Long before Shepparton’s Fryers Street was lined with cafes;before the town was peppered with exotic, multicultural foodstores, anyone wanting specialty items for their fridge or pantry had one option. A trip to Melbourne.
But back then, Shepparton businessman Jim Andreadis didn’t sit around complaining about a foodie desert. Instead, he saw an opportunity, rolled up his sleeves and did some research.
“It was 1995 when I opened the Europa Deli and Café. There was nothing else like it at the time,” Jim said.
“What helped our success was we catered for a range of markets; we were inclusive. Like ethnic families wanting a wheel of cheese or a leg of prosciutto. We placed an emphasis on fresh and good quality ingredients.”
It was through the café that Jim met Ardmona Foods CEO David Taylor and Chairman Ross Turnbull. Together they developed the idea for Ardmona Factory Sales. They capitalised on produce retail outlets rejected.
“We sold a lot of almost perfect produce at reduced prices and it was popular,” Jim said.
“Bus loads of people came from outside the Goulburn Valley.Caravans, cars with trailers heading up to the river would stop there and stock up. Grey haired nomads too. This all happened organically. It was word of mouth.”
Jim says none of this would have been possible without the region’s agricultural industry built on the irrigation system. And he cites the Connections Project as the reason the region will continue to thrive for decades to come.
Growing almost 1,000 per cent in sales from 1998 to 2008, the factory sales outlet became synonymous with the Goulburn Valley. But whilst canned goods were booming, the Millenium drought was setting in.
Around that time, the Foodbowl Unlimited group formed to explore opportunities for a region in desperate need of a boost during the worst drought on record. Playing a minor role, Jim helped the group define the region’s assets with their focus fixed on precious irrigation water for the crippled agricultural sector.
What unfolded was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District. A $2 billion investment by the Victorian and Australian Governments to upgrade the delivery network and generate 429 GL of water savings. It’s a plan to revitalise the region and create an irrigation system that is second to none. The upgrade of the system, delivered through the Connections Project, is something Jim described as a “no brainer”.
“If we make our system the best it can be and reduce waste,and if those savings can be used to augment production or assist in environmental flows, that’s much better than water leaking out or evaporating,”Jim said.
“The upgrade has been a blessing given the changing face of Shepparton. Consumption of packaged fruit and our reliance on the two canneries has declined.
“There are some green shoots and great stories out there now. Shepparton is impressive in that way. We have a town of people who roll up their sleeves and get on with the job.”
Project director Frank Fisseler said the project is on track for October 2020 delivery with key milestones reached each month and will meet its 429 GL of water savings target. This year, the project will focus on connecting landowners to the modernised system and installing pipeline.
“This year, more than$200 million worth of works will continue converting the GMID from an ageing,leaking, inefficient, system to a state-of-the-art irrigation delivery network,” Mr Fisseler said.
These days Jim is planning an upgrade at the Museum of Vehicle Evolution, which is home to some of Australia’s best collections on wheels. An extension to the existing building would make way for an undercover area for the Shepparton Farmers Market and plenty of room to add to the collection. A brewery is also on the cards.
The $2 billion Connections Project is Australia’s largest irrigation modernisation project and is funded by the Australian and Victorian Governments