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In the middle of a busy weekday morning in Palmerston North, we sat down to share a coffee with well-known local, the Hon. Steve Maharey.

Steve is one of the founders of New Zealand AgriFood Week and it was great to catch his insights about the original vision for the week.

“At Massey a group of us gathered together with the idea to create ‘the thinking-person’s Field Days’. Our focus was rooted in careers, science, and climate change,” Steve said. “We looked around and saw the resources we had in the Manawatū, and realised we needed to ask, “What does the country and the world need? Where is the future trending? How can we use our resources to meet those needs?”

With Manawatū’s rich heritage in agriculture continuing to grow in the fields outside our windows, the answer seemed obvious: food.

“Manawatū has a fantastic advantage, agriculture is in our DNA but we also need to recognise that this needs to include food. Beyond the farm gate there is food and a chain of consumption. Manawatū services that too, as the chain continues to utilise local innovation, quality, and research, including Massey and Fonterra. This special combination serves as an obvious hub and an important marriage for our story as a region.”

And so a mission to tell our agrifood story began.

In 2020 the fifth annual New Zealand AgriFood Week continues to sit at the intersection of agriculture, science and technology.

True to the ‘thinking-person’s field days’ goal, the week-long event series boasts an extensive line-up of thought-provoking events and forums that delve into the opportunities and challenges faced by our food sector. Research and development, projects and innovative solutions are given a platform to show how they meet these challenges head on.

It’s a week of striving for excellence in agrifood and agritech, inspiring the next generation of farmers, scientists, innovators and consumers.

As Massey’s Vice Chancellor at the time, Maharey and the team saw the potential for the first New Zealand AgriFood Week to mutually benefit both the city and the University. Long after his time with Massey, Maharey is still passionate about this project and believes there is more potential.

“Are we there yet? Not yet. We will be when every local cafe has menus and products year-round that boast the strengths of our nation and our region. When citizens of the city proudly cook regional products for their guests and bring them to restaurants that do the same. With events like New Zealand AgriFood Week and the exciting 3-year Strategy set to be launched, we are getting there but to truly be a proud agrifood city and region, it must be more than a week – it must be a 365-day investment by all people who live here. We are on our way.”

Maharey is the keynote speaker at the Week’s Strategy Launch and is thrilled to see the vision both cast and kick-started into action. “This is more than a vision, this is a plan in place, people are already invested, roles established, and all have been active long enough for it to matter.”

As a Te Aho Tāmaka Leader the value of this vision goes beyond the week, Steve is a strong advocate for the region.

“Palmerston North is my tūrangawaewae. The city has opened up opportunities for me throughout my life and been the place I return to after working/travelling around New Zealand and the world. It is where I have the best of friends and I know every corner of the city and its surrounding landscape.”

As a food marketing consultant and exporter, I have enjoyed spending theLucy Griffiths new year reading and contemplating food trends and how this will affect our local farmers and food producers.

One of the major trends we saw in 2019 in New Zealand’s supermarkets was people’s increasing desire for plant-based food. Countdown NZ (180 stores nationwide) reported late last year that “sales of dairy-free milk have risen 14 percent in the past six months, while the number of sales of dairy-free cheese had grown by more than 300 percent.” The supermarket said, “in the last year, demand for plant-based vegan and vegetarian meal solutions had increased 36 percent.” 1

In the UK we are seeing similar trends as shown by Sainsbury’s 2019 report about the future of food. They are expecting that a quarter of the UK will be vegetarian in 5 years’ time, stating it is “Driven by unprecedented awareness of animal welfare, health concerns and ‘eco-anxiety”.

Sainsbury’s alone has already seen a 65 percent increase in sales of plant-based products year-on-year, as customers increasingly consider a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyle.

Although these trends may pose challenges for many of our primary industry businesses, the Manawatū is well poised to capture the benefits of these consumer changes and lead the change. We have some of the world’s most innovative food scientists, plant researchers, processing pilot plants and some of the country’s most fertile soils here, and our science and research sector employ more than 3,900 people.

A couple of unique superfood companies from the region that I am watching with interest are Kiwi Quinoa and Tahi NZ Spirulina.

Kiwi Quinoa won the Food Safety Primary Sector Products Award in the Massey New Zealand Food Awards and harvested 70T of quinoa last year which is being sold nationally through New World stores. Their first ever harvest was the first commercially ready quinoa crop harvested in New Zealand.

Kiwi quinoa credit
Kiwi Quinoa

Tahi Spirulina is another local premium product that is healthy and tasty! It provides a vegan source of protein, all key essential amino acids, vitamin B, antioxidants and minerals, and can easily be added to smoothies, soups and salads. Farmed at Himatangi, it is New Zealand’s first spirulina farm and is a recent recipient of funding from Sustainable Food and Fibres Futures to look at the potential of scaled production.

