Posts Tagged value added food

Is the future for our sheep their milk? Peter Kerr Jul 16



Being the farm raised boy I am, I’m keen on the idea of clever new and profitable products from our ability to convert sunlight, soil and water into them.

So, Blue River Dairy, the sheep milk products company which is over 10 years old, is something to keep an eye on.

It is the creation of Keith Neylon, a 60-something entrepreneur, who has had previous lives in deer recovery (owned 10 helicopters at one stage) and salmon farming (co-pioneered its development in NZ) among other things.

He was semi-talked into exploring sheep milk potential by a meat company chairman – and saw opportunity.

There’s sheep milked around the world – but almost all is consumed in Spain, Portugal, Sardinia (four million sheep for two million people) and their own country of origin.

There’s was also an Asian and China angle. Over 85% of these countries’ peoples are allergic to cow’s milk.

The resut has been over a decade’s worth of front loading all the expense of setting up a market to production entity, investing in plant, genetics, farms and an entire system to produce sheep milk products.

He didn’t do things by half during this ‘research’ phase. Keith spent three months on an Israeli kibbutz that was one of its top sheep milk farms. Some of the knowledge from these experts has been incorporated in BRD.

Now, year round (having perfected lambing five times in two years), 4000 ewes are milked twice a day.

A new drying plant in Invercargill receives milk that has had 85% of its water removed on-farm, and most of it converted to whole sheep milk’s powder, canned onsite, most as infant formula.

This sells at a considerable premium to cow’s milk powder, though as Keith explains, it is better .

Sheep’s milk takes a baby 30 minutes to digest, compared to four and a half to five hours for cow’s milk. It has 500% more vitamin D. It doesn’t make babies skin become rashed.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of cans are tied up on China’s borders as The Middle Kingdom sorts out an issue of what it considers to be too many (up to an estimated 2000) brands of infant formula). This will pass.

But Keith is more than confident that at least 10 million milking sheep would not be an oversupply and continue to hold a price premium.

He says BRD has the best genetics, allied to a retail market position that is way ahead of any other land-based product from New Zealand.

He envisages a revitalisation of the sheep industry based on their milk – and remember they still produce lambs and wool.

Another strong point in sheep milk’s advantages is that “you never get leaching off sheep country.”

Keith is proposing that farmers become participants in the opportunity through a franchise-like system (including the all-important supply of sheep genetics), in which New Zealand, and its reputation and image, deliver high value products to a growing market.

This potential is one reason Landcorp is seriously considering an sizeable investment in the industry – perhaps alongside BRD.

I was privileged to hear him speak recently in Wellington.

This is ballsy entrepreneurship (a 10+ year lead time!), that plays to our strengths.

One day I predict he’ll be acknowledged as the man who saved the sheep industry.


In the rush to all things digital, are we missing a biological trick? Peter Kerr Jun 12

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New Zealand is missing a trick when it comes to the startup weekend, incubator, accelerator programme ecosystem that’s got lots of attention lately.

And sure, I can appreciate how the digital side of things is extremely quick at developing and validating a business through processes such as Lightning Lab.

Where I wonder if we’re underplaying to one of our strengths, is in the biology/technology economy (the analogue economy perhaps?).

What would be the new research and commercialisation projects if we had fired up scientists, engineers, manufacturers,  hands-on finance and distribution people, digital experts and some other odd and even people hothoused in a similar way to the incubator models?

How much learning, cross-fertilisation and ‘ideas-worth-pursuing’ could we generate?

Would the intersection of different peoples’ thinking create new opportunities?

The answer is surely it would.

But still, you’ve got to wonder whether the gift that mother nature has given us to produce biological raw materials isn’t being leveraged to anywhere near the extent we can and should be doing.

As far as I’m aware, there’s no forum that brings a width of sector participants together to collaboratively cook up new schemes.

Obviously, the dairy, meat, wool, forestry, and fishing sectors have their conferences – but they tend to be only mildly looking-over-the-horizon talk fests.

It is rare that people come away from such events with the attitude “I didn’t realise that,” or “I wonder if there’s an opportunity with…”

Now, the last thing I’m suggesting is our country should be either digital or analogue; we should do both, and both should and do inform each other.

Examples include TracMap, started by a former Wrightson colleague Colin Brown – which has expanded from using GPS and other clever computing to expand from helping fertiliser to be applied more accurately, to a range of markets under the heading ‘Situation awareness made easy’.

