Proactively helping F&B exporters
Angus Brown sketches a diagram for Exporter that shows how the New Zealand Food Innovation Network (NZFIN) links all of the country’s science and technology resources that can support food or beverage companies into export markets. It’s an impressive drawing, which reflects the network, including Callaghan Innovation, various NZFIN facilities, and other capability providers. The FoodBowl is one of those facilities – a purpose-built production plant close to Auckland Airport that’s designed for short-run processing of products for testing.
Brown is business development manager for the FoodBowl and NZFIN Auckland and well-schooled on the role of the network in helping both start-up F&B businesses and established companies with new product development projects gear up for export. Helping businesses get to grips with the regulations infrastructure is a major job, he says, especially compliance with MPI standards for exports.
“Compliance can be a challenge. For example, companies may simply assume that they can export their product to a particular market – but certain exotic ingredients may create snags in certain markets.”
Developing products for export can be a rigorous and time consuming process he says, that’s why the network is invaluable for linking firms up with everyone from independent food technologists to food safety consultants, contract manufacturers and branding, marketing and packaging specialists.
For The FoodBowl the early days were somewhat quiet as it sought to educate the market about its services. However, an Open Day early in 2013 saw some 700 companies tour the facility and word of mouth has clicked in since then. By the end of 2013 The FoodBowl was a conduit for some 800 companies, with two to five companies utilising the facility per day. The high pressure processing technology for extending the shelf-life of food has especially been popular. However, the door is still open for even greater utilisation of the FoodBowl, says Brown.
He knows of many companies that have made considerable savings in their pathway to market (or scaling up production) by utilising the FoodBowl. A neutraceutical company saved approximately $1 million on new equipment purchasing; an increase of production capability of five to ten times by a chilli sauce manufacturer also meant money saved could be redirected into sales and marketing; and a poultry company utilising new technology to enter into foreign markets saved millions on upfront capital investment and allowed product validation in market to happen before that next investment step.
Brown says they are also working with a number of iwis in 2014 to help inspire the production of high value foods.
His advice to F&B product developers is it’s never too early to engage NZFIN and the FoodBowl. “It doesn’t matter where you’re at in the development cycle, the earlier you engage the better.”
Do your homework on the market opportunities and how your food or beverage idea stacks up against the competition, he adds.
“Utilise or leverage quality New Zealand raw materials if you can.”
Functional foods (premium foods with health-giving additives) are particularly popular in markets, he says. “Make sure you build a strong story around your brand though.”
Brown believes The FoodBowl and New Zealand Food Innovation Network are in a unique space. “We’re exposed daily to new F&B science, technologies and innovations, and because we’re neutral we’re in a good position to prototype up radical and innovative, high-value food and beverage products and take them to manufacturers and distributors; to act as a catalyst for development.
“We’re opening our doors to any business, any university outlet or ingredient supplier that has a novel ingredient or technology, an interesting opportunity or raw material, that could be developed into a food or beverage product. There’s a good chance we have the capability to undertake the ‘tinkering’ and the development with you, then look for somebody to pick it up and take to market.”
NZFIN is also aware of the many entities in the F&B sector working on various projects independently. “We’ve been encouraging an environment of greater collaboration; linking people together to find synergies,” says Brown. “A special online directory highlighting industry links is planned for further development in 2014 – a portal to help companies access funding, develop products and locate the right capability provider.
“We’re looking to spearhead some initiatives; we’re in the right position to motivate the F&B industry and connect people up.”