APFI Exclusive: Robotics And Agri-Tech From New Zealand
Thursday, April 19th, 2018
Ahead of Food&Hotel Asia, APFI sits down with Hayley Horan, New Zealand Trade Commissioner to Singapore, to learn about New Zealand’s thriving agri-tech industry.
Could you provide a brief overview of New Zealand’s agricultural industry?
New Zealand is known worldwide for its agriculture. Food and drink exports make up almost 50 percent of our total export value, and we are the world’s largest exporter of dairy products and lamb. We are also a major exporter of beef, kiwifruit, apples and seafood.
Our climate, fertile soil and pristine ocean make our country ideal for producing a diverse range of premium food and beverages. And with our expertise and innovation in high-quality food production, we are equipped to feed the world’s growing population.
In total, we export more than 80 percent of our produce to over 100 different markets. Asia is New Zealand’s largest export destination, and Singapore alone imports more than S$500 million of food and drink from New Zealand each year.
What benefits do the investment in robotics and agri-tech bring to the industry?
The New Zealand technology sector is booming, particularly in the areas of Agriculture and Health technologies. Our tech exports grew by 8.5 percent in 2017, and now make up almost 10 percent of the country’s total exports, amounting to S$7 billion. The tech industry is working hand in hand with the food sector to help New Zealand businesses evolve from trusted food producers to food tech leaders.
This integration between food and technology allows us to improve the way we research, harvest, produce, package and transport food. Investment in agri-food research and innovation helps to ensure that we are producing high-quality, safe and nutritious food for consumers.
Notably, the robotics sector in New Zealand has aligned with the local food industry, allowing the country to improve our expertise in precision agriculture and reinforce our reputation as a world-class provider of quality and safe food.
As Asian consumers demand a greater focus on food safety, quality and provenance, our investment in research and development allows us to meet the needs of this growing market by developing products tailored to their needs.
Are there any successful case studies that you wish you highlight?
New Zealand businesses are leading the way in agri-tech solutions that help food producers work more efficiently, reduce food waste and deliver better value to customers. Robotics Plus, a Tauranga-based company, develops and uses robotic technologies to guarantee quality in the picking and packing of fruits, and to safeguard traceability.
This means better presentation of the fruits packed for export, as well as ensuring safer and more consistent handling of the fruits that consumers here in Singapore and across Asia buy from their local supermarket.
Collaboration between industries has been essential to meet the needs of consumers in Asia and around the world. Nuku ki te Puku is an exciting project that brings together academics and Māori businesses to develop products that address the nutritional and clinical needs of Asian consumers. Using the latest academic research, the team is developing a new natural snack food range with a low glycaemic index that can directly respond to increasingly prevalent risk of Type 2 diabetes in Asia.
New Zealand producers are also finding innovative outputs for our existing industries. Spring Sheep, Supreme Award winners at the 2017 New Zealand Food Awards, have developed sheep milk products tailored to the Asian market. Spring Sheep products provide a nutrient-dense alternative to cow’s milk that is suitable for lactose sensitive consumers.
What we see from these examples is that research and innovation in the food industry must continue.
We need to better understand the changing demands of food consumers in different markets, so we can develop new technologies and products that can meet these changes.
What challenges do you see in the uptake of this technology?
With the advent of technology and innovative solutions today, the biggest challenge I see for New Zealand businesses is changing the traditional mind-set that many consumers have about New Zealand’s food industry.
Indeed, producing pure, natural and safe produce is at the heart of what we do, and that gives us our advantage when we go out to the world with our exports. But what many consumers might not know is that New Zealand is also a leader in food-technology innovation.
We need to continue sharing the story of how our agriculture and technology sectors are working together, and showcase the areas where we are innovating. Advances in agri-tech are improving the way we grow and handle our produce, but also allowing us to create new high-value ingredients.
Companies in the nutraceutical sector are also producing innovative products from our natural ingredients; there are products out there that contain extracts from New Zealand mussels and kiwis.
The outlook for our country is using our technology sector to grow our offering to include a range of products that include New Zealand ingredients.
The New Zealand pavilion at this year’s Food&Hotel Asia exhibition from 24-27 April will showcase key New Zealand food and beverage products from over 20 New Zealand companies.
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