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New Zealand food and beverage manufacturers can now utilise the FoodBowl – a purpose-built, state-of-the-art plant designed for short-run, pilot scale processing of products for in-market testing. For exporters, it could be just what they need to extend their reach to new markets.
T he FoodBowl may sound like the name of some new restaurant or public dining space – but the only thing being served up at this brand new food processing facility close to Auckland International Airport is opportunity – of both the ‘new product development’ and ‘export’ variety.
The FoodBowl is an initiative funded by the Government – which has set the goal of growing food and beverage exports by 270 percent by 2025, to $150 billion. It is part of what will eventually become a New Zealand-wide open network of science and technology resources called the New Zealand Food Innovation Network (NZFIN) with bases in Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North and Christchurch.
The network aims to address a long-recognised issue – that the only way this country can increase its GDP through the food and beverage sector (which accounts for 62 percent of New Zealand’s exports) is by adding value to food.
To achieve this we need to assist more manufacturers, of all sizes, to develop innovative new food and beverage products. And help small companies, in particular, scale up production.
We must enable new, emerging Kiwi manufacturers to ‘pilot’ new recipes; to ‘step-up’ small ‘home kitchen’ output to larger commercial volumes; to produce product batches on the very latest processing and packaging equipment for trial in local stores and supermarkets; and, more importantly for companies looking to establish or expand offshore sales, assist through the application of the latest technologies the extension of shelf-life without compromising food quality.
The FoodBowl is dedicated to helping fulfil all of the above. It has another three years to reach break-even and the clock is ticking.
After a guided tour around the facility and its shiny, new food processing equipment, I sat down a few days later with FoodBowl director Colin Mitten to gain a better understanding of the facility’s true potential. I quickly discovered that it is a resource treasure trove for all food and beverage manufacturers, but especially for the smaller companies. And the need for such an ‘open access’ facility is indeed a pressing one.
“Pilot scale production facilities such as those at the FoodBowl are generally the domain of very large food producers,” explains Mitten. In other words, the Fonterras of this world.
“And large food producers are hardly going to help you, a potential competitor, into the market.”
Sub-contract manufacturers are not exactly keen to interrupt their production lines for short-runs either, unless you’ve got very deep pockets. So there are few alternatives available for small and fledgling producers.
The beauty of the FoodBowl concept is its flexibility. Some fundamental equipment in the facility is fixed and dedicated to processing, such as a bottling line; while associated ‘floating’ equipment, such as mixing and blending tanks, can be brought in as necessary.
Another big plus with the facility is that it not only has the equipment for aspiring food manufacturers to produce their food and beverage products, it also has the certification necessary that enables them to export those products. Mitten explains to me that the FoodBowl ticks all the boxes with MAF and the Food Standards Authority to meet the highest level of hygiene standards necessary to cover the wide variety of products that will be produced there. And the users are assured of complete confidentiality of their products and process whilst utilising the facility. That’s another load off any future clients’ minds.
And it doesn’t stop there in terms of client resources and services.
You may have the product and the ability to produce it in trial batches, but do you have the expertise and the finance to grow your business? Do you have the export channels and have you done your market research? Is your packaging suitable and is your labelling legal? These are all areas of expertise that Mitten and his FoodBowl team will be able to assist with – along with food technologists who can help with tweaking scaled-up recipes.
“There’s a whole specialist support network or infrastructure that has to sit around companies as they grow, which we are developing,” says Mitten. “We’re not going to do their job for them, it’s their IP.  But we know what we’re doing when it comes to stepping up product development.”
Mitten says they work with independent consultants who are then contracted by the client. “We give the client a list of experts who can run our machines, and it’s up to the client to pick one.”
He says the whole partnership is about de-risking the production process for the client. “It really is a try-before-you-buy scenario.” The facility is also useful for those food process companies that don’t want to disrupt their normal production schedules to allow new product development to take place. And Mitten says, not surprisingly, process, packaging and labelling equipment suppliers are all keen to be associated with the FoodBowl to demonstrate to potential new customers the capabilities of their latest technology. It really is a win-win scenario all round.

