Australia’s second-richest person, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, isn’t just buying up Australia — he’s buying up the nation’s icons, with his Tattarang investment arm lifting its stake in Bega Cheese to 11.5% with an additional $15 million in shares.
Bega Cheese, headquartered on the far south coast of NSW, owns Vegemite, Dairy Farmers milk, Big M and Farmers Union iced coffee. Tattarang is the holding company for the Forrest family’s private business interests, and its recent investment involved an extra 4.55 million shares in the food group and continues the steady accumulation of a holding in the company that began nine months ago.
It’s far from the first time the chairman of Fortescue Metals Group has made a move on a national icon. In fact, if you turned his portfolio into a short film it would look a whole lot like a Qantas ad (well, the parts that didn’t look like a mining catalogue, that is).
The one-time alpaca farmer who grew up on (and later bought) Minderoo Station near Onslow in WA has a reputation for making investments of both a sentimental nature and that draw from his pastoral background.
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In 2020, he bought iconic Australian bootmaker R.M. Williams back into Australian ownership with his purchase of the 88-year-old company for what was reported as almost $200 million.
Speaking about the purchase made by his and his wife Nicola’s investment arm, Forrest said: “We just saw a fantastic brand, a great Australian product, a legacy for country and it just needed to be Australian, it just had to come back home.”
“Everything about the great Australia character you can see depicted in a pair of boots and know that it was made right here in Australia,” he said.
Vegemite, R.M. Williams — when is Forrest going to announce he’s bought Kylie Minogue?
In response to questions about Forrest’s interest in national icons, Tattarang chief investment officer John Hartman told Crikey that Forrest’s holding company is “committed to investing in Australian businesses and brands that showcase the best of our country to the world and deliver long-term returns”.
The Bega Cheese investment seems a little different to other private investments that have more than a touch of quintessential “Australianness” about them. In 2017 Forrest saved the Western Force Rugby team from collapse when it was axed by Rugby Australia, and he’s also the owner of Indiana Teahouse in Cottesloe, WA. On top of this, Forrest and his wife also spent $42 million on Lizard Island, a little patch of paradise on that iconic Australian landmark and UNESCO world heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef.
Adding to his portfolio of iconic Australian imagery, the mining magnate has a history of snapping up outback cattle stations through his agribusiness Harvest Road. Earlier this year he bought the Springvale Aggregation in the East Kimberley for approximately $70 million. The stations cover more than 600,000 hectares with 35,000 head of cattle, adding to his already incredibly extensive property portfolio.
These stations are of course linked to his beef interests. Forrest acquired meat-processing company Harvey Beef, WA’s biggest beef exporter, in May 2014 for $40 million and last month there was speculation that the billionaire was positioning himself for a takeover of Australian Agricultural Co, the world’s largest beef producer, of which he already owns $31 million worth of shares.
Beef, boots ‘n Bega Cheese — can you get much more Aussie than that?
This article was first published by Crikey.