Humble meat pie bites back

The great Australian meat pie is under threat from new and different takeaway foods that reflect our multicultural society.

But, according to those in the know, it is far from an endangered species. Just ask the third-generation owners of Mrs Mac's Pies, who say the business has never been in better shape.

The family company this week opened its doors to _The Weekend West _to unveil a suite of technological and marketing strategies, which, it believes, will ensure its future and repel the tsunami of sushi and wraps at the nation's footy grounds.

The factory will finish commissioning trials for its new robotic production line next week and is hopeful of its push into Russia (a sea container of Mrs Mac's finest is on its way to Moscow this weekend).

The firm's "French pastry" machine also goes online, which is "a must have if we're to compete internationally", according to Mrs Mac's director Rob Macgregor.

"When you go to the footy these days, you can buy sushi and wraps," he said.

"Twenty years ago, the only food one would buy at half-time was a pie. But the competition has been good. We now produce pies with less fat and salt and with pastry made from vegetable margarines and shortenings, not animal fats, as was the case for most of last century."

The figures are staggering. Mrs Mac's makes a million pies a week at its Morley site and more than half a million sausage rolls.

The Macgregor family - Rob, his sister Kate, their mother Pennie and late father Iain - have overseen a massive capital works program to modernise and improve output at the factory.

Since the death of the popular patriarch in February 2012, the business has continued to roll out $20 million of capital works and improvement programs.

The robots are part of the plan. The last thing one expects to see in a pie factory are two giant robots that would be at home in a car manufacturing plant. The massive automatons wheeze and hiss as they move their giant limbs in precision, packing and stacking thousands of pies and sausage rolls an hour.

"Amazing, eh," Mr Macgregor said. "The robots are incredible. This is a labour-intensive business, and it probably always will be, but the speed and precision of our robots takes the pressure off an already busy workforce."

The biggest changes, though, are in the business' tightly held recipes.

"We've got more than 100 varieties of pies and sausage rolls, a gourmet steak line, a line of healthy low-fat pies for school canteens and the BYO line," Mr Macgregor said.

The BYO pies are a new push into on-premise cooking. The pies are sold raw and frozen to lunch bars, petrol stations, pubs and sports clubs to be cooked on the premises.

"We miss out on a branding opportunity with the BYO range," Mr Macgregor said.

"They're unbranded. But it opens up a new market for businesses that want to sell a fresh-baked pie. So far, it's going really well."

But what about the eternal meat pie question - sauce or no sauce?

"We reckon our top-range steak pies probably don't need sauce," Mr Macgregor said. "On the other hand, it would be un-Australian to eat a pie without it."

The West Australian

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