 

 

Making a difference
Mitten is convinced the FoodBowl will make a difference in the food and beverage sector.
“It will encourage exporters to scale up their successful products. They’re effectively using our Risk Management Programme to market test their products. If it works out, great – if not, they haven’t lost anything.”
The facility is keen to get up to speed quickly, and is therefore taking a flexible view to what it charges clients in the early days. “We’ve got all the ticks, but we don’t get everything verified until we’ve had product through it,” says Mitten.
He says people look at the facility and all the shiny stainless steel and have initial concerns about the cost of utilising it – but those concerns soon melt away when they start talking to them. “It’s all about perception.”
Early clients have found the facility incredibly helpful, he says. Tasty Pots, for example (see separate story), found it just as useful for determining what doesn’t work in terms of processing, for as what does work. And while it is still early days, indications are that the technologies designed to help extend the shelf-life of products, like the 55-litre high pressure pasteuriser (HPP), will be in strong demand. Hardly surprising when you consider this country’s distance from markets.
“The technology interest, so far, has particularly been around the HPP, the aseptic filling line and around the dry extrusion,” says Mitten.
He says the FoodBowl, which is expected to eventually operate 24 hours a day, will appeal to three broad categories of users.
“There are the large corporates who don’t want to break into their production flows for development work. The second category includes the firms that want to find some way of meeting their peak demand. And then there are the small companies who either want to access the technology extension our facility offers or the export ‘flirtation’ that it offers.”
Clients can consider the facility as their own temporary factory, explains Mitten. “The way we’ve set things up with proximity cards means people can come and go as they please within their confidential designated area. A lot of product development work could take place outside normal working hours.”
Mitten says before they put all the hygiene standards in place and had the place ready for their first customers they had a window of opportunity to show people through the facility.
He says he printed 500 brochures and mailed out 350 invitations. “We were open for ten days and by day three we had run out of brochures. We were stunned by the amount of people who came through.”
It’s an indicator of just how much interest there is in this innovative new facility. Mitten says they’re still feeling their way in the initial weeks of operation, but there has been an encouraging number of bookings
to date.
Again he reminds me of their flexibility for the early-birds. “For the next few months we will be working with clients and giving them a fantastic deal on the use of the equipment, but at the same time we want to use their projects to help verify the whole process.
“Early adopters will absolutely get a better deal.”
Glenn Baker is editor of Exporter.

 

New Zealand food and beverage manufacturers can now utilise the FoodBowl – a purpose-built, state-of-the-art plant designed for short-run, pilot scale processing of products for in-market testing. For exporters, it could be just what they need to extend their reach to new markets. T he FoodBowl may sound like the name of some new restaurant or public dining space – but the only thing being served up at this brand new food processing facility close to Auckland International Airport is opportunity – of both the ‘new product development’ and ‘export’ variety. The FoodBowl is an initiative funded by the Government – which has set the goal of growing food and beverage exports by 270 percent by 2025, to $150 billion. It is part of what will eventually become a New Zealand-wide open network of science and technology resources called the New Zealand Food Innovation Network (NZFIN) with bases in Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North and Christchurch. The network aims to address a long-recognised issue – that the only way this country can increase its GDP through the food and beverage sector (which accounts for 62 percent of New Zealand’s exports) is by adding value to food. To achieve this we need to assist more manufacturers, of all sizes, to develop innovative new food and beverage products. And help small companies, in particular, scale up production. We must enable new, emerging Kiwi manufacturers to ‘pilot’ new recipes; to ‘step-up’ small ‘home kitchen’ output to larger commercial volumes; to produce product batches on the very latest processing and packaging equipment for trial in local stores and supermarkets; and, more importantly for companies looking to establish or expand offshore sales, assist through the application of the latest technologies the extension of shelf-life without compromising food quality. The FoodBowl is dedicated to helping fulfil all of the above. It has another three years to reach break-even and the clock is ticking. After a guided tour around the facility and its shiny, new food processing equipment, I sat down a few days later with FoodBowl director Colin Mitten to gain a better understanding of the facility’s true potential. I quickly discovered that it is a resource treasure trove for all food and beverage manufacturers, but especially for the smaller companies. And the need for such an ‘open access’ facility is indeed a pressing one. “Pilot scale production facilities such as those at the FoodBowl are generally the domain of very large food producers,” explains Mitten. In other words, the Fonterras of this world. “And large food producers are hardly going to help you, a potential competitor, into the market.” Sub-contract manufacturers are not exactly keen to interrupt their production lines for short-runs either, unless you’ve got very deep pockets. So there are few alternatives available for small and fledgling producers. The beauty of the FoodBowl concept is its flexibility. Some fundamental equipment in the facility is fixed and dedicated to processing, such as a bottling line; while associated ‘floating’ equipment, such as mixing and blending tanks, can be brought in as necessary. Another big plus with the facility is that it not only has the equipment for aspiring food manufacturers to produce their food and beverage products, it also has the certification necessary that enables them to export those products. Mitten explains to me that the FoodBowl ticks all the boxes with MAF and the Food Standards Authority to meet the highest level of hygiene standards necessary to cover the wide variety of products that will be produced there. And the users are assured of complete confidentiality of their products and process whilst utilising the facility. That’s another load off any future clients’ minds. And it doesn’t stop there in terms of client resources and services. You may have the product and the ability to produce it in trial batches, but do you have the expertise and the finance to grow your business? Do you have the export channels and have you done your market research? Is your packaging suitable and is your labelling legal? These are all areas of expertise that Mitten and his FoodBowl team will be able to assist with – along with food technologists who can help with tweaking scaled-up recipes. “There’s a whole specialist support network or infrastructure that has to sit around companies as they grow, which we are developing,” says Mitten. “We’re not going to do their job for them, it’s their IP.  But we know what we’re doing when it comes to stepping up product development.” Mitten says they work with independent consultants who are then contracted by the client. “We give the client a list of experts who can run our machines, and it’s up to the client to pick one.” He says the whole partnership is about de-risking the production process for the client. “It really is a try-before-you-buy scenario.” The facility is also useful for those food process companies that don’t want to disrupt their normal production schedules to allow new product development to take place. And Mitten says, not surprisingly, process, packaging and labelling equipment suppliers are all keen to be associated with the FoodBowl to demonstrate to potential new customers the capabilities of their latest technology. It really is a win-win scenario all round.

