About 80 per cent of the family owned meat-processing company's business was export-oriented, though the company was not exporting to China and had done little business with the world's most populous nation over the years.
But what a difference a visit makes. Fast forward to today and 25 per cent of production at the Seymour plant is destined for China.
Julian Ralph, pictured at his family's meat-processing plant in Seymour, says he expects more than $10 million a year in business as a result of his China trip. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
The beef, raised in the paddocks of north-east Victoria, Gippsland and right across the state, is bound for supermarkets, butcher shops and food-service businesses on China's east coast.
The new sales have been generated, said company director Julian Ralph, by the state government's recent China Super Trade Mission, a week-long trip to China led by Premier Ted Baillieu, which included Ralph's and more than 400 other businesses.
Mr Ralph said the Chinese were developing a growing ''appetite'' for quality beef, and the market was ready for the Australian product. The first shipments from Ralph's have already been packed and are now in transit to China.
''I've already sold 10 [shipping containers] up 'til now. That's over $1 million worth of direct sales, all confirmed. And a third of them are already on the water, on boats sailing over there,'' he said.
The family business is now on track for more than $10 million of exports to China a year, because of business generated by the trade mission, Mr Ralph said. China could in fact become the company's biggest export market.
''I think we'll see some real increases in sales and production, and product heading towards China,'' he said.
If the extra sales to China are maintained, Mr Ralph said the workforce at the Seymour plant might have to be increased by 10 to 20 people. Infrastructure changes might also have to be made.
An interim report on the trade mission released by the state government said it would lift Victorian exports to the state's biggest trading partner by more than $1 billion over the next two years. It also said the mission would generate more than 1400 jobs in Victoria.
Mr Baillieu said rising incomes in China were lifting spending and diversifying diets. ''Victoria has the opportunity to be a food bowl for Asia, but it hinges on our efforts to establish new relationships on the ground in China,'' he said.