Food research improves lifestyle and economy

The University of Auckland

At New Zealand’s highest internationally-ranked university, a diverse group of academic staff is working on a wide range of food, nutrition and health-related research projects.

The research at the University of Auckland is designed to not only improve health outcomes and lifestyles, but also enhance innovation and growth in the food and beverage sector, which produces nearly a half of New Zealand’s total exports.

Food and beverage exports reached $30.7 billion in 2014, out of the country’s total exports of $66.2b, and the sector contributed more than $4b to the Auckland economy.

The research, involving over 200 academics from four main faculties, is pulled together under The University of Auckland’s Food and Health Programme, making it more visible and accessible for industry.

The Food and Health Programme Management Group, chaired by Professor Brent Young, is working closely with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), The FoodBowl, Callaghan Innovation, and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

Professor Young says the programme recognises the importance of the food and beverage industry to not only Auckland’s, but also the country’s exporting (and economic) growth.

"We have to be aligned to industry needs, and the partnerships provide a tremendous connection with the investment and commercial community and help build the innovation ecosystem," he says.

The programme covers specialised areas of business, consumer insights, exercise sciences, food process engineering, food safety, nutrition and population health.

The research ranges from enhancing public policy and consumer knowledge to examining food structures and novel food processing techniques.  The University is also well placed to undertake clinical trials to support nutrition and health-related claims.

The university’s researchers are using fruit pulp, normally sent to waste, to create nutrient-rich flour with the potential to replace wheat. The first product concept has been finalised - Ample Apple, a nutrient-rich flour that's gluten-free and low in cholesterol, fat and sugar.

A smart phone app called Nutritrack has also been developed by the university researchers. Nutritrack provides consumers information on the nutrient composition of processed foods, and the data can be used to identify opportunities for reformulating processed food.

The researchers are well aware that modern consumers require food to be safe, wholesome, of high quality and preferably produced in an environmentally and ethically sound manner.

The university has extensive capabilities in novel food processing techniques including high pressure processing, pulsed electric field and pressure assisted sterilisation. The technologies allow processing at lower temperatures during pasteurisation or sterilisation, minimising damage and resulting in better taste, texture and nutrient content while still ensuring the food is safe.

The University also provides a range of degrees in the area of food and health, including Masters programmes in food safety, food process engineering, and nutrition and dietetics. These degrees provide a flow of talented graduates into Auckland’s workforce.

For more information on the Food and Health Programme please visit the website at www.foodandhealth.auckland.ac.nz.