NZ food industry to have “it’s time in the sun”

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 9th July 2008

High-tech ice-cream and freeze-dried kiwifruit were on the menu at yesterday’s opening of a $25 million food pilot plant at Massey University – reportedly the most advanced facility of its kind in Australasia.

The complex will be used for research and teaching as well as for commercial purposes, enabling companies to benefit from both the state-of-the-art equipment and the expertise of the largest cluster of food technologists in New Zealand. More than 100 visitors from across the food industry attended the launch, including guests from Heinz Wattie, Fonterra, Crop & Food Research and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

The plant was officially opened by Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton, who believes the new centre presents a great opportunity for the NZ food industry. “If ever there was a day when New Zealand had a place in the sun it is right now,” Mr Anderton proclaimed. “The truth is our agriculture industry remains the backbone of our economy. It grows faster than the rest of our economy because of our scientific research and technical innovation. If we want to continue to have successful growth in our economy we need our primary industries to be successful, we need innovation to improve each step of the production process from what we grow and how we grow it to downstream industries … we need innovation not only to make new products but to meet the challenges our producers face.”

Mr Anderton said the new food pilot plant would be closely aligned with the education and research intent behind the Government-industry collaboration Fast Forward. The Fast Forward program will see $700 million of Government investment matched by industry to boost research and development in New Zealand’s pastoral and food industries in the coming years.

“Training is the first step we have to get right. This pilot centre will help get that right and it is symbolic of our commitment to innovation in our most important sectors,” Mr Anderton claimed. “Food is now back on the agenda, particularly for those nations who depended on others for food products.”

New Zealand has, in the past, been heavily dependent on its food exports, with agriculture, food, forestry and aquaculture accounting for 65 per cent of all exports.

Mr Anderton was introduced to a new nutraceutical peach-flavoured ice-cream manufactured for the occasion. The dessert had added Omega-3 fish oil, which is believed to have a range health benefits for conditions including heart disease, neurological function and arthritis.

Creator of the ice-cream Amit Taneja says it contains about 60mg of Omega-3 per serve – about 10 per cent of the daily amount recommended.

The micro-encapsulation technology invented by Professor Singh and his team at the Riddet Institute protects the fish oil from oxidisation and masks the flavour. The selection of Peach was made after a number of different flavour trials.

Such innovation is becoming increasingly important in the food industry as demand for functional and ‘better for you’ foods increases amongst consumers.

Omega-3 Ice-Cream

While the plant will operate as a research facility for students and staff, it is also export-certified enabling companies to trial batches for export, and its capabilities are reportedly unmatched in Australasia.

“The building not only houses the pilot plant but the new food chemistry laboratories, food product development laboratories and human nutrition clinical laboratories,” Acting Vice-Chancellor Ian Warrington said. “This is capability not duplicated anywhere in Australasia, and a larger grouping of off-farm researchers than anywhere in New Zealand.”

“I am very confident this new facility will let us do great things for the New Zealand food industry,” he concluded.