Food Waste Matters

Industry Spotlight – Central Coast Industry Connect

Frank Sammut


Frank Sammut from Central Coast Industry Connect joins Andrew to talk about regional business collaboration as a tool to fight food waste.

Frank Sammut, Executive Director, Central Coast Industry Connect 

As a mechanical engineer, Frank’s manufacturing experience started as a graduate in the government sector in ammunition production, covering foundry, metal rolling and forming and production of various defence ammunition. 

He moved on from this to set up and run a small family business in the snack food/confectionery sector which he did for 10 years. His hands on experience from there led him into the corporate environment where ultimately, he held senior operational roles with PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay and was Operations Director at Snack Brands Australia, Arnott’s Snack Foods and Saralee. 

Across all organisations he has had multidisciplinary responsibility for Engineering, Logistics, Procurement, Agronomy, Manufacturing operations, Customer service and R&D and included overseeing multiple sites across Australia. 

He is currently the Executive Director of Central Coast Industry Connect Limited, a not-for-profit organisation that supports Central Coast manufacturers.

Topics discussed

– How a commitment to reducing food waste led to the Central Coast Food Alliance 

– Local business ARC Ento Tech’s work to reduce contaminated waste and create viable end products like fertilisers and pet food 

– How to clean up a dirty old peanut butter jar 

– Collaborating across regions to create alliances in the fight against food waste 

– The benefits of cooperation with the Fight Food Waste CRC 

– Defining the circular economy and identifying opportunities for manufacturers  

– The advantages of engaging with regional business clusters like the CCIC

-Central Coast businesses should get in touch with Central Coast Industry Connect to explore collaborations:  



