IT HAS been dubbed the 'mining town strategy', and it involves major food brands and smaller franchises scrambling to establish stores in the Central Highlands.
Companies are actively seeking franchisees in Bowen Basin mining towns as they jump on opportunities brought by the mining boom, where disposable income is high and competition is low.
The move has local health experts worried. They say the region is already well and truly overweight and argue flooding the market with more fast-food outlets will add to the problem.
The Retail Food Group, which owns brands such as Brumby's, Donut King, Pizza Capers and Michel's Patisserie, plans to boost mining town stores by 50% this year.
BASKIN-Robbins Australia is also actively seeking new franchisees in mining towns, with special focus on Emerald.
By the end of the year, McDonald's hopes to have created 1000 new jobs in Queensland, many in regional towns.
And it's been reported that Zarraffas, a prominent metropolitan coffee shop chain, is also eyeing off an Emerald store.
"The residents in these areas have high disposable incomes and there is a lack of existing retail options in these towns," RFG national sales and leasing co-ordination manager Faith Manning said. "The mining town expansion strategy provides this opportunity to local residents who really know the area and are enthusiastic about starting up a successful business.
"The nature of mining towns means that these stores have the potential and capacity to generate the levels of returns that well-established stores enjoy, but within a much shorter timeframe."
RFG has already set-up Brumby's Go! and Donut King in Emerald and is recruiting for a Michel's Patisserie franchisee, to be located in a kiosk position in the Central Highlands Marketplace complex.
It has earmarked an external tenancy for Pizza Capers in the Centro Woolworths centre.
In Moranbah, the group is recruiting for a franchisee for Donut King and Pizza Capers.
"There is an untapped resource of people in these mining towns as the population expands and opportunities become available," Mrs Manning said.
"RFG receive leads regularly from candidates within metro areas that are looking to capitalise on the mining boom and potentially relocate - not everyone is suitable though and we have a strict recruitment and approval process. We consider applicants' suitability on merits and life experiences.
"Finding quality staff is an issue for all small businesses.
"Depending on the brand, the primary staff are the usually the franchisees themselves, with support from casual staff.
"From our experience, franchisees in these areas generally have success sourcing staff by looking at groups such as students and spouses of those employed by mining companies."
She said RFG was looking for enthusiastic and motivated entrepreneurs who already lived in the areas or were looking to relocate.
Dismal diet problems will escalate, dietitian
AS NEWS broke more fast food outlets and franchises were targeting Central Highlands mining towns, a local health expert warned it could add to the region's already dismal diet problems.
Ashley McNicol, a Blackwater-based physiologist from Healthy Business, said the region as a whole was already well and truly overweight.
"I would imagine approaches like this would only add to the problem," Mr Mcnicol said.
"A poor diet creates a serious disease risk such as cardiovascular problems and diabetes, which can lead to many complications such as amputation and even blindness.
"There are way too many unhealthy food options available in the region already. There is hardly a healthy option out there in terms of something pre-prepared for you."
Mr McNicol's role through Healthy Business is to promote better health on BMA's Blackwater mine site, an initiative he commends the company for undertaking.
"I always ask people, what would you prefer, half an hour of cooking or 24 hours in a coffin?" he said.
"We are moving less and our foods are becoming worse, higher in fats and energy and less in nutrition… Nothing supplements a healthy diet.
"It's also interesting that on a mine site there is a higher average of overweight people than in general society."
Mr McNicol said it was up to individuals to take care of themselves and take steps to be healthy.
"The numbers are quite clear that people in rural and regional areas are more overweight, and that could easily come down to the fact that we have less access to healthy food. But we can't expect the government to control what we eat and do, it's up to us.
"It's a great initiative from BMA to take us on, both for the individuals and their families as well as the company in the long run."
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