Horticulture

SPC put on the market

By Country News

Coca-Cola Amatil’s proposed sale of SPC has been met with cautious optimism by local figures, buoyed by the insistence the company will not be closing its doors.

Suzanna Sheed, who is expected to be re-elected to the state seat of Shepparton once vote counting concludes this week, said SPC had a special historic and cultural role in the region.

‘‘I’m calling on Coca-Cola Amatil to be very careful about taking into account the historical impact of SPC on Shepparton and have some sense of the importance of that to our region going forward,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘We all want a (purchaser) that recognises the iconic nature of SPC and who can come up with a plan for the future.’’

Coca-Cola Amatil’s group managing director Alison Watkins said the newly concluded review identified many opportunities for growth in SPC, including new products and markets and further efficiency improvements.

‘‘There are no plans to close SPC. We see a positive future for the company as it continues to transform its operations,’’ Ms Watkins said.

Coca-Cola Amatil claims to have invested $250million in the business since its purchase in 2004.

In 2013 and 2014, fears about the closure of SPC brought national political attention, with then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promising to fund investment as part of an election pledge.

Mr Rudd went on to lose the campaign and the victor Tony Abbott refused to match the commitment, with then Victorian Premier Denis Napthine stepping up and providing $22million, which Coca-Cola Amatil topped up with a further $78million investment.

Ms Sheed said she was not aware of any further requests for government funding to assist the business, which posted a modest loss of $1.7million in its half-year results released in August.

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said while SPC was important to the region, gone were the days of Shepparton being a one-company town.

‘‘Shepparton doesn’t rise and fall on SPC the way it used to,’’ Mr Birrell said.

‘‘Yes, it’s an important company, but it’s no longer the biggest employer in town and many fruit growers have diversified and rely on the fresh fruit market.’’

The proposed sale has been met with cautious optimism by City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O’Keefe who said at least two potential buyers were in the wings after she received a private briefing some weeks ago.

‘‘We were told there are some interested parties,’’ Cr O’Keefe said.

She said council stood ready to support any new owner.

—Myles Peterson