Andrew: Hello and welcome to this edition of Food Waste Matters brought to you by the Fight Food Waste Hub and Honey & Fox.I’m Andrew Robertson, joining you for a series of conversations with industry leaders on the front lines in the fight against food waste. We’ll be discussing business innovation and how these concepts combine to reduce food waste in Australia and indeed around the world. Be sure to check out our website, for more info about the series and access to previous recordings, including transcripts, audio and video. We’re also on YouTube, subscribe to our channel Food Waste Matters.Well, as modern food supply chains become increasingly complex, there are many individual links where organisations can make an impact to reduce food waste. But maybe the biggest impact can only be achieved if we all work together along the whole supply chain to find waste reduction synergies between individual participants in our total food system. And this is where business chambers and industry associations that share commitment to reducing food waste can play an important role.The New South Wales Central Coast Industry Connect helps businesses discover opportunities through building relationships and facilitating collaboration. One area of collaboration for the CCIC is best practice around circular economy, and here to talk to us about those efforts is executive director of CCIC, Frank Sammut. So before coming to the CCIC, Frank had a career in operations management in the food industry, holding senior operations roles in warehousing and logistics, in planning, procurement, agronomy and new product development. He’s worked for some big names including Pepsico, Arnotts and Sara Lee. So he really understands in some detail the operation of our modern Australian supply chain.Frank, thanks for joining us.Frank: Yeah, thanks Andrew, it’s great to be here.Andrew: All right, perhaps you could start by giving us an overview of the CCIC and how you got involved.Frank: Okay, well, CCIC has been around since 2012. It really came together as a collaboration between three other industry organisations the Business Chamber, Australian Industry Group and local cluster called Hunternet, based in Newcastle. And the focus was very much around supporting manufacturing on the Central Coast. So we’re a broad church and we’ve really been involved in this not only to support manufacturing, but also to grow jobs. So that’s the underpinning reason for our existence is to have an impact on the social fabric of the region. And foods become quite a prominent feature of our focus because we’ve got four or five major food companies in the region, the Mars, Sanitarium, Sara Lee, just to mention a few and we see it as a great opportunity to expand that food footprint in the region. So together with Food Innovation Australia Limited who helped us with some funding, so we’re one of the first clusters to get funding through their cluster funding program. And we’ve been able to establish a cluster called the Central Coast Food Alliance, which is really oversees the food operation.We got involved with the CRC being engaged in the food sector, food waste was a key component of that. It all happened around about the same time, about 2018. So that’s the crucial start of our food journey. Today we’re got 60 or 70 odd food manufacturers, big and small. We’ve got a lot of support from government, we’ve got food strategies and pretty well every government strategy in the region. So we’re really pleased to be able to have that impact and food waste is part of that.Andrew: All right, well, perhaps you can tell us in a little bit more detail how an industry group like yours can facilitate food waste reduction?Frank: Our focus is, and really we’re a small team, we’re connected, that’s our role and collaborators. So we’ve got good reach both in government and into industry and into the community. And so using those connections, we’re able to identify opportunities. So I think the best example I can give of that in the food waste space is we literally stumbled across a company called Arc Ento Tech about almost two years ago now. And we found out that they were working on the food waste, but not in a way that a lot of other organisations look at it. They were looking at what they call the end of line waste products. So stuff that’s contaminated with food and it’s got plastics and textiles and whatever, and they were looking to find a solution to deal with that.So our initial connection with them got us involved in looking at opportunities for them to use their technology. They’re a startup, so still got a way to go. But the technology basically uses a soldier fly, which is common, but it also deals with the plastics as well, so it can take contaminated waste. And so we started connecting them to the major food companies, to council, to other organisations, and now they’re talking to people all over the state about their technology and use of their technology.So that’s an example of how we get involved. And then we’re also driving them to make sure that we get outcomes because a lot of these things have got great ideas, but we also have to make sure that they can deliver something to the industry because that’s what we’re there to do to support the industry.Andrew: Right, so the soldier flies will break down the contaminated food and what sort of product comes out at the end. So you mentioned that this was being provided to manufacturers, perhaps tell us a bit more about how they’re using it?Frank: so we’ve done a couple of good examples, I think, and I won’t talk specifically about manufacturers, but I mean brands, but I’ll talk about projects or the trials that we’ve done. We’ve got a company that makes peanut butter, and when the jars get all jammed up a full of peanut butter, they can’t get it out. And I’ve tried everything washing it, high pressure wash, hot washes and that sort of stuff. So we took some samples of that product to Arc Entotech and we threw it into the bin of soldier flies and within like 2 hours the jar was totally clean and the label was cleaned up as well. And then what the soldier flies do, obviously there’s larvae involved and those larvae can be used for pet foods. A massive industry around pet food using larvae, but also their excrement is also high value fertiliser.So there’s a couple of outputs from that and then the plastic that comes out of their process. So any remaining plastic gets crushed and made into a reductible, which can be burnt. And it’s not the ideal situation, but it’s cleaner than coal and it’s got a much higher calorie value, so it does have a positive impact on the environment. There’s been some exciting developments, but it’s taken two years to get to the point where there’s a couple of decent trials now happening. In New South Wales, we have this thing called Fogo, which is basically for a lot of councils, putting food waste in the green bin. And that’s created problems for the people to process the green leafage and tree branches and stuff. So I’ve been involved with them and they’ve been able to get rid of all the food put the green stuff, through the biodigester, which has the bugs in it, and the food is eaten, all the plastics taken out, and then the green waste can be processed as normal.So that’s just another example which has just occurred in the last six months where this technology can be proven. As always, the startups, the funding is always a problem. So there’s been applications for various government grants and also private investors as well. So we try to support that as best we can.Andrew: Those are great examples. You mentioned that some of these businesses are now connecting all over the state and that was going to be one of my questions is how do you facilitate connections inter regionally? Do you have associations with other similar organisations to the CCIC?Frank: Yes, we’ve got an organisation called Hunternet, so they’re more of an engineering type