Government Earmarks $3M for Waikato Food Innovation

Friday 12 March 2010, 8:07AM
By Innovation Waikato Limited



The Government has earmarked $3 million for the Waikato region to support dairy and meat food innovation.

This announcement was made yesterday as part of the Government’s commitment to invest $21 million to develop a New Zealand Food Innovation Network.

The funding is earmarked and cannot be confirmed until the commercial sector has demonstrated its commitment to the Waikato facility.

The Waikato Food Innovation Hub will be owned and managed by Innovation Waikato Ltd as a wholly owned subsidiary.

The governance board will include representation by AgResearch and regional dairy and meat industry leaders.

Waikato Innovation Park CEO Derek Fairweather says the funding will help provide an important national infrastructure to assist dairy and meat processing companies to innovate at a faster pace.

“The first priority for the Waikato hub is a powder drier to support ingredient product development for dairy - cattle, sheep and goat – companies. It will also pilot some world-first processing equipment,” explains Mr Fairweather.

The Waikato Innovation Park is now looking for final firm commitments from companies wanting touse the drier and finally satisfy the Government’s funding criteria.

The criteria are driving a strong orientation towards the needs of industry and commercial sustainability.

“The shape of the type of facility that is needed is evolving as the commitments from the commercial sector inform us about what they want and what they are willing to pay for. It’s a challenging process, but one that is critical to ensure the facility meets industry requirements.

“We’re very close to closing this commitment, but still need a few more companies to step forward and confirm it would be utilised by them,” says Fairweather.

Mr Fairweather says the AgResearch farm at Tokanui will present significant capability to produce the milk supply to the drier when it requires differentiation on farm.

He says the pilot drier will also support the scale-up of product being developed on smaller experimental equipment at other hubs of the national food innovation network.

Mr Fairweather explains that both start-up and established producers will benefit from the establishment of the Waikato plant.“In our initial market research that justified the development of this food processing plant, we found both small companies and our country’s largest processors could benefit from such a facility.

 “We found many smaller companies have a strong desire to innovate and develop new products, however they often lack the equipment needed to do so.

“On the other end of the scale, our industry’s largest food processors often have ideas for new products, but their huge processing facilities aren’t set up to allow for development on a pilot scale,” he says In addition to being utilised by food companies, the plant is planned to provide a Wintec and NZITO training platform, applying the same learnings and infrastructure developed at the Wintec Agritech Centre, opened yesterday on the AgResearch Tokanui dairy farm.

The agriculture and food industries – primarily dairy and meat - currently contribute over $7 billion each year to the Waikato regional economy – approximately 50% of the overall economy.

This investment from Government will be a key enabler to moving up the dairy value chain and supporting more commercial product development in New Zealand’s most important export sector. Other areas also earmarked by the Government to receive funding for food innovation are Manukau, Massey University in Palmerston North and Lincoln University.