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Beefing up business

Behind Jack's Creek premium grain-fed Wagyu and Black Angus beef is a third-generation farming family successfully navigating the challenges of ever-changing geopolitics.

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Words: Simon Chester

The Warmoll family are third-generation beef producers and the owners of Warmoll Foods Pty Ltd-aka Jack's Creek, a leading brand of Australian premium beef.

"The brand originates from the water source on our Wagyu-breeding property in Big Jack's Creek near Willow Tree, NSW," says Managing Director Patrick Warmoll.

"Our business group is a fully vertically integrated agribusiness, with operations including mixed cropping and cattle breeding, cattle lot feeding, grain grading, beef processing and marketing," he says.

Warmoll Foods processes and markets 35,000 head per annum, predominantly for export to Saudi Arabia (18 per cent of sales revenue), Japan (12 per cent), South Korea (11 per cent), Europe (10 per cent) and China (9 per cent). Other export and domestic markets provide 40 per cent of the company's sales revenue.

"The original company, JF Warmoll & Co, was started in 1948 by my grandparents, Lola and John ('Jock') Francis Warmoll," Warmoll says. "My brothers, Stuart and Robert, and I are the third generation involved in the family agribusiness."

Patrick's father, Phillip, and his uncle, David, began crossing their Black Angus herd with Tajima Wagyu sires from Hyogo Prefecture, Japan under JF Warmoll & Co, backed by their successful mixed cropping and cattle operations.

Patrick WarmollIn 1999 the brothers founded the brand Jack's Creek and commenced contract-processing grain-fed Wagyu cattle at the Northern Co-operative Meat Company (NMC) in Casino, NSW, thus becoming one of the first Australian companies to breed, grow, feed, process and market Wagyu beef. Phillip and David remain actively involved in the business as directors.

"Jack's Creek is a leading company in Australian beef production," Warmoll says. "About 25 per cent of our Wagyu cattle are company bred from our properties and the balance is supplied by long-term vendors with cattle produced to our specifications, either as feeders or grain-finished."

Along with its cattle-breeding farm at Big Jack's Creek, the family also runs a cropping and cattle backgrounding farm at Breeza on the Liverpool Plains, NSW.

Operating a fully vertically integrated company focused on beef processing, the Warmolls face considerable market and price risk. "Our biggest challenges are the factors we can't influence, such as a high Australian dollar (AUD) or geopolitical risk," Patrick says. "A high AUD compresses our margins and can quickly thrust our business into red ink. We navigated an above-parity dollar by building a balanced sales book in AUD, USD and EUR, and stayed as close as possible to the spot market beef pricing in our export markets by working meticulously with our customers, keeping contract lengths short and currency positions tight.

"Just selling our meat to our customers is not enough; it must move from their cold store through the supply chain to the end user and be consumed-otherwise, in our terms, it's not fully sold," he explains. "As a business we see it as our joint responsibility to ensure we understand our business partners' inventory positions and work through any challenges together to keep the final product-beef-moving."

Geopolitical risk "becomes more of a factor as the time horizon on your investment in a country or region gets longer", he says. "Market access is the most effective tool; the broader your market access, the less your sales risk.Market diversification has always been a key motivator for the longevity of our family business-today, we sell to more than 20 destinations worldwide and our exposure to any one customer is no more than 20 per cent of our sales turnover."

Warmoll believes the industry dynamics are changing and predicts international demand for Australian beef will continue to increase. "The main challenge for the Australian beef industry is the high cost of production right through the supply chain-it's 80 per cent more expensive to process a beast in Australia [than in the countries of our] main competitors, the US and Brazil.

"If Brazil has access to a market, our grass-fed struggles because of the huge pricing differences. If the US has access to a market, our grain-fed must be 10 to 20 per cent cheaper, otherwise it can't be sold because the consumer's perception is that US beef is higher quality.

"At Jack's Creek we're attempting to overcome this through step-by-step marketing initiatives to educate consumers on the quality advantages of our products."

The breed-raising claims of Jack's Creek beef products-particularly the 'Long-fed Wagyu' and the '100% Black Angus'-are independently verified to ensure consumer confidence. As Warmoll explains, "By choosing a Jack's Creek beef product over a commodity, consumers are voting with their wallets-they're paying a premium for an eating experience that they expect should be consistently enjoyable."

Warmoll believes the family connections within the business are at the core of its success:

"Our business is about more than just making money; it's also about family connection, pride and legacy. It's my goal to provide my children with the same passion and business opportunities. "