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Ripe for innovation: a company reaping the benefits of progress

If you’re passionate about fresh food, there’s a good chance the fruit and vegetables in your kitchen were grown, packed or ripened by LaManna Premier Group.

La Manna Premier Group is a company with a long history in Australian fresh food production.

Group CEO Anthony Di Pietro shares how the family business has progressed through the generations, with a passion that has been growing for almost 100 years.

LaManna Premier Group (LPG) is a big player in the Australian fresh produce industry. They are experts in farming, marketing, packing and ripening fruit and veg to supply supermarkets, green grocers and convenience stores across the country.

LPG Group CEO and chairman of Melbourne Victory Football Club, Anthony Di Pietro was born into a legacy of fresh food producers, with his grandparents migrating to Australia in 1922 to work in farming.

“My family began as glasshouse farmers on the Murray River in Mildura, later moving into central market trading and then continuing to expand the business nationwide,” he says.

Now, Di Pietro wants to take the Australian produce industry further, by utilising the best of emerging technology to improve operations and find efficiencies across the board.

An appetite for growth

LPG invests significantly in improvements across its entire supply chain. Focusing on water management, reducing food waste, reducing the need for fertilisers and pesticides and minimising food miles, the company’s goal is to get healthier and safer produce to Australia’s tables.

Di Pietro acknowledges that it can be a tough business. “Weather conditions make it a volatile industry. You can have over-production, under-supply and drops in demand.  But we have people who are fantastic at what they do, and have an appetite to grow.”

Two Lamanna employees at Lancaster farm

He also believes the produce industry in Australia has “an enormous future” – with a lot of people to feed in the region. “Australia could be the food bowl of Asia, and I think our company is well placed. We continually focus on our people, and ensure we are competitive and efficient in everything we do,” he says.

The energy for more efficiency

With the largest ripening footprint in Australia, fruit arriving to sell at its best is a big part of LPG’s business. The process begins when the fruit is harvested at “commercial maturity” before being transported and ripened under controlled conditions. This is to protect the fruit from damage and to ensure it hits the shelves at its peak – it is one of the reasons energy supply is critical to LPG’s business.

“Having the right partner, one that can work with us to ensure the most efficient use of our power is so important. AGL has been a partner; they have worked with us to look at how we can move towards innovation,” Di Pietro says.

LPG recently opened the first of a five-stage development on a 90-hectare farm in Lancaster in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley. It includes a 50,000sqm greenhouse with a retractable roof, for hydroponically grown tomatoes.

“When the weather’s good, we open the roof and take all that heat in, and then we close it up during the night to keep the produce growing.”

Aerial view of the Lamanna Lancaster farm

This protects the crops from damaging winds and yields a high volume of quality produce. It also requires less energy and water, less fertiliser and pesticides.

Di Pietro believes this mix of outdoor and indoor farming is the future of vegetable growing.

“We hope to extend the produce grown at Lancaster Farm to capsicum, cucumbers, eggplants – all types of soft vegetables. From a sustainability perspective, it’s a really exciting opportunity for the future.”

Nurturing people’s energy from within

LPG works to empower its people with the skills to exceed the needs of customers and consumers, to adapt and be ready for constant change. This includes nurturing the next generation of leaders and showing them the career potential in fresh produce

“For us, progress means developing our people and their expertise, so we continue to innovate by understanding what our customers want,” Di Pietro says.

In 2017 LPG launched its ‘Growing You’ Graduate Program, which offers young people a start in the industry.

“Young people really see it as a pathway, and they bring an enormous amount of energy to the table. They bring in new ideas, they’re challenging things, which is really important to us,” Di Pietro says.

Lamanna Premier Group employees in a warehouse

LPG sees its employees as critical to its growth, success and sustainability. By investing in the next generation of talent and supporting teams to be ready for constant change, it is investing in the growth of the organisation.

“We have three key stakeholders. It’s the growers, our company and our customers. If we can make all three happy, then we have achieved something pretty special.”

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