cluster, but they also starting to get a bit broad as well. So we meet with them to share ideas and share events and things. But in the food network we’re part of a cluster network which Food Innovation Australia set up. So we’ve got the original four clusters that receive funding from FIAL. So that covers Queensland, us of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. And then they’ve expanded that network now to cover other states and regions. And we meet every month to discuss opportunities. And food waste is one of those things that we talk about. So I think one of the strengths of having this clustered network or this ecosystem, as they call it, is that we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re looking using other people’s knowledge and applying it here and maybe in a different way to get different result that suits us. I think that’s a really important feature of the cluster network, but also an important feature of the CRC because again, we’re connected through the CRC, through other organisations similar to ours and industry players. And that’s important again, to take those learnings and bring them back into the region to support our businesses.Andrew: Well, that might be a good segue then, to talk a little bit more about your collaboration with the CRC, maybe you could expand a bit on what that looks like.Frank: Yeah, look, we signed up not as a financial partner because we’re not for profit and we’re most not for profits, always struggling for funds. But me coming from the food industry in particular, I understood the opportunities and the benefits that focus on food waste right across the supply chain. The impact of that would be enormous and at the end of the day, it’s good practice. If I put my manufacturing hat on, it’s good practice to reduce food waste in the factories, let alone all the rest of the supply chain. So for us it was about getting engaged to keep up to date with all the standard things. It’s dealing with the waste within the factories and where it ends up into pet food and these other areas, which is fine, which is good, it’s not going to landfill, but it’s not creating high value. I think ultimately that’s our focus and we have a circular economy group which spans across not only food, but non food manufacturers as well. And we’re actually just in the process of really defining what the focus is because for us, dealing with these waste products is almost another manufacturing sector and which can expand the region. And the region is very well placed between Sydney and Newcastle with major populations either side of us to be able to support that and on a major freeway, the M1. So we’re in a good space and we see that as an opportunity for the region and to expand our manufacturing base by looking at the circular economy and things like what ARC are doing with their processes and other processes that potentially can deal with food waste.Andrew: If we take a step back, let’s think about this idea of circular economy. Maybe not all of our subscribers, listeners and viewers today understand what that means. What, in your view, is the circular economy and what kind of an impact can it make in reducing food waste and I guess contributing overall to sustainability?Frank: Look, and it’s a good question because these days, the circular economy, everything gets bundled into the circular economy. And in our recent meeting we started talking about it. We said, well we need to spend some time to define exactly what we want as industry players because these days it includes energy, there’s a whole range of different things that go into it, right? But for us and where our discussion was heading, it was around our focus is about educating our manufacturers around reducing waste and designing products that waste is minimised. That’s the first step. Now, that’s not circular as such, but we’re also trying to prevent circular as well, if you know what I mean. The second phase is, okay, if we’ve got waste, how do we create higher value from it? What can we do with it? And if we don’t have the capability within our businesses, is there another opportunity for another business to be able to take that waste and create value?So, for us, that’s sort of reference that we’re looking at. It’s creating those other manufacturing opportunities to create high value products on waste, stop it from going to landfill. Clearly. And from a food perspective, it’s about creating higher value products out of that, look, with food, it’s difficult because some food can be reprocessed for consumption, but most of it will probably end up going into things like the ARC process. But they’re getting something like $800 a ton for their fertiliser, I think retails for about $800 a ton. So it’s pretty high value and compared to standard stuff that you get. And then the protein that comes out of the insects, which is the other opportunity. We talk about where the food industry is going in terms of alternative proteins. So that’s another opportunity as well. So at the moment, that protein is going into pet food, big business, most of it’s imported from China. So great opportunity to convert that stuff here and not having to import and get really good quality product. But ultimately, that could be used also for alternative proteins, for consumption. I think in a circular economy is really focused on that manufacturing component because that’s what our focus is as an industry body.Andrew: So the ARC project that you’ve been talking about sounds really exciting, and it’s great to hear there’s so many high value products coming out of that waste stream. Are there any other opportunities within the circular economy space? For example, we’ve spoken to organisations that are involved in, say, rescuing farm produce that may not have met the aesthetic standards of our major retailers, for example, or others who are using a waste stream, such as brewers spent hops to then manufacture kind of flour type ingredients for use in the food manufacturing industry.Are there any, perhaps not areas that are actively ongoing in the CCIC program, but areas where you have identified some opportunity to get involved, where entrepreneurs might be able to make some money while also making a positive impact on sustainability?Frank: Yeah, so, look, the big food companies do deal with Food Bank and these sort of areas. So those products are short coded. So they’re doing a really great job in that area. And in fact, some of them are actually doing programs locally to support, say, kids at school to give them a good breakfast. That sort of stuff. So I mean, the big guys are always good at doing that stuff. It’s the small guys that probably struggle to get engaged with that and I suppose that’s where a lot of our work is. Look, I think the opportunity for these smaller players is to understand where it’s more an education thing for us, I suppose, where they fit within that whole sustainable goal area and how they get involved with it as they progress and grow. Then they have the opportunity to be able to take on more of those ideas that say the bigger guys are using at the moment. There’s actually an example which is running at the University of Newcastle at Ourimbah campus, that’s where our office is actually. We got a guy there who’s taken soy beans waste and he’s been able to convert that into a flour and so he’s made products obviously in combination with other flours as well, but he’s been able to bake breads and that sort of thing. So I think that type of thing is definitely available. We don’t have too much in the farm produce area, we’re not an agricultural area, although we have got some large greenhouse producers, in particular people making qukes and little cucumbers. Their waste products are going into pickles and things like that. Some of the local suppliers, manufacturers supplies to farmers markets and stuff are picking that product up and turning into pickles and things like that. Other