In fact there’s any number of digital/analogue connections for New Zealand’s primary industry – as evidenced at last year’s initial mobile tech forum.

However, we’re less good at the market end, adding value in areas such as functional foods, or ramping up the use of wood fibre as a multi-talented resource.

I appreciate I’m merely stating the problem without coming up with many answers.

But, how can we as self-described inventive Kiwis, create and explore biological/technologydigital opportunities better; much better?



How long will it take for the Wynyard Precinct to hit its straps? Peter Kerr Mar 11

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Well, let’s see how Auckland’s new Innovation Precinct, Wynyard Precinct (it appears to have at least a couple of names) get’s up and going.

It has been one of those long time in coming projects – and now we’ll see if the deliberate talk of setting up an innovation hub to attempt to be a baby Silicon Valley can be pulled off.

Making it a digital and ICT concentration of goodness may work, but then it may not.

I don’t know enough of the psychology, come physical location, come proximinity to university relationships to guage this one yet.

That, and whether the office/laboratory rent will be in the right comfort zone for budding entrepreneurs, who, even though they’d like to be situated around other smart people, may prefer the rock-bottom payments due when operating out of garage.

With (well at least according to this NZ Herald story) hotbeds of innovation already taking place in Albany, Takapuna, Henderson, Parnell, East Tamaki and further south around Auckland Airport, how and where Wynyard fits in will be interesting over the next few years.

Wynyard’s got some solid operators, with a track record in start-ups through having The Icehouse and Auckland’s BizDojo as people to meet, greet and settle potential new firms. There’s nothing like a bit of experience and competence to help fledgling founders.

How Ateed (the Auckland development agency) and Callaghan Innovation bring the FoodBowl into the mix will be another challenge.

The Manukau-based Food Innovation Centre has had considerable investment put into it by central government.

While these ventures always take a long time (if ever) to pay themselves back, the FoodBowl’s been very much in that territory apparently.

But, that’s not to belittle Wynyard. Onwards, and hopefully upwards.

Mind you, given that it will take at least a couple of years for anything meaningful to happen, by then we’ll have forgotten what the original purpose of Wynyard was anyway.

Magritek looking to be less lonely Peter Kerr Jul 23

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I had the pleasure of catching up with Magritek last week when it announced a new cornerstone shareholder in Wellington-based private equity investor Rangatira.

It is an opportunity for Magritek to up its sales and marketing effort around its relatively new ‘SpinsolveNMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectrometer. This is a compact machine about the size of a desk photocopier, and opens up a new market for Magritek.

Its previous ‘figuring out what’s inside a sample’ machines were more aimed at the mining and petroleum industries as well as education, but the Spinsolve means they can target, in particular, the food industry. A sample is simply put in a standard 5mm NMR tube and a virtually instantaneous graph readout obtained.

Verifying and proving what is in particular food samples, quickly, is seen as a valuable market well worth pursuing.

The US$50,000-$100,000 Spinsolve, uses technology and intellectual property Magritek says none of its competitors’ can match, and price-wise sits in the middle of the very expensive NMR whole body machines seen in hospital and small, cheap and cheerful (if not very accurate other machines).

Among some of the observations made by Magritek was that it would love to have some other high-tech company in Wellington. It’s lonely being a sole participant in this space, and as managing director Andrew Coy says, having others with which war stories, R&D efforts and other combined operations can be shared would be extremely useful.

The (undeclared sum) investment by Rangatira, which can be increased to 18% in a year’s time, also sees it slightly changing its focus. Magritek first approached it three or four years ago, but it is only now that a stakeholding has been deemed opportune.

Till now Rangatira, shareholders in companies such as Hellers, Polynesian Spa and Rainbow’s End (among many) has had an internal NZ focus.

Over 98% of Magritek’s production is exported, so Rangatira finds itself in a different space, with a different mindset required.

Hopefully the capital injection by Rangitira enables Magritek to ramp up sales, and at the very least continues its 18 month doubling of turnover since it began in 2004.

Magritek’s an employer of choice for physicists and other specialists (over a third of its staff have PhD’s), and an important end-point for high-end manufacturing.

The better it does through setting an example of selling well-differentiated, high-margin NMR products, the more likely we are to see others join its ranks.

It has the potential to act as a magnet for other hardware-based businesses, and then the chance to be slightly less lonely in its tech environment.

