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Blackcurrants the Star Ingredient

New Zealand Blackcurrants the Star Ingredient of a Closer Science Relationship with Japan

New Zealand and Japanese scientists are leading the world in the understanding of the health and wellness values of Blackcurrants. Research teams in Japan have identified the ability of Blackcurrants to improve eyesight and improve facial beauty. New Zealand scientists in turn have proven that Blackcurrants have astonishing values in sports recovery through modulating oxidative stress, reducing inflammation and potentially enhancing the body’s natural defences against disease.

Leaders of the major science teams from both countries are talking and exploring avenues to work together in a way that could transform the Japanese appreciation of New Zealand-grown Blackcurrants.

“Over the last 10 years a small group of New Zealand exporters have developed a very good customer base working with key Japanese food and beverage companies, but the full potential of their work can’t be achieved without increased scientific understanding of how and why Blackcurrants are good for health,” says Blackcurrant New Zealand CEO Ian Turk.

Most of the promotion of New Zealand-grown Blackcurrants in Japan has been done by the Japan Cassis Association and Meiji Seika a major confectionary manufacturer in Japan. Meiji Seika markets blackcurrant products in health categories focused on benefits related to eye and skin health.

“Meiji has developed NZ$6 million of the NZ$266 million eye health market with their Blackcurrant initiatives,” says Turk. “Through Meiji’s promotion, consumer awareness of Blackcurrants for eye health has increased from 5% to 24% over the last 5 years. And at the same time a general awareness of Blackcurrant being good for health has increased from 78% to 93%.”

“But all parties recognise the need for innovative new product development in both food and beverage product categories in Japan and that good science is the key to getting the right focus.
To achieve that all parties agreed that there needed to be increased collaboration between Japanese and New Zealand scientists, a pooling of information and then a team approach to new research with specific key consumer wellness value targets,” says Turk.

The New Zealand research is headed by Plant & Food Research. Science teams at Plant & Food have been working on Blackcurrants under the industry-government co-funded New Berries programme.

Highlights of this work were presented to the NZ Blackcurrant industry at the annual NZ Blackcurrant growers meeting in August and at the Inaugural Plant & Food Research Functional Foods Symposium earlier this year.

Plant & Food Research programme team leader, Dr Roger Hurst, who heads the New Berries programme, met with the Japan Cassis Association science team and Meiji Seika and other market leaders in September this year.

“The visit was very successful. Professor Hitoshi Matsumoto, Chief Researcher of Meiji’s Food & Health R&D laboratories, and I have been developing the details of how a science collaboration could be formalised and implemented,” says Hurst.

“We have submitted together a Japan-New Zealand Collaborative Research Project to the Japanese Government’s Japan Science & Technology Agency (JST) fund and the New Zealand Foundation for Research Science and Technology (FRST) to support a collaboration that will foster a mutual exchange of information and ideas around the Blackcurrant research projects presently underway in both countries. An announcement about the funding is expected just before Christmas. Should we be successful then visits by lead scientists to each other’s respective research organisations will be organised,” says Hurst.

“The importance of market-pull and consumer demand for health and wellness products and concepts is well recognised by both parties in this potential research collaboration. We also recognise the role of NZ growers and exporters and Japanese brand marketers. Scientists don’t dictate market development, but identifying if and how New Zealand-grown Blackcurrants deliver health benefits would have the potential to influence future product development. Our plan is to identify exactly what New Zealand blackcurrants have and, when they’re consumed, the benefits they offer. We aim to do the science that will underpin any future health claims and through this collaboration boost the Japanese appreciation of New Zealand Blackcurrants,” says Hurst.

“The work by Dr Hurst and his team in identifying the potential of Blackcurrant to modulate physical stress from strenuous sports training has the potential to transform the global market demand for NZ-grown Blackcurrants. This is an excellent example of good science creating superb and credible new product development initiatives for industry innovators,” says Turk.

“And as a New Zealand industry group we’re especially pleased to note that the research has been done exclusively with NZ-grown fruit. New Zealand as a country-of-origin has some unique international advantages. We’re not just a good part of the generic New Zealand clean’n green pure platform: but also because of the exceptionally high levels of important, health relevant polyphenol in our berryfruit,” says Turk.

“The Japanese market is the most sophisticated in the world for health and wellness food products. Success in Japan is a gateway to many other markets,” says Turk.


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