A can of SPC slice peaches
SPC will cut its peach and pear intake by more than 40 per cent, to the detriment of fruit growers. Image by Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS
  • agriculture

Fruit growers hit as SPC cuts canned peaches and pears

Adrian Black June 6, 2024

Australia’s largest cannery will cut its canned fruit production as cost-of-living pressures push consumers towards low-cost imports.

SPC in northern Victoria’s Shepparton has told fruit growers it will cut peach and pear intake by more than 40 per cent in the upcoming season, citing tough competition from foreign products.

“The average Australian household is under pressure, and customers are purchasing alternative products imported from countries such as South Africa and China, where the cost of production is lower,” an SPC spokesperson said in a statement.

“As a result of this reduced demand, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our orders of peaches and pears for the upcoming season.”

The SPC Ardmona factory in Shepparton, Victoria,
 The factory in Shepparton has been operating since 1918 canning peaches, pears and nectarines. Image by Daryl Pinder/AAP PHOTOS 

SPC expects its volume of peaches and pears to normalise in 2026.

Its sourcing of apricots, plums and apples remains unchanged.

Victorian Fruit Growers services manager Mick Crisera said while the announcement – made at a supply meeting last month – gives growers time to make decisions on the season ahead, they were still caught off-guard.

“Twelve to 18 months ago the cannery was talking about encouraging growers to plant more,” Mr Crisera told AAP.

“Now, within 18 months they’re not able to sell their stock.”

Growers now face tough decisions on whether or not to prune their trees or remove them altogether.

“It just depends on which growers want to take a punt and still grow to the end of the season on the hope that (SPC) may take more,” Mr Crisera said.

Tariffs were needed to protect Aussie growers as cost pressures pushed consumers towards cheap imported products, he added.

“I don’t think many consumers realise that a lot of that Select or Coles or Aldi or IGA-branded products, even though they say they’re (a) community company, it’s actually a product of China or South Africa,” Mr Crisera said.

“There needs to be some sort of protection for Australian growers.

“Every other country around the world seems to want to protect their growers except Australia.”

The ‘fruit bowl’ region of the Goulburn Valley has faced tough conditions in recent years, with rising costs, tight margins and crops lost or damaged in extreme weather.

“It has been a tough grind,” Mr Crisera said.

“We need the Australian public to be aware as much as possible about the challenges that growers are facing.”

National Farmers Federation horticulture council member Jeremy Griffith said he continued to be disappointed with the amount major supermarkets were importing from overseas.

“It’s no great surprise that we are seeing the reputation of the major supermarkets fall off the cliff,” Mr Griffith told AAP.

“Growers cannot get a fair return on their produce, we have growers out there who reported they have not had a price increase for 15 years.

“That is the level of domination of Coles and Woollies in this country.”

Mr Griffith said the tough environment for growers posed a threat to national food security.

He hoped the federal government’s review of the major supermarkets could get them a better deal.

According to the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, employees at the cannery have been given no indication about potential job cuts.

“There’s been no consultation around this announcement,” union organiser Candice Tierney told AAP.

“Which is not throwing us all under the bus, but (we’re) a little bit disappointed they haven’t presented an offer to the employees about what this looks like.”