Tahi Spirulina
Tahi Spirulina

Having attended the launch of the Primary Sector Council ‘Fit for a Better World’ vision, which encourages ‘farmers, growers, fishers, makers and crafters’ to shape the future, I believe that our region and our producers are well positioned to ensure we are indeed producing and supporting the production of food that truly is ‘fit for a better world’.

Manawatū produces a basket of nutritious foods from organic yoghurt, boutique cheese and asparagus to large scale A2 milk, meat and potato production. Our farmers, like those across the country are tenacious, adaptive and innovative, and what separates us as a food region globally is our world-leading scientists and researchers, and it is with great excitement that I see FoodHQ aligning us as one of the world’s leading agrifood hubs.

As the home of New Zealand AgriFood Week 2020, Manawatū will once again bring this conversation and others around our food production to life. I am looking forward to watching this conversation develop over the Week and seeing what ideas and actionable outcomes are generated because of it.

Lucy Griffiths is an expert food marketing consultant and is Director of Innov8 Aoteaora Ltd which works with food and beverage companies to market, sell and export their products. Lucy is also a director of Wools of New Zealand, a Nuffield Scholar and a member of the CEDA Board. Lucy was recently appointed by to the Independent Advisory Panel for Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures and has previously provided the New Zealand AgriFood Week with her insights and expertise as both the Chair and Participant at ASB Perspective 2025. Hear from other inspirational women like Lucy at this year’s ASB Perspective 2025 , Wednesday 18 March 2020.

Plate of Origin2020 will mark Plate of Origin’s fifth birthday and over the past few years has established itself as a key calendar event on the Manawatū foodie scene. However, this year’s Plate of Origin will be unlike any before it, evolving in 2020 into two unique events;

1. A world-class, month-long culinary competition, and 2. A bespoke dining experience held during New Zealand AgriFood Week. The two events are overseen and delivered by the team at the Central Branch New Zealand Chefs Association, with support from the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA) and New Zealand AgriFood Week.

Plate of Origin Dinner
17 March 2020

A bespoke dinner will be held during New Zealand AgriFood Week to showcasing the best of Manawatū-Whanganui’s food producers and products. Each course will be created by a pairing of a top local chef, and a partner-chef from one of New Zealand’s leading restaurants, with each plate incorporating a different product. Additionally, each partner chef will commit to having the dish on their respective restaurant’s menu, taking our regions culinary excellence and food products to the nation.

Tickets are limited to this exceptional dinner so get in quick to secure your seat. The event will be held at Distinction Hotel Palmerston North on Cuba Street, and delivered by the Central Branch New Zealand Chefs Association.

Plate of Origin – Manawatū Producer to Plate
1 – 30 April 2020

Manawatū Producer to Plate is a culinary competition that will run through April 2020 and is open to up to 40 cafes and restaurants in Palmerston North city and Manawatū region.

With the introduction of categories – casual and formal dining – the competition has purposely been opened up to more hospitality businesses, as the quality and number of cafes and restaurants in Manawatū continue to grow. For the first time ever, dishes will also not be limited to evening meals. This combined with the competition running for a whole month, means foodies will have extra chances to try one, two or even more competition dishes, with diners encouraged to vote for their favourite dish via social media.

Each entrant will design a dish with three or more regional ingredients and have the meal on their menu for the entire month of April. The competition culminates in a live, Plate-Up event where chefs will be judged on the NZ Chefs Culinary Arts Guidelines, focusing on flavors, use of product, taste, presentation and more. This event is owned and managed by the Central Branch New Zealand Chefs Association.

Plate of Origin 2020 is shaping up to be a delectable food showcase that will satisfy even the most discerning foodie and with the focus on food growers, innovators and makers more prominent than ever, it’s clear to see why Plate of Origin is such a key addition to the New Zealand AgriFood Week. New Zealand AgriFood Week will also have an increased focus on provenance in 2020, with events in the week using the catering as an opportunity to provide food experiences that tell the paddock to plate food story.

CEDA talks with Dean Tilyard, Chief Executive of Sprout, a Manawatū based business accelerator for future food and agritech start-ups that help entrepreneurs grow global businesses.

Dean TilyardKia ora kautou,

We’re excited to start the new year by acknowledging that New Zealand and Manawatū’s international reputation as a leader in the agritech and future food sector has just taken another leap forward – Callaghan Innovation has partnered with Sprout to become one of its Technology Incubators.

This is big news for Manawatū as the announcement cements Sprout in a leadership position for agritech and future food seed and venture funding. Sprout will invest nationally and will expand its activity headquartered in The Factory on the Food HQ campus. This will increase Manawatū’s attractiveness to other technology investors, start-ups seeking the ideal location and tech professionals looking for opportunities.

