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Facing the future of food

The world of food is changing rapidly. The planet is under pressure, with consumers demanding more ethically-produced, affordable foods than ever before.

Lincoln University researchers are responding to this by bringing together expertise from science, commerce and economics to create a more consumer-focused approach to agricultural production.

A Lincoln University Centre of Excellence, ‘Food for Future Consumers’, has been established to focus on the links between provenance (including place of origin, authenticity, land, and agro-ecosystems) and food qualities (such as production values, composition and preferences).

Head of the Centre, Dr Roland Harrison, says that Aotearoa New Zealand must embrace a paradigm shift from a production-driven to a market-driven agri-food sector.

“Adapting to a future where market signals are acknowledged and interpreted requires initiatives that facilitate a whole-of-chain industry response,” he says.

“The benefit to producers will be the potential to capture a greater proportion of the value embedded in their products. The benefit for consumers will be foods that meet individual standards and expectations, whether these be about nutrition and health, authenticity, or sustainability.”

Dr Harrison says a considerable challenge lies in consumers’ increasing demand for ethically-produced yet affordable foods, while production systems are under pressure to improve their environmental performance.

“The Centre of Excellence takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining Lincoln’s expertise in fundamental and applied sciences with its ability to offer in-depth consumer and business insights.

“The idea is to meet consumer requests for authentic, sustainably-produced, high-quality products from both traditional and non-traditional production systems.

“Embracing innovative food systems is the future for our agri-based economy. We intend to use the specialised knowledge within the Centre of Excellence to generate new knowledge and convert that into applied solutions for the agri-food industry.

“Consumers want to know more about where their food has come from and how it is made. They want to know the story behind the food they choose.

“However, different consumers will make different choices, selecting from a variety of different offerings that appeal to their taste and price points. It is in the agri-food industry’s interests to service that need in an ethical and sustainable way. Our research will also address these aspects including the development of new business models that can preserve and capture the value associated with provenance through the value chain.”

Lincoln University researchers will partner with other organisations working in the agri-food domain to focus on a range of research themes.

These include characterising how production practices affect food composition, researching cognitive and sensory aspects of food consumption, and expanding consumer choices through business and product innovation. Researchers will also explore new technologies that can protect provenance and provide traceability.

The Food for Future Consumers initiative is part of a suite of Centres of Excellence that Lincoln University will develop over the next three years to address grand challenges in agriculture, food, conservation, the environment, recreation and Mātauranga Maori.

Two other centres from the suite are Designing Future Productive Landscapes (which investigates alternative approaches to land-use systems) and Sustainable Tourism for Regions, Communities and Landscapes (which aims to help grow the value of tourism while enhancing the quality of regional destinations).

Each centre focuses on issues of strategic importance to Aotearoa New Zealand and responds to a need for greater innovation, productivity, resilience and sustainability.

Lincoln University’s research expertise in a wide range of land-based disciplines means it is uniquely positioned to add value in these areas.

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