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NZ food innovation initiative aims to fast-track new product commercialisation

Friday 12th March 2010

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Small and medium-sized food and beverage companies will have access to state of the art research and development facilities with a new government initiative, Food Innovation Network New Zealand.

The government is stumping up as much as $21 million to establish four regional centres and a network of open-access food development facilities across the country, Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee said.

The food and beverage sector is responsible for over half New Zealand’s overseas earnings, and directly or indirectly employs one in five workers. Exports of processed food have had a compound annual growth rate of 18% over the last decade, and now total $2.1 billion a year, according to government figures.

“The absence of open-access facilities in New Zealand to enable product development and testing is a significant gap for our food and beverage industry and a constraint to growth,” Brownlee said. “Such facilities exist in most OECD countries.”

Richard Archer, head of Massey University’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health said the government’s initiative grew out of the Food and Beverage Taskforce report released in 2007. This asked the question of why food manufacturers weren’t creating new products, faster.

“One conclusion was that smaller manufacturers either couldn’t afford, or take the risk of developing new products, and weren’t necessarily able to connect with the research capability that resides in universities and other R&D institutes,” he said.

FINNZ will establish four regional hubs in Manukau, Waikato, Palmerston North and Canterbury, linked with an overarching network organisation.

Each of the four will have a different emphasis reflecting the region’s requirements, capabilities and servicing of its current local environment, and also hopefully avoiding direct duplication, Archer said,

Manukau will concentrate on small scale commercialisation, Waikato on milk and dairy innovation, Palmerston North’s focus will be research and Canterbury, based on Lincoln will emphasise small scale consumer foods, particularly crop-based ones.

The FINNZ funding will help provide equipment, around which people and their intellectual capability can coalesce, Archer said.

Under the initiative the Ministry of Economic Development won’t release funds until there is a clear demonstration from the hub about what they want to buy, its cost and when and who is going to use it.

For example, a food manufacturer might go to the Manukau centre and trial and test a new product, gaining enough confidence to then invest its own money.


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