that, make sure you make it work."
He said momentum creates its own momentum and the company remained ambitious.
"This is creating a foundation for the next thing. This is not the end game," he said.
Mr Irvin said Bega Cheese expected to take over the newly acquired business by the end of January and there remained an "enormous amount of work" ahead to make sure it integrated well into the company's operations.
From farmer to fridge
With the acquisition of Lion Dairy and Drinks, Bega Cheese can boast a true 'paddock to plate' business.
The purchase comes not only with some of the most popular brands on Australian shelves, but also extensive manufacturing infrastructure and the country's largest cold chain distribution network - such as fridges in service stations.
"We've now got a supply chain from the farmer right the way through to the person walking into the service station to buy a milk product, or the mother buying some yoghurt or cheese," Mr Irvin said.
Mr Irvin said he felt as if Bega was "an old-fashioned company coming back into fashion".
"The consumer trend that I think will be with us more and more is knowing where the food is coming from, where it's produced, right through to where they buy it.
"When consumers ask 'who makes my food?', 'who delivers it?', 'how do they treat their farmer?', 'how do they behave in the community?' - we can say, well that's us, it's all us.
"We can tell you the whole story about our entire supply chain."
Mr Irvin said the newly announced acquisition is adding to Bega's dream of being "a truly great Australian food company" and one that can compete on the international stage.
"It's always been a mystery to me why a country such as Australia that produces such high quality food owns very little of the value-added and branded part of that supply chain.
"I've always had the belief we should have the ambition to do that."
Dairy Farmers supports deal
The Dairy Farmers Milk Cooperative (DFMC) has spoken out in full support of the deal, which is expected to be completed in early 2021
DFMC supplies about 200 million litres of quality milk every year to Lion Dairy and Drinks in a long-term partnership.
The cooperative has more than 300 members from more than 200 farms in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
"Bega's purchase of Lion Dairy and Drinks ensures our milk supply remains secure, and we can continue providing value and security to our dairy farmers," said DFMC executive officer Mark Kebbell.