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NZ Food Processing Sector’s Key Role In NZ’s Post COVID-19 Recovery

NZ’s processed food sector is well placed to support New Zealand’s economic and social recovery from the global COVID-19 crisis, according to the head of food science and innovation hub, FoodHQ.

FoodHQ CEO, Dr Abby Thompson says under Level 4 there has been unprecedented examples of collaboration and innovation in the NZ food industry, in order to overcome the obstacles of lockdown at home and abroad.

“The level of activity and enthusiasm that companies, scientists and entrepreneurs have applied to the problem of processing and supplying food has been outstanding.”

Dr. Abby Thompson

Dr Thompson says she has been in touch with numerous companies which are continuing to process and export under lockdown.

The lockdown also appears to be driving consumer demand for different types of food products and innovations as well as heightening consumer awareness of a wider range of NZ grown and processed products.

“There is a walnut growers cooperative for example that has seen 500% online sales growth as kiwis eat local, rather than imported product. And I know of several ready to eat meal and frozen food companies who have experienced considerable growth in the lockdown. For example, supermarket category managers are commenting on an increase in sales of frozen quick cook treats that appeal to children.”

The changes have required a rapid response at the food science end of the sector according to Dr Thompson. A group set up by the NZ Institute of Food Science and Technology, the Foodie Volunteer Army, is providing a critical forum for food scientists and technologists to collaborate in the lockdown environment.

“The Foodie Volunteer army is enabling food businesses to get support and answers to all sorts of questions from supply chain issues and ingredient substitution to personnel management with 2m social distancing. It’s a fantastic collaboration.”

Dr Thompson believes the crisis response demonstrates the ability and determination of NZ food processors to grow the sector.

Food and beverage is NZ’s major export industry accounting for 46% of total goods and services exported, $71bn of revenue in 2019 and 83,800 post farm gate jobs.

A 2019 Coriolis report identified the potential for the NZ processed food sector to support an additional 10,000 jobs, if more of NZ’s primary produce was further developed and processed into added value products.

Examples of Food companies responding to NZ’s lockdown

The Hawke’s Bay apple juice company ‘The Apple Press’ has continued operation at its production facility, bottling new season apple juice for New Zealand supermarkets nationwide, filling containers for export to Japan and Australia and even recently donating 2 pallets of juice to the local District Health Board.

“In these challenging and unprecedented times our thoughts and support go out to all New Zealanders. Here at The Apple Press we are putting all measures in place to ensure the ongoing safety of our people and products. The team are working hard to ensure continued supply to both domestic and export markets,” says Co-founder Ross Beaton.

Christchurch based Golden Goose Foods are experiencing an increase in demand for their frozen meat, vegetarian and vegan ‘Howler Hotdogs’. Managing director, Joanna Williamson says overall, its sales in supermarkets are up around 20%.

“In the week leading up to the lockdown, we experienced sales levels similar to what we would expect to see just before Christmas, and we don’t anticipate demand slowing over the coming weeks. We are incredibly grateful for our supply relationship with supermarkets because this is what’s keeping our business going, during what is an incredibly difficult time for many businesses across New Zealand.”

Seafood exporter, Moana New Zealand, has stepped in to help Palmerston North City Council and the Salvation Army to produce ready to eat meals for residents in need. Because Moana’s products shelf stable for up to two years they don’t require refrigeration.

“Moana’s protocols and procedures under COVID-19 have been audited by MPI which has given their approval of the safe working and processing environment we have created for our people. This initiative has been a great way for us to contribute.” Says Group Communications and Sustainability Manager, Michelle Cherrington

Christchurch based, Trickett’s Grove, owned by a cooperative of more than 50 walnut growers, has experienced a 500% increase in online sales in the start of lockdown. General Manager Shane McKenzie says “Traditionally around 80% of the walnuts sold in NZ are imported already out of their shells, which impacts negatively on eating quality. Right now is harvest time for us and unlike imported nuts, New Zealand walnuts are cracked just-in-time to ensure optimum freshness”.

“It feels like there is quite a movement out there to support smaller producers who are selling online at the moment. People have the time and interest to look for local businesses when they may not have previously.”

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