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Supply chain in a pickle? Look to source locally

10:00am April 11 2023

Family-owned Three Threes has been making its sauces, pickles and relishes in Sydney for over a century. (Supplied)

More than ever, Australians are looking to support their local food growers and producers, after pandemic shortages laid bare the threat to supply chains from global trade disruptions. 

It’s a trend that Michael McAlpine, head of Sydney-based condiments maker Three Threes, hopes will continue. For his company, sourcing ingredients locally has always been part of the DNA, with Covid only reinforcing the mission. 

“That’s been the big thing for us from the pandemic. Consumers have realised how much we import into Australia and now they support Australian companies more than ever,” McAlpine, who is the fourth generation of his family to lead the firm, said in an interview with Wire.

“We’re supporting Australian farmers and the amount of jobs we provide indirectly is important. It’s very important to keep these farms going.” 

Michael McAlpine. (Supplied)

A study last year by Edith Cowan University found that consumers were more likely to support small, local producers since the pandemic.

“Knowledge about who the local farmers were and their importance to the local economy reportedly increased,” said one of the report’s authors, Dr. Stephanie Godrich, in an article on the university’s website. 

“As never before, savvy customers were after ‘the story behind the food’. They became more educated about the product, especially on how healthier and nourishing they were.”

Three Threes’ story begins in 1919 when Winifred McAlpine packed her husband Stanley off to work on the Sydney trams with a jar of her homemade sweet mustard pickles. They proved so popular with Stanley’s workmates that the husband and wife team went in to business, making pickles, sauces and chutneys from their home. 

From that day on, the McAlpines have built their business on using Australian-made ingredients, packaging and machinery wherever they can.

The Three Threes range is in high demand from Australian supermarkets, which are looking to stock more local produce to strengthen their supply chains and bolster their sustainability credentials. 

But like many businesses, McAlpine said the pandemic had been a struggle. Covid hit just after the company had made a big investment in a new warehouse, adding to the financial strain as McAlpine’s team grappled with staff absences and operating restrictions during the lockdown periods. 

Natural disasters have also had an impact. Several flooding events in the Hawksbury region north of Sydney curtailed supply of cucumbers and cauliflower from local growers, while more recently flooding in Victoria has led to a major shortage of tomatoes. 

“The business is doing well, but it could do a lot better – we just need everything to normalise,” McAlpine said. The tomato shortage in particular was hampering Three Threes’ ability to boost its sales by offering supermarket promotions, he added.

You can find Three Threes products on the shelves at Coles, Woolworths and IGA, while McAlpine said the company was targeting growth in the food service market – supplying restaurants and fast-food outlets. 

Westpac has been a long-standing supporter of the McAlpine family business, helping to finance its warehouse expansion. 

“One of the biggest events in our history was buying the property. It wasn’t cheap, along with all the work we had to do to get it up to scale. It was a massive job and it wouldn’t have been possible without Westpac’s support and their confidence in our business.”

Andrew Harb, relationship director in Westpac’s commercial banking division, echoes the point. 

“It’s great to work with Michael and the McAlpine team. Over the years, they have shown the ability to continually grow sales and expand their product range with great tasting condiments,” Harb said. 

“Buying from locally sourced producers and having high quality manufacturing capabilities here in Sydney, gives them a winning advantage against their competitors.”

For McAlpine, his business is about much more than just making money, it’s about supporting Australian growers and the pride he gets from making high-quality products. 

“I’ve been here 35 years and it still gives me a tremendous amount of pride when customers ring up and say, ‘I love your beetroot, or I love your pickles.’ To have that pride, that’s what we work on.” 

James Thornhill was appointed as editor of Westpac Wire in May 2022. Prior to joining the bank, he was a business and financial journalist with more than two decades of experience with international newswires. Most recently, he was a resources correspondent for Bloomberg, covering the mining and energy sectors, and previously reported on a broad range of topics from economics and politics to currency and bond markets. Originally from the UK, he’s had stints working in London, New York and Singapore, but is now happily settled in Sydney.

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