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Food and Beverage Taskforce issues call to action

Media release 28 August 2006

Food and Beverage Taskforce issues call to action

New Zealand’s food and beverage sector must shift up a gear and work smarter and more collaboratively if it is to continue to grow and prosper.

That is the message from the Food and Beverage Taskforce, a high level government-appointed group set up in December 2004 to develop an industry-backed agenda for taking the sector to the next level of performance.

The Taskforce has presented its report to the government, recommending the implementation of a three-pronged, balanced development agenda over the next three to five years. The strategy is designed to fend off pressures on the existing productive base while developing new products and processes and expanding into new markets.

It sets a target of continuing to grow the existing base at a compound rate of five percent a year through productivity gains and efficiencies. At the same time, the report says, greater investment is needed in research and innovation to develop new high margin products that meet demand for safe and traceable food and products with scientifically proven efficacy in delivering a benefit to consumers.

The third strand of the recommended strategy would see more support given to exporters to grow market share in the Northern Hemisphere and gain a firm foothold in the emerging markets of Asia.

Taskforce Co-Chair and New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Chair Tony Nowell, says the food and beverage sector faces significant challenges at home and abroad, but it has what’s needed to redouble efforts and win new opportunities.

“The sector has a long history of continuous productivity improvement, innovation and new product development along with some remarkable success stories. But there is no room for complacency. The world is catching up and speeding up and the challenge for the sector now is to get everyone working together, at all levels, to lift economic performance.”

Tony Nowell says the need for collaboration was a constant theme during investigations by the Taskforce.

“Taking a ‘NZ Inc’ approach offshore is the way to mitigate the tyrannies of size and distance for New Zealand businesses. But we also need to get the sector working more seamlessly as a unit to ensure we are getting the best from our assets and our resources.”

Key among those assets, says Mr Nowell, is New Zealand’s bio-security regime.

“We’ve been able to capitalise at the expense of competitors, who have had to retreat from markets because of foot and mouth, mad cow disease or avian flu. It is vital that New Zealand remains vigilant so it does not itself become the victim of a bio-scare.”

The Taskforce has set a target of increasing output from New Zealand’s pastoral industries by at least 50 percent by 2016.

“High land prices and pressure on resources such as land, water, labour and capital mean we have to keep doing it better by applying science and improved management to the resources we have,” says Mr Nowell.

The Taskforce report also recommends action on a number of fronts to make the food and beverage sector a more attractive place to work, improve the quality of tertiary training and ensure the right skill mix is available to support future growth.

The development of a national Innovative Food Research Strategy is proposed to guide innovation investment into areas that match productive potential, encourage the uptake of technology transfer and knowledge and help ensure results from the laboratory are successfully commercialised.

Mr Nowell says the extensive research carried out by the Taskforce identified the need to provide more help and support for New Zealand’s food and beverage exporters.

“While New Zealand does have some large companies, the food and beverage sector is dominated by small to medium sized businesses without the resources or the mindset needed to push into new markets. We have to give them good information and fund structures that will help them tackle the exporting challenges as a group, to share costs and risks.”

Tony Nowell describes the Taskforce report as a call to action to all players in the food and beverage sector.

“We can only grow and strengthen if there is a coherent strategy and a shared commitment across government and the private sector. There are things the government can and must do but, at the end of the day, it is the behaviour of food and beverage businesses that will determine the future.”

The Food and Beverage Taskforce suggests a peak body be set up to champion change in the food and beverage sector and guide implementation of its development agenda. Membership would include government and industry leaders with the mandate to bring about the transformation needed.

The Taskforce used a range of strategies to prepare its report into the food and beverage sector including a discussion paper, a roadshow and workshops, presentations from experts and research into specific areas of interest.

ENDS

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