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From humble beginnings to a new joint venture

“Going into a sterile segment is considered the biggest challenge you could possibly undertake in manufacturing, and we now have a significant market share in the sterile manufacturing industry.”

From humble beginnings as a small chemical manufacturing business, the AutoPak-Vetlab Group has grown into an industry-leading animal health, crop protection, and industrial chemical manufacturer, with ambitious plans to expand as part of a joint venture partnership with Elders Limited.


AutoPak was established in St Marys New South Wales by Dr Paul Kearney, a chemical engineer, and the day-to-day operations are now managed by Paul’s son, Peter.


“My father started the business in the mid-1980s. It began as a very small family operation with a number of mixing vessels to service the crop protection industry.


“Over time, it's evolved as the industry has expanded.  Customers would say to my father ‘have you thought about expanding into the animal health industry?’.  He'd reply, ‘let's joint venture that’ and that’s how Vetlab was born.  It's been an evolution.”


“One of the things I'm most proud of is to see the journey the business has been on from what really was a small founder led family business to a business now of 160 employees.


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Under Peter’s leadership, the business has continued to grow significantly, including the addition of a new division Vetlab Sterile, a pharmaceutical grade manufacturing facility for medicines.


“Going into a sterile segment is considered the biggest challenge you could possibly undertake in manufacturing. We were able to do that in 2017 and now we have a significant market share in the sterile manufacturing industry – which has been a big achievement for our business.”


“When you get to a hospital, you expect the environment you will be in will be free of microbial activity, free of bugs. That’s exactly what we have to provide for our sterile manufacturing facility. It's very high tech, using highly purified water and air conditioning systems to make sure there's no bugs or microbes in the environment or the products.


Like all industries, Autopak-Vetlab has faced challenges over the past few years, explains Chief Financial Officer Lucy Young.


“We have similar challenges to other industries in Australia, ranging from supply chain, rising costs and staffing shortages. These are the major challenges we’re facing at the moment and because we are growing those challenges are even more prominent.”


“As the business expands, we need to provide the platform for the funding to come through and this is where ANZ has really stepped up to help the business grow.”


AutoPak-Vetlab Group is also entering an exciting new phase with plans to expand under a new joint-venture partnership.


“We have a number of plans to expand the business depending on the different divisions. We've chosen Toowoomba, Queensland as the region to relocate the AutoPak part of our business. We're very fortunate to have a joint venture partnership with the ASX listed company Elders and we plan to construct a purpose-built facility in 2023 with the view to opening in 2024,” explains Peter.


“Toowoomba is an interesting regional hub for us. It's very close to our end user in the Darling Downs region and northern New South Wales. Most of our products in the crop protection business going to that part of the country. Being a lot closer to the end user will reduce transport costs, which is a very big consideration in our industry when you’re transporting chemicals around the country,” said Peter.


The industry has evolved considerably over the last 40 years and is very cyclical in terms of the environment and weather conditions.


“When it's drought - and we've just come through a big drought in 2018 and 2019 - our business doesn't always go to forecast. ANZ has been very helpful in understanding the needs of our business when things aren't going so well, and that was very helpful for us in the most recent drought.”


Isaac Rankin is Managing Director Commercial and Private Banking ANZ



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