Fonterra is being given food for thought in Sri Lanka where the Government wants to see local rice and milk dishes mass-produced.
Sri Lanka's Trade Minister, Bandula Gunawardena, called on Fonterra Brands Lanka to investigate creating and packaging a red rice and milk blend at the opening of Fonterra's third factory on the outskirts of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.
The trade minister, who with Sri Lanka's Livestock Development Minister,RMCB Rathnayake, opened the factory in March, praised Fonterra for spending $12.2 million during the Great Recession which he compared to a tsunami.
''Fonterra investing such a big amount in Sri Lanka is mammoth,'' he says.
Asked whether Fonterra would take up the suggestion after it is shared by the minister on national television, Fonterra Brands Lanka's managing director Achyut Reddy gives a politician's answer. ''I think it's going to take time to digest this idea,'' he says.
Mark Wilson, the Hong Kong-ased managing director of Fonterra Asia Middle East, who Achyut reports to, is also non-committal. ''I simply don't know. Sometimes it's not as simple as that,'' he says, perhaps guarding Fonterra which has cornered 53 per cent of the $591 million dairy market from rivals such as Nestle.
The Sri Lankan livestock development board, it was revealed at the opening, wanted 15,000 New Zealand jersey cows to cross with a local breed to create a hybrid better suited to the country's tropical climate.
The Government, which has no budget for the project, says it would help return the civil war-ravaged land's dairy industry to where it was before the war three decades ago.
''Thirty years ago the Sri Lankan dairy industry was at a very high level and 90 per cent of the milk was local milk. Over a period of time people got used to drinking powdered milk,'' the livestock minister says. The Sri Lankan Government is also asking for help from Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Australia but the minister says he'd rather it came from New Zealand.
''I went to New Zealand three years ago and I have seen how New Zealand farms.'' Despite a more challenging economic climate than Fonterra has experienced for some time, Mark says, there are huge growth opportunities in Asia for Fonterra.
''It's a huge growth part of the world for some time to come,'' he says referring to average GDP growth, across the Asian region, of 7.5 per cent over the last decade. ''We have over a third of the world's population in the Asia region and we do have increasing incomes. Milk is the gold standard.'' Mark says it's refreshing to see Fonterra's investment in Sri Lanka against the world recession.
''Every time I visit our business in Sri Lanka I feel very proud of what's been achieved here.'' Sri Lanka, he says, is an old market for New Zealand's dairy industry.
''The New Zealand Dairy Board, now Fonterra, has been out in this market for 25 years. It's the biggest market outside New Zealand and Australia. In that time the team in Sri Lanka has created a real legacy built around the Anchor brand.'' Fonterra's philosophy, Mark says, has always been to think globally and locally at the same time hence Fonterra's support of the fledgling Sri Lankan dairy industry.
''We have to be connected to our communities. Today what I see is a business which is becoming very much a part of the country. We are now joining, hand in hand, with the local dairy industry.'' Achyut, reeling from the opening of Fonterra's third plant in Colombo, can't speak highly enough of the 600-plus staff who work for him.
''It's the culmination of over 300 days' hard work. It significantly helps the local dairy industry.
''Out of the 300 days we had, 64 days we had rains, which gave us 246 days to complete the project,'' Achyut says.
The new plant means Fonterra can process an extra 8000 litres of fresh milk per day, up from 25,000 litres.
Roshan Kulasuriya, human resources and corporate affairs director for Fonterra Brands Lanka, says Fonterra saw itself as a nutritional consultant in Sri Lanka whose purpose was to help people improve their health via the consumption of milk.
''We are not just a multinational that will come here to take the milk away. We see ourselves as the consultant in terms of nutritional needs.'' Fonterra has also orchestrated a high visibility publicity campaign which has seen the health benefits of drinking milk showcased on national breakfast television.
* Chris Gardner travelled to Sri Lanka courtesy of Fonterra.
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