Weis bar ice-creams join freezer drawer of globalisation, with Unilever buyout

August 11, 2017

One of Australia’s last homegrown ice-cream icons, the Weis bar, is no longer locally owned.

The Toowoomba-based treat-maker, which has been family owned for 60 years, has been bought by Dutch-British multinational Unilever, joining the Golden Gaytime, the Bubble O’Bill and the Paddle Pop in the freezer drawer of globalisation.

The Weis bar, perhaps best known for its marriage of mango and cream, will continue to be manufactured in Queensland, according to assurances from the global food and drink giant.

A Unilever spokeswoman said local production was “integral” to the success of the company, and that the 85 employees of the Toowoomba factory would retain their jobs.

Weis is the latest in a long line of Australian food icons to be acquired by a foreign multinational. The Streets ice-cream range was incorporated into Unilever in 1959, and the company also own the tea brands Bushells and Lipton.

Arnott’s Biscuits has been owned by the US-based Campbell Soup Company since 1997, and Uncle Tobys was bought by Cereal Partners Worldwide, a joint-venture between Swiss Nestle and American General Mills, in 2006.

Founded in 1957 by Les Weis, the company’s first product was the Fruito bar – a combination of pineapple, banana and passionfruit with cream, modelled on a family recipe.

Currently, Weis products account for between 3% to 4% of the Australian ice-cream market, with the mango and cream bar the bestseller, according to a Unilever spokeswoman.

Consumers of the bar shared their fond memories with Guardian Australia, and expressed concerns about the takeover.

James Pizzey said his 40th wedding anniversary holiday was marked with a Weis bar, handed to him in a Qantas cabin on a flight overseas.

“I know Weis, I was a proud Queenslander and having the ice-cream on an Aussie plane was a good memory. We were on our way to Hong Kong to do our 40th wedding anniversary cruise back to Brisbane.

“Another Aussie company sold … My kids love the brand knowing it was not made with too much sugar and was great value.”

Journalist Jack Latimore said the company’s family roots was a key part of the product’s appeal.

“I’ve always been massive on the Fruito bar,” he said. “It’s my version of the madeleine cake, in that every first taste momentarily transports my mind to early-80s north Queensland.

“My old man was driving a bunch of mates to Cairns to continue on to PNG for a surfing trip and I had somehow managed to tag along. I encountered the Fruito on that trip, my first that far north. It’s always been synonymous with pandanas trees overlooking the beach, long corridors of sugarcane and summer’s hot and humid weather.

“Having now thrown down roots in Melbourne, I rely on the Fruito to get me through the nine-months-long winters we have down here. I knew it was a family company and identifiably Queensland and I bought to support that.”

According to representatives from Weis and Unilever, the sale is designed to boost the ice-cream’s sales, both in Australia and overseas.

Weis exports its products to North America, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan and China.

Weis’ founder, 86-year old Les Weis, described the takeover as a “push” the company needed to expand.

“My wife Val has always said to me ‘Business is like a wheelbarrow, it doesn’t go anywhere unless someone pushes it’,” he said.

Current managing director Julie Weis told the Australian Financial Review the company had been “dipping our toes in China for the last 18 months” and that Unilever intended to improve local distribution and then look to overseas markets.

The CEO of Unilever Australia & New Zealand, Clive Stiff, said the bar would maintain the same quality under new ownership.

A Unilever spokeswoman said the company had a “very strong commitment to local manufacturing” and manufactured 70% of what it sold locally.

By Naaman Zhou

Source: The Guardian