1909 Allowrie brand introduced for butter

From the 1930s butter boxes could only be made from New Zealand white pine, North Queensland kauri pine or Queensland hoop pine.

The Allowrie brand took its name from a former electoral district on the New South Wales south coast in an area now generally known as the Illawarra.  From the mid-1800s, the area was known for its dairy farms and, in the latter part of the century, its butter factories. As early as 1871, butter was being exported to Britain in kegs  as well as in “bladders and sheep’s paunches”.

Advances in the industry helped farmers to produce butter for both the domestic and export markets. The introduction of refrigeration and, in the 1880s, the cream separator encouraged farmers to form cooperative societies allowing individual producers to share the new technologies in local butter factories. In 1900, the Coastal Farmers’ Co-operative Society was formed as a distribution channel for a number of smaller cooperatives. Along with butter, the Society handled the distribution of bacon, lard, cheese, eggs, poultry and pigs, taking a commission on the sales. The venture was successful. In 1903, it was reported that the Co-operative was reducing its commission on the sale of butter to three per cent. “The tremendous business now being done by the Company has enabled this reduction to be made,” they said.

With exports to England increasing, it was in everyone’s interest to maintain the quality of the region’s butter. There was also stiff competition in the local market from the Norco brand in northern New South Wales. In 1909, the Co-operative issued a circular to butter factory managers, setting out a range of recommendations for the manufacture and marketing of their products. It read, in part…

To meet the competitive conditions of the trade it has been decided to make some definite effort towards uplifting the quality of the Illawarra-Shoalhaven and Kangaroo butters by concentrating the manufacture under one brand, to be known as the “Allowrie” butter, and also to institute a more rigid grading of cream so that we can create a keener demand for our district butters, and in the near future realise better values both in Sydney and London.

Among the factories that packed under the Allowrie brand were Illawarra Central Co-op Dairy Co. Ltd, Nowra Co-op Dairy Co. Ltd, Berry Co-op Dairy Co. Ltd and Barrengarry Dairy Co. Ltd. In 1925, further amalgamation of the cooperatives occurred, with the Coastal Farmers Co-Operative Society being subsumed into a new entity, the Producers Distributing Co-operative Society (PDS). The Allowrie brand became standard for New South Wales butter except that produced by Norco.

Allowrie Ham – Australian Women’s Weekly 1954

By 1950, PDS was advertising Allowrie butter and cheese, with the brand also applied to honey, bacon, canned ham, self-raising flour, custard powder, pastry mixture and jelly crystals. These products came from a range of manufacturers, but the cooperative maintained control of the brand for the following three decades. Then the merry-go-round started.

In 1982, PDS Co-operative changed its corporate structure to become a company, PDS Rural Products in order to merge with a Victorian co-operative. At the time, New South Wales legislation did not allow co-operatives to merge with others beyond the state. The mooted merger, however, did not occur. Instead, the company was acquired by Wright Heaton, a subsidiary of the brewery business, Tooth’s. In 1988, the company Allowrie Foods was formed as a joint venture company between Tooth’s PDS Rural Products and the dairy business of Petersville. Two years later, it merged with Southern Farmers, becoming Allowrie Farmers and, in 1991, became the largest of four divisions of the newly listed National Foods, owned by the Adelaide Steamship Company.

The division, known as National Dairies, owned brands including Farmers Union, Fruche, Bodalla, Golden North and Pura. In 1994, National Dairies’ primary products division, was sold to Bonlac giving the new owners the right to use the Allowrie brand name for butter, cheese and milk powders, while National Dairies retained a licence to use the brand for milk, cream, jams and other non-dairy products. At that point, the brand was still in Australian hands.

However, in 2000, that began to change when Bonlac formed a joint venture company with the New Zealand Dairy Board to market brands including Western Star Butter, Bodalla, Bega, Mainland, Allowrie and Wave. The 25 per cent owned by the New Zealanders (Fonterra) expanded to become 50 per cent and then, in 2005 became a complete buy-out. The Financial Review wrote:

After 117 years of Australian ownership, Bonlac Foods, makers of Bega and Bodalla cheese and Allowrie and Western Star butter, is now in the hands of NZ’s Fonterra after its farmer shareholders voted in favour of the sale of the remaining half of the business in August.

The Allowrie Honey brand was bought by Capilano but retired in 2019 after a controversy regarding “fake honey”.

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