The Food Bowl

July 2016

Providing startup value-add food businesses a helping hand

We frequently hear about the need to add value to our primary produce to drive economic growth. The Foodbowl, the Auckland hub of the Food Innovation Network is an incubator for Kiwi food and beverage innovators, set up to encourage food innovation and product development. While the Foodbowl provides state of the art technology for companies to research and develop their ideas, it also sits at the heart of an innovative eco-system – connecting clients with experts in product development, export, food science, packaging and food regulatory requirements.

As a country long reliant on the primary industries, we all know the blurb – we have to find new ways to reap the economic benefits of this primary product excellence, we need more development of ‘value added products’. The FOODBOWL was designed with this in mind. It is a facility where companies can research, develop and produce commercial runs of new products for trial marketing to capitalise on both domestic and export opportunities.

The FOODBOWL is an open access facility. It is part of the NZ Food Innovation Network; a national network of science and technology resources set up by the government in order to support the growth of food & beverage businesses, by providing both facilities and expertise. The FOODBOWL is one of four food hubs across New Zealand that together offer a complementary suite of services to support the food & beverage industry. The other hubs are FoodWaikato, FoodPilot (Palmerston North) and FoodSouth (Lincoln).

Further, the New Zealand Food Innovation Network is a virtual network of all the different capability providers within the industry. It includes universities, Crown Research Institutes, ingredient and equipment suppliers and experts in packaging, marketing, export and sales, as well as regulatory entities such as the MPI.

The FOODBOWL is a physical hub that contains seven multipurpose food production suites and commercial-scale processing equipment, including the latest technology, such as high-pressure processing and a freeze-drying unit (from Cuddons).

Any food company – from small start-ups to large companies – can hire The 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.

Further, staff at The FOODBOWL have a range of expertise in the food and beverage industry and are available to support and guide clients in developing new products. Staff can guide clients in areas such as food safety regulations and documentation for their product, standards and compliance documentation required for different markets, as well as advice on processing and using the specialist equipment.

The suites hold a variety of ‘state of art’ processing equipment – the technology in these suites can be cost prohibitive for small start ups.

Key equipment includes:

  1. High pressure processing: HPP is a unique process sometimes referred to as High Pressure Pasteurisation or cold pasteurisation of foods. It means food can be pasturised without heat, ensuring that nutrients, colour and flavour are at optimimum levels for a processed food. ‘Fresh to Go’ produce salad meals and healthy snacks that are sold throughout New Zealand were using the Foodbowl HPP suite to increase their product shelf life and reduce discounting and writing off of inventory commonly seen with short shelf life products in the market. Fresh to Go are now the proud owners of their own HPP machine.
  2. Freeze drying – method for removing moisture/preserving a food without losing the original physical structure. This means food can be re-hydrated at a later date. The process starts with food being frozen and then it is put into a freeze drier for the moisture removal.
  3. The FOODBOWL has the capability to run Cold Fill, Hot Fill, UHT and Aseptic filling with their liquids/beverage suite.
  4. Alongside there are standard suites that enable clients to access a professional development kitchen amongst other standard food industry equipment . Culley’s is an example of a success story that also used the expertise on hand to scale up and develop product.

The Foodbowl also plays a role in primary produce and food research. For example they assisted The UMF Association in the Mānuka ID Project – research and testing in order identify floral sources of NZ honey to verify authenticity. The FoodBowl provided a facility that was able to stand up to the international scrutiny of New Zealand’s trading partners.

They’ve also been working with ANZCO doing R&D into developing new and innovative uses for the parts of the red meat carcass that currently generate less value – this is part of ANZCO’s work with the PGP Programme, FoodPlus.

Young entraprenor SamuelTyler wanted “to develop something he sees lacking globally; a pure energy breakfast made from all natural ingredients that gives the body the perfect balance of super-foods, probiotics and natural sugars”. Samuel came from a marketing background. He has a couple of years on the graduate programme at Campbell Arnott’s and “a year or so for a couple of young entrepreneurs in London who created a great sports recovery drink”.

Samuel developed a bircher muesli made from NZ native honey, high quality probiotic yogurt, oats (from Harroways in Dunedin) and real fruit. He was producing the early Pucka product in a church kitchen he’d spotted while at his own wedding – I saw the kitchen and thought, “That’s a bloody good one”.

Initially Samuel was selling to local cafes and at markets when he was approached by Foodstuffs and Nosh.

Immediately issues around capacity and food safety came up. Having heard a story from a Foodbowl client at a business presentation, Samuel called the Foodbowl.

“I could have done this without them but it would have been difficult and taken a lot longer”. He also says the Foodbowl “enables you test ideas very quickly without dragging things out for months”.

Samuel met up with a food process engineer at the Foodbowl, to help him scale up his product within the suite there. Samuel notes that “There’s always a process engineer around to help out”.

The Foodbowl also worked alongside Samuel to assure his muesli met food safety regulations. This was especially important for Pucka as the end product has a significant proportion of yoghurt. The work at the foodbowl and expertise he’s been able to tap into have also improved the shelf life of this ‘live’ product.

Samuel also comments on the Foodbowl’s reputation when dealing with supermarkets which is complex and requires a lot of ‘form filling’. “When they see you’re working with the Foodbowl it’s like an immediate tick – they know you’ve got a strong food safety plan”.

Pucka went onto the shelves at a variety of Auckland Countdown supermarkets in April 2015. Presently Samuel supplies his product to a number of supermarkets, cafes and sports facilities in the Auckland area.