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.