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Waikato fast turning waste into wealth

7 February 2014

Waikato fast turning waste into wealth

The Waikato is fast turning waste into wealth, thanks to New Zealand’s first and only independent product development spray dryer and a collection of the country’s world-class researchers.

Waikato Innovation Park is the first organisation in the region to receive funding from Bio-Resource Processing Alliance (BPA). The $28,000 is helping it develop a way to scale up commercial production of pure avocado powder - a project that was started on a small scale in 2013.

The BPA is a government funded initiative that helps New Zealand’s biological-based manufacturing businesses gain maximum value from waste and by-products, while reducing environmental impacts from primary production and manufacturing activities.

According to BPA general manager Trevor Stuthridge, the initiative has $2.5 million per year on offer to New Zealand companies and their research providers over the next five years.

“The challenge of how to capture more value from waste in our primary industries is huge. For example, nearly half of New Zealand kiwifruit are not of sufficient quality for direct export; twenty per cent of harvested trees in New Zealand are left on the ground, and a significant amount of material from mussel harvesting is by-catch that gets thrown away.

“The BPA was established to help turn these types of wastes into products with export potential. Four research partners, AgResearch, Callaghan Innovation, Plant & Food Research, and Scion, are working with eligible organisations to apply new technologies and product opportunities to waste streams from New Zealand's forestry, marine, agricultural, horticultural, animal and microbiological industries,” Stuthridge said.

The Innovation Park’s avocado powder project is being done by its FoodWaikato division for Bay of Plenty company, Avocado Oil New Zealand. The pulp from blemished or otherwise non-saleable avocados is dried into a high value powder for use in cosmetic, nutraceutical and food products.

Thanks to FoodWaikato’s processing capabilities, last year Avocado Oil New Zealand launched a world-first 100 percent pure commercial avocado powder product known as Avopure.

The product is selling successfully in the USA, Japan, China and Australia.

Executive director of Avocado Oil New Zealand, Brian Richardson, says Avopure has a unique point of difference on the international stage compared to competitors.

“It is the first premium avocado powder available that contains no added fillers or carriers and contains higher levels of potassium, fibre and energy,” says Richardson.

Now, with support from the four BPA research partners, FoodWaikato is able to further improve the drying process with the aim of boosting commercial opportunities.

The BPA is funding $15,000 towards research by Massey University scientists and $13,000 towards making modifications to the FoodWaikato plant.

New Zealand Food Innovation Network business development manager Shane Kells said the overall aim is to increase throughput of the avocado drying process.

“Avocado pulp is extremely fibrous, so the BPA is working with us to find ways to break down the fibre and also decrease the thickness of the raw product. Because the product is so thick, this reduces how quickly we can process it through the drier. The aim is to increase throughput while maintaining the natural green colour of the raw fruit, and the preserving quality.”

A large part of the value in the BPA’s involvement with the avocado powder project is the opportunity for FoodWaikato to help other companies later duplicate the process with other waste foods.

“As far as we are aware, worldwide no one has come up with a commercially-viable solution to drying pure fruit or vegetable powders through a spray dryer at a fast enough rate that can satisfy projected market demand. If we can crack this challenge, we can help New Zealand growers capture enormous export value from their waste streams,” he said.

FoodWaikato is intent on getting the word out to food innovators within New Zealand and throughout Australasia that they’re here to help.

“The Waikato Innovation Park’s wider purpose is all about creating economic value for our region and the country by supporting companies to develop new products and new markets.

“FoodWaikato’s purpose is to contribute to the Park’s wider aim by supporting food innovators. Avocado Oil New Zealand’s story is just one example of how we’re making that happen,” Mr Kells said.

A workshop for those in the horticultural, forestry, marine, dairy, wool and meat industries is being held on 13 February at Waikato Innovation Park to outline the work of the BPA and the funding opportunities it provides. The avocado project will be used as a project example.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the BPA looks to help generate $100 million of additional added value to the NZ economy by 2020 through successful application of its outcomes to secondary streams arising from NZ's forestry, marine, agricultural, horticultural, animal and microbiological industries.

FoodWaikato
FoodWaikato is part of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network (www.foodinnovationnetwork.co.nz). The plant is owned and operated by the Waikato Innovation Park in Hamilton, New Zealand. The spray dryer has a half tonne per hour capacity and is capable of drying dairy products as well as fruit and vegetable products. The primary purpose of FoodWaikato is to stimulate growth in the food sector by providing an open access facility in which businesses can trial and produce spray dried products.

ENDS

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