Bacteria detector set to scale up for food industry Peter Kerr Jul 02

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I’m always a bit of a sucker for innovations and improvements that add value to our biological industries.

After all, as a country we’d be fools not to play to our major strength in producing food and fibre.

An innovation’s appeal is also greatly increased when it solves a problem – and in this particular case it is instantly identifying the presence of bacteria in food products.

It’s one reason I’m keen on seeing Veritide’s real-time, non-contact bacterial scanner gain more traction. (Note: Veritide’s in the process of updating its website following its pivot to concentrate on the food industry).

The Christchurch based startup has proven its ultraviolet light and florescence reading technology to detect (usually faecal) contamination on meat carcasses – working with ANZCO to prove its concept. (Bacteria emit back a slightly different wavelength of light – a clever algorithm can interpret the mass of light information obtained from a scanner, showing whether bacteria are present).

Particularly with fresh, chilled meat, bacterial spoilage is a major challenge on what is essentially a sterile product as the animal’s pelt is pulled off. The United States (with others sure to follow) has a Zero Faecal Tolerance on its importing borders, and detecting and remedying bacterially compromised meat is a multi-million dollar problem for the meat industry.

The current bacterial detection method is to take selected swabs from the carcass and meat plant surfaces, and grow these swabs on petrie dishes over three days.

As you can imagine, such a method is pretty hit and miss, and even with hygiene standards that match hospital operating theatres, meat companies find it difficult to detect and remedy bacterial contamination.

Hence, the potential attractiveness of a real-time, non-contact bacteria detector.

Not only can it assess all of a carcass (compared to selected swabs), but surfaces can be monitored as well. Remedying contamination is also, obviously, much quicker and easier.

Having proven its concept, Veritide’s looking to finish its prototype development and testing before the end of the year, and then take a sellable portable device to market. From that point of view, it is building on the initial investment made by Endeavour i-cap, Ngai Tahu Equities and Powerhouse Ventures.

While its initial target is the meat industry, it is a disruptive technology which has the potential to be a game changer within the meat and wider food industries. Apparently (though that’s always difficult to believe), there’s little competition from a real-time non-contact point of view.

Poultry and shellfish share exactly the same bacterial detection and mitigation problems – for which an instant ID would also be heaven sent.

So, as said at the beginning of this blog, Veritide solves a problem in our biological industries – it doesn’t have to go hunting for a market; there’s an obvious need. Compared to many other innovations it is what it commonly referred to as a no-brainer.

And, to mangle a metaphor…..the world’s their oyster.

On that basis, anyone’s free to give Veritide chief executive Craig Tuffnell a call on 021 945 944, or email on for more information or to find out how they could be more involved.

When we name something, our relationship with it changes Peter Kerr Feb 07

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(This blog also appears at

Michael Margolis, chief instigator at Get Storied in a Brand Storytelling 101 blog makes the following point.

1. When we name something, our relationship with it transforms

His first example has an agricultural flavour.

“If a cow is given a name by her owner, she generates more milk than a cow that’s treated as an anonymous member of the herd,” according to a research study by Newcastle University.

Margolis goes on:

Names provide us with purpose and direction, often revealing the inner purpose and destiny we are expected to fill. Those names impart an energetic connection that shapes us. When you name the people, creatures and places around you, your connection with the universe is strengthened, all through the stories you tell.

Brands operate in a similar way. A brand represents the complex emotional relationship between the storyteller – the one who is sharing something about that brand – and the audience. Put in a more traditional context, a brand represents the emotional relationship between a consumer and a product.

For all the above reasons, this is why NZ Inc should brand our method of responsible pastoralism.

We can capture the hearts and minds (and wallets) of consumers who care, by connecting with their emotions.

We can get off the commodity treadmill differentiating ourselves from much less pleasant and picturesque means of producing protein.

We can reinvent ourselves….but only if we give ourselves permission to think differently about what it is we offer the world. (Clue, it is vastly more than a piece of meat or a dairy ingredient in someone else’s product).

No one has laid claim to the pasture-based system of working in harmony with nature.

We can – and to reiterate Margolis’ words:

When we name something, our relationship with it transforms.

Achieving virtual scale for our largest industry Peter Kerr Jan 30

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(This blog also appears at

Scale matters in exporting according to the World Bank… here’s a way to get virtual scale for our biggest industry.

