Future Foods

May 2021

The Future Foods development programme run by Riddet Institute’s scientists.

One of the great challenges facing humanity is a secure, sustainable and nutritious food supply. As the world grapples with the need for more and healthier food, less food wastage, sustainable low emissions and resource-efficient production, New Zealand’s Riddet Institute continues to play a major role in the development of foods that not only meet these criteria but will also appeal to the preferences of tomorrow’s consumers.


Headquartered in the new Te Ohu Rangahau Kai at the Massey University Palmerston North campus, Riddet has on board scientists across five partner organisations – the universities of Massey, Auckland and Otago, plus AgResearch and Plant & Food – and a number of collaborators (Auckland University of Technology, Lincoln University, University of Canterbury, University of Waikato and Victoria University Wellington).


With an established reputation world-wide for its high-quality research in the field of food science and nutrition, as well as being recognised as a global leader in the fundamental understanding of the structure of food and its effect on digestion and health, the Riddet Institute also provides vital science capability for the New Zealand food sector.  


The Institute is now underway on a seven-year $38 million ‘Future Foods in Harmony with Nature’ research programme, being led by Riddet director, Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, who says a key strength of the Institute is its people. “We bring together the best scientists across Aotearoa, not just in food science but from many other supporting disciplines, to work on complex problems in food. The recent pandemic has highlighted our nation’s strengths in the agri-food industries and, as a Centre of Research Excellence, we are delighted to continue our contribution to technological and scientific innovation and development of a highly skilled workforce. I am excited to see the new programme take shape and to continue our collaborations with industry, iwi and Māori enterprises.” 


Professor Singh adds that the new programme includes not only the food materials science, nutrition and health that is a Riddet strength, but also several new areas of research. Among these is research on hybrid proteins that combine nutritionally superior animal proteins with plant proteins, which do not pack the punch of protein derived from animal sources and are often not as bioavailable to the human digestive system. 


New transformative technologies, the fast-moving areas of food innovation that have the potential to disrupt existing food production systems and markets, are also under the microscope. To help generate new insights, the new programme also brings together the latest advances in bioengineering, biomedical science, complex systems science and molecular biology.  


Professor Singh observes that in just a year, food and beverage exports earn New Zealand almost as much as the Government committed to supporting the country through the Covid-19 crisis, while a report on the sector (MBIE’s Coriolis Report) assesses the potential for growing food and beverage export earnings by 50 percent in the next five years, from $40 billion to $60 billion per year.  


He says growth is not about increasing volume, but about innovation and premium pricing, which will also lead to the creation of new jobs. “Although there will be even more demand for our high quality and relatively low carbon emission beef, lamb and dairy, we need to gear up for the consumer drive to more plant-based diets and keep ahead of all the developments in alternative proteins.”


Professor Singh adds that although people with understandable concerns about climate change consider New Zealand should move away from pastoral farming to growing crops, such a move would not work to reduce the impacts of global climate change, but simply shift production to higher carbon emitting producers in other countries. “In any case, three-fifths of our productive land is completely unsuitable for crops.  Grass-fed beef and sheep farming are our best land use, and the nutritional value-for-money of our red meat and dairy is hard to beat.”


Showdown Productions Ltd.   Rural Delivery Series 16 2021