Making a difference Mitten is convinced the FoodBowl will make a difference in the food and beverage sector. “It will encourage exporters to scale up their successful products. They’re effectively using our Risk Management Programme to market test their products. If it works out, great – if not, they haven’t lost anything.” The facility is keen to get up to speed quickly, and is therefore taking a flexible view to what it charges clients in the early days. “We’ve got all the ticks, but we don’t get everything verified until we’ve had product through it,” says Mitten. He says people look at the facility and all the shiny stainless steel and have initial concerns about the cost of utilising it – but those concerns soon melt away when they start talking to them. “It’s all about perception.” Early clients have found the facility incredibly helpful, he says. Tasty Pots, for example (see separate story), found it just as useful for determining what doesn’t work in terms of processing, for as what does work. And while it is still early days, indications are that the technologies designed to help extend the shelf-life of products, like the 55-litre high pressure pasteuriser (HPP), will be in strong demand. Hardly surprising when you consider this country’s distance from markets. “The technology interest, so far, has particularly been around the HPP, the aseptic filling line and around the dry extrusion,” says Mitten. He says the FoodBowl, which is expected to eventually operate 24 hours a day, will appeal to three broad categories of users. “There are the large corporates who don’t want to break into their production flows for development work. The second category includes the firms that want to find some way of meeting their peak demand. And then there are the small companies who either want to access the technology extension our facility offers or the export ‘flirtation’ that it offers.” Clients can consider the facility as their own temporary factory, explains Mitten. “The way we’ve set things up with proximity cards means people can come and go as they please within their confidential designated area. A lot of product development work could take place outside normal working hours.” Mitten says before they put all the hygiene standards in place and had the place ready for their first customers they had a window of opportunity to show people through the facility. He says he printed 500 brochures and mailed out 350 invitations. “We were open for ten days and by day three we had run out of brochures. We were stunned by the amount of people who came through.” It’s an indicator of just how much interest there is in this innovative new facility. Mitten says they’re still feeling their way in the initial weeks of operation, but there has been an encouraging number of bookings to date. Again he reminds me of their flexibility for the early-birds. “For the next few months we will be working with clients and giving them a fantastic deal on the use of the equipment, but at the same time we want to use their projects to help verify the whole process. “Early adopters will absolutely get a better deal.” Glenn Baker is editor of Exporter. Nov/Dec 2011  issue 21 of Exporter Magazine, NZ

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