The World Bank’s recent report ‘Export Superstars’, shows that company size matters when it comes to countries’ exporting. Little SME’s don’t cut much mustard.

Business NZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly , in commenting on Rob O’Neil’s Stuff story that the World Bank wants us to think big, says

“New Zealand has some unique challenges to overcome in its incredibly small scale and being the most isolated developed economy in the world.”

O’Reilly goes onto say:

“one effective model is the aggregation of small businesses into groups allowing them to in some ways act like and gain the advantages of large businesses.”

Given that NZ Inc’s biggest business is the conversion of solar-derived pastures into various proteins and fats, through thousands of small on and off farm businesses (and even the large ones are mere tiddlers in the world scene), wouldn’t it make sense to aggregate if we could?

Given the fierce independence mindset of our agricultural (and other) businesses, the best way for us to do this I argue is around the shared story of our pastoral method?

After all, in an affluent consumer’s mind, the story of a product is a large reason why they do, or don’t, buy it.

No one has claimed the ‘global mind’ (nor branded it) for responsible pastoralism. By and large (with some exceptions), how we produce our protein is a pretty sophisticated use of sunshine, soil and fresh air.

Now, no one New Zealand company can claim the NZ Inc mandate.

But collectively we can.

Collectively, owning and telling our story through individuals, we can grunt up, obtain the virtual scale that the World Bank suggests is vital, aggregate around a common heritage and obtain some of these advantages of large businesses.

Owning our pastoral story would sit perfectly alongside the Collaboration Programme for Greater Farmer Profitability recently kicked off under the Primary Growth Partnership fund. In fact it would underpin the whole thing, and move us further away from the continual price fighting end of the market.

But perhaps storytelling as a concept is too big an ask for the collective brains and leadership of the agricultural industry. As a nation we’ve always been more comfortable about actually doing things, than talking about what we’re good at, what we believe.

So, even though we essentially perfected rotational grazing, the thought that we could or should name it at a global level is just too radical.

However; the opportunity to provide virtual scale for our largest industry is waiting in the wings.

We simply have to think differently about what it is we sell to the world – and that is an ideal, linked to a method.

The moment we stop thinking only production and think ‘picture’ is the moment we’ve adapted to a storytelling world – which in today’s digital age is the beginning, middle and end of selling.

We are the picture that a child draws of a farm Peter Kerr Dec 18


A child draws a picture of a farm.

The sun is shining, the water is clean, the animals are happy.

A question could be, ‘What is the name of that picture?’

Our farms, done correctly, are that picture. There’s a heck of a lot of science to validate it as well.

But, like the picture, we’ve never given a name to what and how we do things.

Without a name, we’re undifferentiated from factory farming.

However, the moment we give our responsible pastoralism method a name, then we provide ourselves with a frame for the offer we make to the world.

It is a frame of reference, of expectation, of delivery, of allowing a consumer to connect heart and head for the piece of meat they may be thinking of buying.

It also provides a frame on which to do much more applied science – get the special bits, add lots of margin, create more value from the raw materials, reinvent products.

(This also applies to our forestry, fishing and other biological resources – our strengths, upon which we can build, make much more money).

Because what we want to do is have a relationship with consumers – they too ‘own’ our pasture Harmonies method. By naming it, we can have a conversation, with them, with other world farmers, with the supply chain, with the rest of New Zealand.

And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to positively yarn, rather than always having to be reactive.

Imagine too the competition and labelling opportunities from having children paint pictures and/or come to somewhere/something that is already named!

It all would happen by naming our story, taking control of our destiny.

Or would that be just too simple?

Food & beverage stars for NZ to hitch its wagon to – report Peter Kerr Dec 13

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There’s not that many reports you can sit down and study and go – uumm, interesting.

But Auckland-based Coriolis has done it (again), and their ‘Investors guide to emerging growth opportunities in NZ food and beverage exports’ is, and I don’t say this lightly, quite fascinating.

The company has deliberately taken its methodology and report-back from a (potential) investor’s point of view.

The simple objective was to find the next ‘wine’ – such as that fledgling industry existed 25 years ago.
Over 500 food & beverage items, based on export trade codes, were screened down to 25 candidates for stage II in-depth investigation.

