The journey started from businessman and Queensland politician Norm Lee’s first rural property purchase at Roma, Queensland, in the 1960s, as a part of HJ Lee & Sons, and soon became the dream of Norm’s son, Trevor.
Operating as Australian Country Choice (ACC), today this third-generation beef raising and food processing company is recognised as the world’s largest family-owned vertically integrated beef supply chain and a global leader in beef production.
“Everything built and achieved is an extension of the family’s original passion for the land,” reflects Managing Director David Foote. With 2.42 million hectares of land across more than 30 locations in Queensland, ACC breeds and backgrounds up to 280,000 cattle each year to supply its three feedlots and one processing facility.
The group’s operations range from cattle seedstock production, breeding, backgrounding and lotfeeding to beef primary processing, retail packing, distribution and export to 20-plus countries. ACC’s modern meat processing facility has a capacity of 350,000 head per annum with an operating capacity to produce a carton of meat every two seconds.
While specialising for 30 years in grain-fed, grain-finished cattle for the Australian supermarket trade, the company has begun diversifying into higher-quality, long-fed cattle such as Wagyu and Black Angus.
David has been in the agribusiness sector for nearly 40 years, joining ACC in 1998 when personally approached by owner Trevor Lee. The success of the company must be attributed in part to this 20-year partnership, affectionately known as ‘The Trev and Dave Show’.
“We’re very like-minded. People who come from the land have similar core values. Trev and I have shared beliefs and we’re both excited by growth,” David explains. “ACC is a family company with family values and a stable ownership and leadership, and that’s reflected in the loyalty of our staff.
The team know that as a family business it’s Trevor’s money they’re either making or spending. It makes a hell of a difference. “After more than 25 years in processing, customers know what ACC stands for. They know our culture and values haven’t changed because our leadership hasn’t.” David understands the importance and value of customer-centric management.
“Our staff know the next person who touches their meat could be their parent or partner or friend, which builds pride in their workmanship and integrity in our products,” he says.
“Our customers believe in and trust us to have done the right thing along the entire supply chain.” Ethical and sustainable business practices, animal welfare considerations and innovation have always been fundamental values for ACC. The company introduced pain relief into its husbandry measures three years ago.
“It’s not sustainable to be unethical,” David suggests. “Our income comes from our animals’ performance so we need to look after them.” The same belief is applied to the company’s environment and management practices. “If you don’t look after your land, it doesn’t yield,” David says.
ACC is a family company with family values and a stable ownership and leadership, and that’s reflected in the loyalty of our staff.
“You’re crazy not to look after the asset you grow your wealth and business on.” ACC’s commitment to product integrity and vertical supply chain integration means it’s one of the few companies that can accurately claim a paddock-to-plate philosophy. “We did breed it. We did grow it. We did feed it. We did process it, and we did value-add to it,” David states.
“Ownership and control along the supply chain gives us the right to tell that story.” At each stage as the business grew, ACC would share its plans with incumbent suppliers, asking them their growth plans and capacity.
“We call our suppliers ‘partners’,” David says. “There’s a history of support and loyalty, and it works both ways.” When explaining his leadership style, David laughs: “My preferred style is what I call ‘guided democracy’ but the reality is I’m just one of the team. I just have more authority. We’re all here to do a job.
“There’s a great saying: ‘The best form of fertiliser for a farm is the owner’s boots,’” he adds. For David, inspiration comes from many places. “Constantly working for a visionary has inspired me,” he shares.
“We’ve continued to innovate and invest in infrastructure, processes and systems, which in turn presents development opportunities for staff. Seeing enthusiasm, energy and drive in others is also a great motivator.”
Since 1974, ACC has played a major role in the Coles beef supply chain and, while it’s still working with Coles, the relationship since 2018 is no longer exclusive. “We’ve had the opportunity to grow to a scale only possible by having Coles as a significant customer,” David explains.
“After having been the support act for Coles for nearly 50 years, it’s time for ACC to move forward. It’s time for change.” The company has established its own brand ‘ACC-1620’ – based on its government issued and unique establishment number incorporating the ACC logo and branding format.
“It represents our consistency, quality specifications and years of experience,” David says. For ACC and David, more change is on the horizon. For the past 18 years, Trevor’s two eldest sons have been working across most of the operational areas in the business and, in July this year, Anthony Lee was appointed into the business leadership role.
“We’re in a generational change,” David explains. “We’re gently transitioning leadership to Anthony and the next generation in the Lee family.” David holds a number of representative roles in beef and processing industry representative bodies including Board Member for Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
“It’s important to help shape policy development, industry guidelines and codes of practice,” he says. “It’s fantastic to be able to represent ACC. Being involved in the sector and industry and what it contributes is special. Animal raising and agriculture for food is so important for life. It’s still a thrill to see a newborn calf and green grass grow.”
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