This partnership will provide a significant boost to the region as the investor group backing Sprout includes two iconic New Zealand companies, Fonterra and Gallagher, as well as global venture capital firm Finistere Ventures and Israel’s most active venture investor, OurCrowd.

The Technology Incubator scheme significantly increases the amount of capital available for early stage agritech and future food start-ups. So, what does this mean? Basically, each time Sprout and its partners invest $250,000 into an agritech start-up, Callaghan will also provide the start-up with a repayable loan of $750,000 supplying the start-up with $1m of seed investment. Our investor group have the resources to complete up to 40 seed investments.

Sprout and CEDA have been actively working together for several years and recently co-developed the Manawatū Agritech Strategy, the first of its kind for regional New Zealand. With the shared objective of building agrifood tech activity in this region, our future looks set for growth.

We are focused on the future as 2020 looks bright with growth opportunities for our region and New Zealand.

Ngā mihi,
Dean Tilyard
Sprout Chief Executive

NZ AgriFood Week 2019Harnessing and using data to better understand consumers, being able to pivot as a new business, and ensuring younger generations are at the decision-making table and listened to, were key discussion themes during this year’s New Zealand AgriFood Week, which has just finished in Manawatū.

New Zealand AgriFood Week is the only week dedicated to celebrating, showcasing and driving a future-focused conversation around food – how it’s grown, developed, packaged, marketed, sold and consumed around the world, and the role data and research can play to drive efficiencies and change.

Throughout the week there were more than 15 events, workshops and competitions in Manawatū that attendees could pick and choose from, including Central Districts Field Days. All were centered around agriculture, food and technology, with discussions on the future of food and food security taking place against a back drop of very real global challenges including climate change, increased urbanisation, resource shortages and access to the right talent and skills.

Speakers and presenters were industry leaders from a diverse range of sectors, backgrounds, ages and experience, with an aim to explore the future of food from multiple angles and different generations.

“There were fascinating insights and robust discussions throughout the week,” said Central Economic Development Agency’s Chief Executive Linda Stewart.

A key highlight from New Zealand AgriFood Week’s keynote speaker, Rob Ward of the UK-based The Grocery Accelerator, was that New Zealand food and beverage brands are held in high regard among European and British consumers and our brands need to take better advantage of that.

“New Zealand is incredibly good at what it does, but not enough people know about it,” Ward said.

“The country is sitting on a goldmine of provenance, you need to get those stories across to the rest of the world.”

With his experience in running accelerator programmes, he believes new food and beverage brands need to observe how the tech sector operates and mimic how they build successful brands, quickly.

“Having access to quality data and interpreting that data allows brands to fail quickly and affordably and then pivot. They may only need to change one small element to their brand to ensure sales and success.”

Other themes robustly discussed throughout the week included whether New Zealand needs a food strategy. Those open to the idea suggested clarity and definition of roles and responsibilities across business, science and research, would be needed as a first step. Those against the idea warned of New Zealand losing its uniqueness and appetite to try new things, citing if there was a strategy and an idea fell outside of it, would it still be trialled?

“It’s these opposing points of views and bringing everyone in to one discussion that is of the most value during the week. It’s now what we do with these fresh perspectives, insights and new connections that’s of real importance and value,” said Stewart.

The Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA) manages the strategic direction and delivery of the week, with expert support from key industry organisations including ASB, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, AgMARDT, Fonterra, FoodHQ and Massey University, to name a few.

The purpose of CEDA leading the delivery of the week is threefold for Manawatū’s economic development: raising the national and global profile of Manawatū’s expertise and capabilities in food research and production, agriculture sector development and strengthening the talent pipeline into the primary industries by raising awareness of the career opportunities in the sector.

It is the fourth year that ASB has been the main sponsor of New Zealand AgriFood Week and ASB General Manager of Rural Banking Richard Hegan said like with other sectors, disruption is the new reality. Simply producing more and more isn’t the way of the future, and that’s why supporting events such as New Zealand AgriFood Week is important.

“It is a vital opportunity to talk with primary industry leaders, future leaders, producers and consumers, about how to evolve even further and deliver the next phase of value for agriculture,” said Hegan.

“The sustainable production of high-quality food that balances the needs and expectations of consumers, our communities and stakeholders is at a critical stage. To stay at the forefront, we need to get our story right so consumers, no matter where in the world they call home, insist on our produce in their stores because they see more value and authenticity in our produce. Getting more for what we produce – not simply producing more.”

New Zealand AgriFood Week’s point of difference is that it isn’t just a conference with speaker after speaker, we design events and workshops that people can pick and choose from that allows them to grow skills, capabilities, connections and different ways of thinking.

“Change can be uncomfortable, and it does not happen quickly, but allowing time, energy and resources to invest in exploring new and improved ways of doing something or connecting with new people, is the most valuable point of all,” said Stewart.

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