Costa, Linfox plan international fruit and veg hub

Costa Group plans international fruit and vegetable freight centre at Avalon Airport, supported by Lindsay Fox

By Samantha Freestone

The Costa Group may develop an international fruit and vegetable centre at Avalon Airport, with Lindsay Fox supporting the move.

Group CEO Frank Costa has told ATN he and Fox have been in talks over the proposed project "for at least five years".

Costa says once Fox "gets flights going" the Costa Group will look at a "substantial investment" at the Airport, including plans for warehousing, cool rooms and a dispatch centre on-site.

Costa’s involvement is expected to intensify pressure on the State Government to abandon its 2005 promise to develop a similar fruit and vegetable market in Epping, on the opposite side of greater Melbourne.

But, says Costa, Epping would furnish a "completely different market".

"Epping is purely for the domestic market. The Epping project is for growers to sell direct, whether retail or food service or whatever," he says.

"Avalon is [obviously] for the export market … it would be great for the agriculture industry as it would create more jobs and more business."

Despite allocating $300 million to the Epping market in 2005, the State hasn’t yet found the private investor needed to supplement the cost, estimated to be around $100 million.

The proposed international terminal that Fox was reportedly marketing to "Japanese guests" a fortnight ago during the Avalon Air Show is worth more than $50 million.

Costa says the international export centre would stimulate Victoria's agricultural industry and eventually include meat, seafood and poultry for export.

"Number one is that it is sound business practice which the Fox Group is trying to create with this opportunity," he says.

"[Secondly], with Melbourne’s population growing like it is, the opportunity for Avalon to take the pressure off Tullamarine is enormous. If we don’t [make this happen] we will be in the same situation as Sydney."

But, Costa explains, nothing can happen until the Federal Government approves the plans to develop the Airport itself.

"Whether it happens in one year or four depends on that," he says.

If the plan goes ahead, the airport and international distribution centre will create more than 500 jobs, Avalon Managing Director David Fox predicts.

Despite the optimism, the Federal Government is playing hard-ball. A lucrative deal with budget Asian airline AirAsia fell through after the Prime Minister rejected Linfox's original application.

David Fox says "issues with customs, quarantine and immigration" have been resolved.

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