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Innovation park out to crack the next big specialty food product

The Waikato Innovation Park is on the hunt for companies that want to research and develop new spray-dried food products.

The Waikato Innovation Park is on the hunt for companies that want to research and develop new spray-dried food products.

Its $11 million product development spray dryer facility will open for business in a matter of months and chief executive Derek Fairweather said it offered opportunities for anyone ready to scale up a new spray-dried product to commercial production.

Funded through Innovation Waikato Ltd debt and a government grant of $3.95 million, the park is the Waikato component of the state-sponsored Food Innovation Network.

Construction of the facility will be completed in April and the first product run is scheduled for mid-May.

It will initially focus on manufacturing whole milk powders and later expand to include infant formula and fruit and vegetable powders.

Fairweather said it would be New Zealand’s only independent product development spray dryer.

“We believe this dryer facility is a key mechanism for moving the dairy industry from a focus on commodities to value-added production,” he said.

Fairweather said there was huge potential for specialty milk producers in particular and as the facility gained momentum, opportunities for product innovation would be "that much more possible" in smaller dairy companies.

“This facility will give innovators in the industry the ability to come up with the next speciality milk product – along similar lines as Stolle, A2 and colostrum products. I also expect to see the facility helping create entirely new industries, such as dried sheep milk products."

Plant operating manager Dave Shute said: "New Zealand is a major player when it comes to supplying milk and food products to the world. And, Asia – particularly China – is an extremely important export market that is right on our doorstep. The challenge for producers, however, is developing new products that appeal to these consumers.

“The issue is that if you are a smaller player in the specialty milk industry, it’s difficult to gain access to a commercial manufacturing facility where you can test a new product and then scale it up to commercial production."

The Dairy Goat Co-operative has already committed to utilising 40 percent of the plant’s capacity, which was pivotal to the business case for the facility.