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Ingredients for innovation: New Zealand

By Jess Halliday , 21-Feb-2006

Joint health from sheeps' wool, kiwi fruit crossed with berries and calcium-boosting bone extract… innovative ingredients from a small Pacific archipelago are starting to make a disproportionately big impact in the world of nutrition.

According to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand innovation is born out of a spirit of survival, and that, in turn, that is a direct result of the geographical location.

With 2,000 km to your nearest neighbour, you need to be resourceful and tackle problems using whatever materials you have to hand.

And one 'material' that New Zealand has in no short supply is sheep, with a population topping 39m in 2004 (compared to just over 4m people). Not to mention 4.5m beef cattle, 1.8m deer, 0.4m pigs, 0.3m tones of wheat crop per year, and 15,134 km of fish-loaded coastline.

In explaining its varied and bountiful agricultural heritage, New Zealand makes much of its favourable climate and natural unspoiled resources.

But all this generates a lot of by-products, and increasingly companies have risen to the challenge of finding ways to turn these to profit.

For example Keratec was founded on the back of 20 years of research funded by the wool growers' consortium into how they could add value to their core commodity by breaking into more industries besides clothing. It developed a method of extracting keratin from wool in a soluble, digestible form without destroying its natural amino acid structure. The result was Cynatine, which was unveiled to the nutraceutical industry last March.

Campbell Naish, export manager at Waitaki Biosciences, told NutraIngredients.com: "The natural health sector in New Zealand is set up because we are a primary producer still, and we are very focused on finding ways to add value to agricultural resources."

Far from having an island mentality, the country depends on export and investment to drive economic growth.

Keratec has been busy building strong links with clients in the US, and at SupplySide West in Las Vegas last November it was one of several highly visible New Zealand companies presenting their wares (others were Waitaki, Fonterra and HortResearch).

Moreover, a high proportion of New Zealand produce is destined for foreign shores: for instance, upwards of 90 percent of this year's 8000 ton blackcurrant crop will be exported, and Europe is the biggest market.

R&D does not come cheap, however. Luckily for the pioneers, New Zealand has a network of nine government supported crown research institutes, of which HortResearch is one.

HortResearch is a specialist fruit science company and New Zealand's largest horticulture and food research organization. It partners up with industries and companies to conduct R&D in the field of horticulture.

For example, Waitaki is currently with HortResearch to identifying a product native to New Zealand from the fruit and veg area that will fit with its existing mix - most likely in the area of immune and gut health.

Other crown research institutes include AgResearch and Crop & Food Research.

According to Naish, New Zealand ingredients are starting to make more of an impact on world markets as more research comes to fruition and more funding becomes available to get projects off the ground.

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