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New Zealand’s future is in smart foods

25 October 2006

New Zealand’s future is in smart foods

New Zealand needs high-value, differentiated, functional foods with scientifically supported claims to realise its place in the global market-place says Food & Beverage Taskforce member Paul Tocker.

To be competitive, we must also upskill and enhance our infrastructure in a collaborative way, he says.

As Crop & Food Research’s chief executive, Mr Tocker is working to deliver that infrastructure and to develop the innovative products needed to further grow the industry.

Mr Tocker was a member of the Food & Beverage Taskforce’s Innovation Working Group which developed a clear model for food development. The Innovation Group worked closely with the Taskforce’s Markets Working Group and recognised a need for research into the health effects of food and diet modification and through that to consider food as a preventative medicine.

Functional foods are no fad, says Mr Tocker. The functional food, or nutraceutical, market is one of the fastest growing segments of the global food market.

“In this segment increasingly; consumers want, and are owed, proof of health benefits,” he says. “Food developments are expected to be science-based and the efficacy of products proven.”

“New Zealand is well-equipped to move into this space but it will require focus, a coordinated effort and some support from the government,” he says.

Nationally, there is potential to make savings to the New Zealand health spend by as well as promoting exercise, developing and using diets and products that will be effective in critical areas such as obesity, diabetes and energy management, Mr Tocker says.

The Taskforce report supports the development of a National Innovative Food Research Strategy and for the government to reinforce this strategy with new basic research funds, as well as matching dollar for dollar new industry funds supporting it. This will provide for both basic and applied research across New Zealand’s research providers, including the universities and the Crown Research Institutes, and embrace a Centre Of Research Excellence (CORE) in food that would reside in a University.

Mr Tocker is together with his fellow chief executives at HortResearch and AgResearch are working to map a science capability towards this strategy for new, high value product pathways in the nexus where food, nutrition, health and wellness intersect.

Getting smart foods to market has been a challenge because New Zealand lacks an effective broad base product commercialisation infrastructure both the innovation and marketing working groups sought stronger relationship between researchers and industry to assist bridge this gap.

The taskforce also supported the concept of central Government supporting regional development infrastructure, especially towards regional based pilot plants driven off local products and supported by local industry. Thus, there is an on-going need for regional centres like:

• The Manawatu Biocommerce Centre in Palmerston North which offers a business interface for food product development but is yet to realise a processing plant.

• A consortium of interests grouped around the Waikato Innovation Park that propose various industry, local government, university and research organisations be funded to establish a livestock-derived, food and ingredient research, development and commercialisation campus; and

• A group centred at Massey University in Auckland working on a concept for a Food Innovation Centre where the food industry and the education sector can share resources as a part of a wider “Food Bowl” development and promotion facility in South Auckland focussed on processed foods and packaging innovation.

Fitting into this strategy Crop & Food Research is supporting local industry and the Canterbury Development Corporation in an application for a Major Regional Initiative (MRI) supported food innovation centre at the old Islington freezing works site, just south of Christchurch, says Mr Tocker.

Regional centres of this nature should springboard innovation and new enterprises in a way that has not been seen before, he says.

“New Zealand has the spirit of co-operation, the sense of urgency and the energy needed to move ahead, keep pace with our international competition, and to realise our place in the 21st Century global food industry,” Mr Tocker says.

ENDS

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