Each of these 25 received a quantitative and qualitative scorecard – which makes for strangely compulsive reading. The snapshot view of the products includes:

  • Global market – major importing and exporting countries.
  • NZ exports and imports, key NZ metrics and firms
  • Global market structure and situation – and the nature of the challenge; including leveragable existing NZ factors, potential source of value creation, challenges and limitations

This combination has Coriolis managing director Tim Morris putting some of his reputation on the line, though as he says, the judgements provided are backed by data – and past work for industry – and he’s quite happy to debate and if necessary change some of these opinions in the light of industry and individuals providing new information.

It is a report that brings clarity and light, compared to other types of report that muddle around the middle, never reaching a conclusion. Framed from the point of view ‘well, what would you put your money into’, it really does provide a single-minded focus.

Thus, the potential star performers for NZ according to Coriolis are salmon, honey and alcoholic spirits.

Salmon because there’s a large world market, NZ’s proportion of that is tiny, and our reputation, quality and price received are all top notch. Morris says the challenge for NZ is whether we’d be prepared to see more salmon farms residing on our coasts – does it fit our mental image of our beaches being a summer recreation pursuit?

Honey, especially manuka honey, has lots of potential too. There is a danger (like the term kiwifruit) that we haven’t laid claim to the name Morris says. NZ should also take advantage of the fact there’s a supply constraint around manuka honey, and head away from the notion it’s something to spread on our toast. “We should “weaponise” manuka honey,” Morris says, bringing forward more applications such as throat lozenges, oral sprays and would dressings.

Alcoholic spirits have the ability to ride on the coattails of the market entry and reputation forged by our wines. Selling a bottle of distilled and uniquely flavoured waters for say $70 is, when you think about it, an excellent value-add. Like our early wine industry, there’s large number of small firms, many headed by immigrants (often German), doing interesting and innovative products and leveraging off the New Zealand reputation.

However, this post in no way does justice to, I repeat, a quite fascinating report, with in-depth reports on salmon, honey and alcoholic spirits also available via the Coriolis website.

Apparently the whole project was done on the smell of an oily rag – but you’d hope and expect that Coriolis picks up other consultancy work through clearly being New Zealand’s best at this sort of thing.

Morris reckons he could book all his working days till Christmas with food and beverage companies wanting to know more. You could almost call him a type of Santa with presents of knowledge.

If we knew what we were inventing when we figured it out…..we would’ve named it Peter Kerr Dec 11

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The concept of rotational grazing has been around for so long now (but only about 60 years really) that we take it for granted.

It is ‘just’ the way we do things at the on farm level, and there’s no question that this is the best way to manage the ryegrass/clover mix that makes up a majority of our pastures.

However, the ‘just’ hides a hell of a lot of applied science, and incremental increases in knowledge that resulted in a graze, rest, graze, rest….. method of management, and as importantly, tying it all in in a systemised approach.

(As an aside, this is how wild animals/nature manages the Serengeti Plains. Lush new grazing is inundated with animals, which move onto new grazing as it grows, allowing the old growth time to replenish).

Rotational grazing, as opposed to set-stocking, was a big breakthrough.

So, imagine if back in the 1950s, as our extremely talented (and nationally known) agricultural scientists were getting their heads around the ‘graze, rest’ style of pasture management, they realised what it was going to mean.

Do you think for a moment they would’ve hesitated to give it a name if they’d realised the multi-dimensional beast they were creating?

If, landing from another planet they’d descended straight into the technology, they would’ve been sure to have done so.

But, much as a frog placed in a pot of water with an ever increasing temperature doesn’t jump out, being so tied up in tweaking and re-tweaking the pastoral system, nobody thought to give it a handle.

There was a time when our grazing (including extensive use of greater paddock subdivision) was known as the McMeeken Method. Those in farming knew exactly what this meant.

With time, this moniker faded away.

However, it still doesn’t get around the fact that, especially and most importantly, there is no descriptor from a CONSUMER point of view. As the people who ultimately pay our agriculture’s way, they are who we need to engage with.

The story of how a lamb chop or steak (or even mince) is nurtured into life is a fantastic one (and for many people, especially those with discretionary income, several cuts above a feedlot yarn).

But, we’ve never named that story.

Until we do we’re undifferentiated.

The moment we did call our pastoral method (= responsible pastoralism) something, then an entire linkage from R&D, to the entire and wider agribusiness sector to the consumer would have a place to start.

We would give ourselves a common strategy – that mythical beast that has been talked about as being required for the past 40 years, but never cracked.

Sounds too simple…..which is probably why some people think it is impossible or crazy.

Or maybe not.

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