Tens of thousands New Zealanders have eating difficulties, as a result of illnesses, dental issues or injuries, and have relied on texture modified food (TMF). Often, they have struggled to maintain a healthy diet.
Sam Bridgewater’s stepfather – who had cancer in the jaw – was one of those sufferers who struggled with the enjoyment, independence and dignity of eating. Sam reckoned there had to be a better way to bring pleasure back into eating and improve their quality of life.
For nearly two years, Sam (pictured, centre) and his business partners, older brother and Olympic rower George Bridgewater (pictured, left) and Maia Royal (pictured, right), researched texture modified or soft food and developed their innovative product that looks and tastes great.
They talked to clinicians, dentists, District Health Boards, food scientists, chefs and consumers, and found a market niche for people with eating difficulties.
The three partners launched The Pure Food Co onto the market in October 2014 and first concentrated on supplying nutritionally fortified meals in plastic pouches to people living at home, including elderly and children with eating difficulties. The company then moved on and began supplying aged care facilities.
Part of the company’s unique solution is that the meals are served as individual components (meat, vegetables) rather than one mash of pureed food – the look and taste are consistent with the colour and flavour of a normal meal.
Sam, a former corporate banker, says independently commissioned research showed tens of thousands of people in New Zealand are presently on a TMF diet.
The eating difficulties may be related to cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, stroke, and having no teeth or a broken jaw.
“We decided to provide a real food solution that keeps people well nourished,” he says. “The meals include proteins, vegetables, carbohydrates and sauces, and we reduced the plate size and increased the vital nutrition to ensure every mouthful is a winner.”
The consumers can choose, for example, hoki fish pie with leek and potato, cooked in a béchamel sauce and hints of lemon, nutmeg and bay leaf; or roast lamb with potato, parsnip and carrot sautéed with thyme, and braised purple cabbage.
The fresh beetroot is cooked with a touch of balsamic and the green beans are flash cooked with a hint of lemon.
Sam and Maia first worked at their kitchen bench in Grey Lynn, and then operated out of Massey University’s production kitchen in Albany. “We got our friends and our grandparents to taste our food, and we took it to consumers at Mercy Hospice,” Sam says.
Organised through Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development’s Regional Business Partner Network programme, The Pure Food Co received a $5000 Callaghan Innovation Getting Started grant and then Callaghan contributed $12,800 towards a $32,000 R&D project.
The new business reached the stage of refining manufacturing processes and completing pre-production runs at the state-of-the-art FoodBowl processing plant, located near Auckland airport.
ATEED’s Local Economy Growth Manager, Paul Robinson – who provided insights into the healthcare food services market - says The Pure Food Co has developed a unique range of textured modified meals. The company’s production now incorporates a full 28-day menu cycle and it is in solid growth mode.
He says the founders have financial backgrounds and have taken a very regimented and disciplined approach to determine if there is an opportunity in this area. They have developed a very compelling investment proposition.
The Pure Food Co is now completing two-day production runs at The FoodBowl every three weeks and is supplying its nutritious meals to aged care facilities and homes throughout the country.
The meals are supplied chilled and have a six week shelf life. Customers can choose their own meals or be sent a chef-selected set menu that provides a balanced and varied diet.
The menus will be refreshed every six months in line with seasonal ingredients, and each meal costs $7.50.
The Pure Food Co will first tackle the New Zealand market but has an eye on exporting. “We have a very healthy pipeline of interest, and we are aware of strong export opportunities,” says Sam.
The world is The Pure Food Co’s oyster – nutritionally fortified, that is.