Weis purchase deceit leaves sour taste in mouths
WILL one of Australia's favourite ice-cream treats ever taste the same again?
Mango growers yesterday put out an appeal to Anglo Dutch food conglomerate Unilever to continue to use locally-grown fruit in their Weis bars following the decision to close Toowoomba's Weis factory and move production to New South Wales.
It comes as awkward Facebook posts came back to haunt Unilever yesterday, in which it assured customers two years ago "we'll still continue to make our Weis flavours in our Toowoomba factory".
Weis Mango and Ice-cream bars remain the company's top seller and each year six million of the tropical fruits are handsorted to make the icy treat.
Weis, founded by Toowoomba local Les Weis in 1957, was sold in 2017 to Unilever, which is now centralising production of its ice-cream brands, which also include Paddlepop and Golden Gaytime, at a factory at Minto.
Piñata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr, whose company is one of the largest mango growers in Queensland and the Northern Territory, said he hoped Unilever did not go down the route of importing mangoes.
"They are no longer a family owned company so they might not be as parochial about using local produce," Mr Scurr said. "I would hope they do continue to use Australian mangoes."
Unilever says it will endeavour to "retain as much of our existing fruit sourcing arrangements as possible, including Queensland mangoes."
Australian Mango Industry Association chief executive Robert Gray said Weis bars were popular with the public because they did not use processed fruit from overseas.
"They are the only ones using Australian mangoes exclusively in their product, which has been the secret of the product's success, and we hope they continue to do that," said Mr Gray. "A lot of the other desserts and yoghurts on the market are made with a mix of local and imported product that impacts on the flavour profile."
A Unilever spokesperson said the company is "committed to providing the same exceptional Weis products with the same high-quality natural ingredients."
"Queensland will remain a very important part of the Weis brand and we will continue to support businesses and farmers throughout Queensland by retaining as much of our existing fruit sourcing arrangements as possible, including Queensland mangoes," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said it will not compromise "on maintaining the highest integrity and standards across the much loved Weis range".
"We have already been in touch with our major suppliers to notify them of the changes. We will keep them informed throughout this process," she said.
"Weis will continue to source ingredients, including mangoes, bananas, pineapples and macadamias from Queensland, subject to availability. Weis has sourced other ingredients from outside Queensland, including dairy, since before Unilever bought the business."
Senior Palaszczuk Government Minister Cameron Dick yesterday launched an excoriating attack on Unilever over its decision, urging customers to take their business elsewhere should it not change its mind.
"Unilever have sold out Queensland and sold out Toowoomba," the State Development and Manufacturing Minister said.
"I am calling on this company to keep its promise and stay in Toowoomba.
"If they don't, Queenslanders should send a message with their wallet by choosing to purchase products like Home Ice Cream, produced by Pixie in Toowoomba."
Unilever took over Weis in August 2017 and shortly afterwards assumed management of the Weis social media accounts.
In response to concerns at the time it would close down the factory, the company wrote on Facebook: "We'll still continue to make our Weis flavours in our Toowoomba factory, using our same recipe and same ingredients - just more widely available."
Industry experts yesterday said that Weis will not be the last food manufacturer to close its doors as a supermarket price war, soaring energy prices and regulatory costs hit home.
Australian Food and Grocery Council chief executive Tanya Barden said Unilever's decision to close its 62-year-old Weis factory in Toowoomba reflected increasingly tough times in the $131 billion food manufacturing sector.
"For the last seven years there has been retail price deflation, which has been good for consumers but not so much for the food sector," said Ms Barden. "Manufacturers also are facing rising energy prices, higher labour costs and drought.
"It is very sad to see a factory like Weis close its doors and it would have been a tough decision for Unilever to make." She said more needed to be done to keep regional food manufacturers in business, including better training schemes.
Pat Kelly says she's been selling Weis bars from Kelly's Corner Store in Centenary Heights, Toowoomba, for almost half a century.
She said if there was some way the State Government could convince the global giant not to send its operations to New South Wales, it should.