things there that the university is working on as well, they do a lot of work food waste area looking at waste products from, like I said, the soybean and there’s been some work done on bananas and things like that as well. But those areas are probably like agriculture is quite small for us as a region.Andrew: Okay, that’s really the production piece is probably where the focus is for us. Well, even in the absence of primary production, there’s plenty of food manufacturing going on in the region and for that reason there’s probably waste streams that we’re already identifying using and there must be more. So just to hear that there are opportunities for entrepreneurs who can get creative, get out there and make a buck while also reducing food waste or waste streams from food manufacturers.Frank: Yes, there is, look, and there’s a lot of people we wouldn’t know about, we hear stories about relief organisations working with some smaller food producers to take their waste products or leftover food products, which all goes to feeding the community, which is great. And I think that’s an important part of this whole equation. And I know that the Fight Food Waste CRC has been really focused on that as well because we’ve got this social, particularly more so today with the current economic circumstances that more and more people are going hungry. And so the wasted food products should create sustenance for people who can’t normally get good food. So I think that’s an important piece of it as well.Andrew: Yeah, this circular economy is not just about economics. I think there’s a social benefit as well.Frank: Exactly. The environmental impacts, like in terms of transport and particularly in the supply chain, are quite big as well. So I think there are opportunities along the way just where you got to keep focused. And for us, we keep focus on what we can do within our remit, and that’s been working really well for us.Andrew: All right, opportunities, plenty of them out there. We’ve established that. What about challenges? Can you tell us anything about some of the challenges you’ve faced working directly with businesses and also perhaps any of the challenges you might have faced dealing with, for example, regulators and government or perhaps with the ecosystem of other similarly likeminded organisations?Frank: Look, I think the challenges for us gets down to the grassroots, to the businesses themselves. So again, the big businesses have got resources to cover this stuff. But when you get into the small business, particularly in the current environment, where there’s labor shortages, economic pressures as well, interest rates and stuff like that, getting people the time to get engaged in some of these programs has been hard. Even we just noticed, even our normal networking sessions we run across the whole network, people just don’t have the time to get involved. And I think it’s trying to work with people to find a way to at least get them to understand where the value is for doing this stuff. And I think that’s the challenge. In terms of regulation, there’s a lot of support from certainly Local Government and State Government. There’s a lot of different grants and things like that. And we work very closely with our regional government agencies because we’re a region in our own right. So we’re very fortunate we get a lot of support from them in a two way street. We both work with our members or the industry to gain support or give them support.So I think in terms of regulation, I don’t think there’s probably issues in regulation, but it’s not at a level when you get to the factory level where it’s stopping people from doing stuff at this point. So I think we started talking with the ARC process, started talking about processing waste on site that may trigger a regulation type issue. And I forgot to mention this, not only to do with the food waste, but we’re actually looking at this process to deal with the waste that comes out of wastewater plants, which is a big cost to food businesses. So the sludges, for example. So there’s been some trials done on that and there’s some success there. And then that’s where the regulation piece will probably play a role, because processing waste on site as opposed to removing the waste and getting it processed elsewhere, there could be some issues there. But yeah, look, I think the challenge just in anything that we do, whether it’s in the food waste area or trying to get people to improve their efficiency in their businesses time and their resources to put the time in to make it happen. It’s a catch 22 situation. If you don’t take the time to look at these things and gain the value, then you won’t get the value to the business. But then they’ve got day to day pressures. It’s an ongoing battle. It’s probably more difficult since Covid and currently, but it’s always been there to some extent. But we do know the businesses that engage are the ones that do really well, and we’ve got some fantastic examples of that.Andrew: If there are businesses out there that have the inclination and the time to engage with Central Coast Industry Connect, what advice would you have for them?Frank: Well, I think just getting involved in the programs and we can show them plenty of examples. And businesses that have been engaged with us since, say, 2014, 2015. And those businesses are award winning businesses now across a whole range of different categories sustainability, operations, performance, exporting even. So it’s like everything, if you don’t get engaged and learn, then you’re only relying on your own knowledge to grow your business. Whereas if you engage with other businesses and networks like ours, then the opportunity is that you get those learnings quicker and you actually have people that can help mentor you through that as well, which is the other important piece. So you don’t have to do it on your own. And I suppose that’s where our organisation plays a role, whether we do the mentoring or we find someone in the network, another business that’s prepared to support you or go to the Fight Food Waste CRC to gain some more knowledge or some contacts for a business to be able to deal with particular problems in food waste areas. So I think that’s our role. I said early in the piece, we’re connectors and we’re good at we’re identifying the opportunities, whether it’s in a business or with government or with research partner. Because we have that overall view, we can see where the opportunities are and we bring those people together. That’s what we’ve always been.Andrew: Well, I can recommend that anyone interested in finding out more head to the website and thanks also, Frank for that plug for the Fight Food Waste CRC. You can visit our website well, Frank, thank you very much for joining us today to talk about the important work that organisations like yours are playing to connect local businesses that are interested in reducing food waste.Frank: Yeah, thank you. And I really appreciate the opportunity to spruik what we’re doing. I think it’s important that organisations like ours can reach out to other organisations and connect as well. Certainly interested in connecting with like organisations to support the work that we’re all doing.Andrew: Well, thanks again, Frank, and hopefully we’ll catch up again soon.Frank: Lovely, thanks Andrew.Andrew: And thank you to our subscribers for joining us in this edition of Food Waste Matters.Brought to you by the Fight Food Waste Hub and Honey & Fox.The Fight Food Waste Hub is for everyone who is interested in reducing food waste.Invite your colleagues to sign up to our mailing list to get notified when new content is published.Just visit the website and don’t forget to also subscribe to our YouTube channel, Food Waste Matters. And finally, if you’d like to get in touch with us here at the hub, please send an email to we’d love to hear from you with feedback, comments or questions.Until next time, keep up the fight.