New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) recently announced funding of three collaborative research projects with Japan, which will focus on functional foods. The announcement highlights New Zealand’s rapidly growing innovation strength and competitive advantage in developing novel whole foods enriched in bioactives, or extracting bioactive ingredients from its unique plant and marine species.

The global functional food and beverage market is estimated at USD176 billion with annual growth rates of 7% for functional foods and 11% for functional beverages. Among the market leaders, Nestle launched a new subsidiary Nestle Health Sciences to focus on the commercialisation of novel nutrition products to support metabolic, gastrointestinal and brain health. PepsiCo established a new business unit ‘Global Nutrition Unit’ concentrating on the development of ‘Good-for-You’ products dedicated to health and wellness. DSM acquired Fortitech, a leading manufacturer of functional ingredients addressing major health concerns of consumers. These examples highlight the global trend towards healthier nutrition products.

The state-owned research company Plant & Food Research Ltd takes a lead in functional food R&D, focusing on the creation of novel horticultural cultivars with increased bioactivity, as well as on novel extraction technologies to develop functional ingredients addressing health concerns including metabolic syndrome and cognitive decline. Comvita Ltd and Manuka Health Ltd are New Zealand’s leading manufacturers of health and skin care products using the highly bioactive Manuka honey. Vital Foods Ltd has developed clinically proven digestive aid products using Kiwi-fruit extracts. Other companies are utilising novel extraction processes to unlock bioactive compounds from marine species including the iconic New Zealand Greenshell mussel, and several species of seaweed and algae, to create novel nutritional products with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-cancer qualities. Furthermore, most New Zealand universities have world-class food and health programmes increasingly directed at personalised nutrition.

Taken together, an increasing number of public and private organisations in New Zealand are working at the international cutting edge of functional food and beverage innovations. Their access to unique source materials with clinically proven bioactivities offers exciting opportunities for global companies to establish partnerships for joint research and product development in New Zealand.

By Joerg Kistler, BioPacific Partners Venture Partner and Director of BIO INC

About Emma Armitage

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