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$7 million for 'next generation' food and beverage research

Bid to establish NZ as 'food for health' international leader.

Fiona Rotherham
Thu, 03 Dec 2015

High Value Nutrition, the first and largest of the government's National Science Challenges, has handed out $7 million in grants to research projects developing the "next generation" of foods ranging from helping babies sleep through the night to food proteins that help make older people more mobile.

The seven projects involve science and industry collaborations and are focused on the Asian market. Each gets a $1 million investment over three years following a contestable funding round.

High Value Nutrition (HVN) is one of 11 National Science Challenges and has an $81 million budget over 10 years from the government to establish New Zealand as an international leader in food for health and help grow exports by $1 billion by 2025.

HVN research director Professor David Cameron-Smith says the aim is to make New Zealand "the Silicon Valley" in food for health which is the new global trend.

"We can't feed the world but we can grow our returns by occupying the high value, innovative space," he says. "We don't want to sell to everybody – we want to sell to a small percentage of the Asian population who want to buy these food and beverages with validated health benefits."

The projects include research by Otago University on developing food with novel dietary fibres that sustain babies for longer, allowing them to sleep through the night. The university hopes to sell the new food to a number of baby food manufacturers.

AgResearch and dairy company Miraka are researching the natural traits of milk and how they can be maintained in a specially processed milk to reduce the risk of developing wider allergies as children grow older.

The Riddet Institute based at Massey University and Goodman Fielder are researching the advantages of blending food proteins into food aimed at older people to maintain muscles and help mobility so they stay active for longer.

AgResearch and A2 Milk [NZX: ATM] are doing human clinical trials to validate whether the A2 beta casein protein in milk-based products prevents intestinal inflammation. AgResearch project leader Dr Matthew Barnett says the trials should help boost exports to Asia where there is a high incidence of perceived dairy intolerance.

AgResearch is also involved in a research project with Firstlight Foods investigating whether the complex lipids found in New Zealand grass-fed beef are beneficial for health, including reducing cholesterol levels.

Cawthron Institute and fishing company Sanford are identifying and validating the health benefits of Greenshell mussels as a whole, rather than simply extracting compounds from them. In particular, it's looking at their potential anti-inflammatory qualities.

Plant & Food Research and Zespri are researching whether kiwifruit can be incorporated into people's diets without the sugar triggering blood glucose responses and how kiwifruit can be used to counteract those responses in other foods consumed around the same time to avoid the risk of diabetes.

Today's grants follow High Value Nutrition awarding $10.9 million in October to projects in three of its identified key areas of metabolic health, immunity, and gastrointestinal health, along with research into consumer insights and food science.

Mr Cameron-Smith says HVN is focused on building science capability, industry engagement, and developing products to match what consumers need and want.

Around half of the overall budget has gone on science identifying worldwide health concerns that are increasing, especially in Asia, and then investigating what can overcome those. By scientifically validating a health benefit, the premium and value to the consumer becomes an important sales difference for kiwi food and beverage manufacturers, especially with regulations around health claims tightening internationally.

Mr Cameron-Smith says for New Zealand to be at the leading edge, it has to do more than just incremental development.

"If we want to build the Silicon Valley of food for health we have to invest in the best and brightest and build the science engine and capability," he says.

"We can't predict where that research is going to go. Who would have thought self-driving cars would be a feature of the Silicon Valley environment today - yet after years and years that's resulted from theoretical research."

The challenge's funding has now been allocated to 2019 when all the National Science Challenges will be reviewed, apart from $2.5 million reserved for more research into weaning foods.

He says that money will be held until work has been completed on regulatory risks for market access after Hong Kong recently indicated it will not allow weaning foods to contain health claims. China doesn't allow infant formula to be sold with health claims.


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Fiona Rotherham
Thu, 03 Dec 2015
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$7 million for 'next generation' food and beverage research