Helping people with eating difficulties at the Pure Food Co.
Sam Bridgewater says his world changed forever when his stepfather had an illness that made it impossible for him to eat normal food. Sam says he needed a radically modified diet that was safe to swallow, but what was on offer wasn’t very tasty or nutritious.
Sam set out to find out how other people with these challenges were coping. His research revealed that eating experiences for far too many people wasn’t that great. On offer were “ tasteless purées, sugar-filled liquid supplements or baby food”. He was also surprised to discover that there were nearly half a million people in New Zealand in this situation.
Sam and his business partner Maia Royal set out to create a company that delivered a range of new and healthy options for those with eating difficulties caused by illness, age or injury. They consulted chefs, food technologists and healthcare experts including dieticians, doctors, dentists and speech language therapists during the development phase.
They believed they had identified a business opportunity that would solve a problem for a number of New Zealanders. If they could produce texture-modified food that was nutritious, delicious and easy, the quality of life for the many New Zealanders with eating difficulties would be significantly improved.
The scheme was developed over an 18-month period, with the help of two Callaghan Innovation Grants. Initially the work was carried out at the Food Bowl, an incubator for Kiwi food and beverage innovators, set up to encourage food innovation and product development. It provides state of the art technology for companies to research and develop their ideas and also helps clients connect with experts in export, product development, food-science, packaging and regulatory requirements.
The Foodbowl contains seven multipurpose food production suites with commercial-scale processing equipment, including the latest technology, such as high-pressure processing and a Cuddons freeze-drying unit.
Any food company, from small start-ups to large companies, can hire Foodbowl spaces and equipment. This allows them to develop new products or processes, scale up production of new or existing products and validate products in the market before deciding whether to invest large amounts of capital in their own facilities.
After much development, Pure Food Co now has a range of prepared meals that are nourishing and delicious, including golden roast chicken, smoked barbecue pork and creamy fish pie. They are being delivered nationwide to thousands of individuals and care providers, including aged-care facilities. Individual meal packs are colour coded and are based on 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbohydrates and 1/3 vegetables to make it easy for people who are self-catering to access balanced nutrition. The company delivers 35,000 meals a month.
“We’ve had heart-warming feedback from a number of New Zealanders who have enjoyed Pure Food meals, with some stabilising and putting on weight and others simply enjoying food again,” he says.
One of the key things to get right is texture, as well as being safe to swallow and easy to digest. Sam says fresh vegetables contain a lot of liquid and the challenge is to remove just the right amount so the finished product is easy to swallow but not so “wet” that the customer is in danger of aspirating any liquid.
There is also a lot of technical expertise required to ensure the foods look appetising as well as tasting good. Removing the texture from a meal means they have to work harder in other areas, something Pure Food has done a lot of work on with customers. Maia Royal adds another critical factor is nutrition, and it is the combination of taste, texture and nutrition that has been such a technical challenge to overcome and what has ultimately made the product so effective. Other challenges included getting the right cooking and cooling processes. The next step is using moulds to reshape the soft food into shapes resembling the original foods.
The Pure Food Co is about to relocate to its own premises – an exciting move for this innovative company.