The performance is driven by fine wool which comes from composite sheep specially bred in the Central Otago high country – the wool supply and breeding programme is managed by one of the Lanaco directors Andy Ramsden, a highly regarded sheep breeder from Wanaka.
"We analysed thousands of different samples of wool for filtration performance, and out of that established specific breed types to deliver the desired qualities. Our sheep are scientifically selected and farmed in a managed breeding programme to deliver the performance and scale," says Davenport.
"We are four years into the breeding programme and our sheep already produce wool fibre that makes the world’s best respiratory air filter. They are a very smart breed designed to produce long-term sustainable gains, a consistent supply and high returns for the farmers."
When Lanaco first started it was using between one and two tonnes of wool in a year. In 2017 it will use more than 25 tonnes. "We are growing exponentially," says Davenport. "Until last year (2016) our business was 80 per cent research and development and 20 per cent commercial. Now it has swung the other way round."
Lanaco has proven its technology by supplying filter media for industrial protective equipment in South Africa and Australia, and it experienced rapid growth by supplying its filter for state-of-the-art face masks exported to the lucrative Asian market.
In late 2016 Lanaco signed a significant distribution agreement with Auckland-based Healthy Breath which linked up with designer Karen Walker to make and export the fashionable anti-pollution face masks called MEO. These reusable masks have been designed around the unique Lanaco Helix filter. This has allowed the MEO mask to maximise the marketing benefits of quality design and made in New Zealand.
According to the World Health Organisation, poor air quality claims millions of lives each year, with urban air pollution accounting for a major proportion. Consumers in pollution-affected countries such as India and China spend more than $3 billion on face masks each year - with double-digit sales growth annually.
"Our product will be exported inside face masks like the MEO in huge numbers – not just to China but to all of Asia and beyond," says Davenport.
Lanaco worked with AgResearch, Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand, universities, and CSIRO to develop its enabling technology. Lanaco received support from Wool Industry Research, Agmardt, and Callaghan Innovation through an introduction from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Developmenty (ATEED).
The Callaghan support including hiring an Auckland University Masters student to complete research into the Chinese market.
Lanaco has a staff of 10 covering science, product development, genetics and IP; engineering, production, marketing and commercial. The innovative business has set a target of reaching $100 million in earnings by 2022, and launching many new products during that time.
"We are growing as fast as we can put capital into the business," says Davenport. "Completing simultaneous research, product and market development, and scaling up manufacturing is full of challenges."
But Davenport sees great potential for his company's filter media. It can be used in home appliances such as vacuum cleaners and heat pumps, medical devices and automobiles.
"Our product is more breathable and uses less energy. We have developed unique science-based technology that delivers value to customers who adopt it, and better health to the millions who use it," he says.
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