Applying scientific rigour to Pacific product development

Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand’s inaugural Deal by Science project achieved an important milestone last week, with teams from the University of Otago’s Department of Food Science presenting research reports on the products of three Pacific Island food and beverage exporters.

Team Kavalicious of Otago University displays the kava-based beverage it develop under PTI NZ’s Deal by Science project for a Fiji kava export company.

The Deal by Science project is part of PTI NZ’s Path to Market programme, which is designed to help exporters from the Pacific Islands gain a better understanding of the New Zealand market. It is an export capability programme combining a range of services to help export ready and export capable businesses to enter New Zealand.

Pacific Island small and medium enterprises often find themselves constrained with lack of resources for product development and testing before launching their products especially in the overseas markets. The importance of scientifically testing food and beverage products before they are commercially launched cannot be overstated.

Michael Greenslade PTI Trade & Investment Commissioner says, “In our work with companies in the Path to Market programme, we are often able to identify gaps in product attributes such as recipe design, packaging and shelf life to name just three. It is important to address these before these companies can successfully launch in markets like New Zealand.”

It is these aspects that are sought to be addressed in the PTI Deal by Science project – applying scientific rigour to Pacific Island product development with the aim of optimising appearance, packaging, labelling and additionally, in the case of consumable products, determining the optimal ingredient and recipe mix, assaying nutritive value and optimising shelf life.

At the beginning of this year, PTI NZ commissioned the Otago University’s Department of Food Science in Dunedin to work with product development for three Pacific Island companies from Fiji and Tonga. A separate team comprising four students and an academic supervisor was assigned to each of the three companies. Overall, the project was supervised by a set of department’s senior academics and the university’s Research & Enterprise department.

“We were excited when PTI approached us early in the year to include Pacific Island company sponsors for participation in our Otago Student – Company New Food Product Development Projects, says Fiona Nyhof, Company-Student Project co-ordinator at the Department of Food Science.

“With a project brief setting out our sponsors’ goals and our students working in teams of four, the students went to work to research, investigate, innovate, develop and test product prototypes.”

Working over the past ten months, the three teams last week presented their research and methodologies employed in developing three suggested products for market launch. Two versions of a kava-based product, two flavour combinations of a coconut-based snack food and a nutritious snack made from tropical fruit were presented to a small audience of academics, students, company representatives and PTI team members.

Each of the teams explained the respective steps in their individual product development exercises – from design of the research parameters to testing and sampling on focus groups for appearance, taste and flavour, packaging design and other feedback.

“Keeping in mind the need to efficiently utilise the Pacific ingredients including kava powder, squash and coconut, our teams were able to practice and communicate the product development process and deliver fully tested product formulations, packaging solutions and technical information,” Ms Nyhof said.

Speaking on the progress of the project so far she said, “We feel that there is a great sense of pride and achievement gained by our students for the hard work that goes into these projects, and we hope that the project outcomes will support our sponsors’ decisions to proceed to launching new products for our markets soon.”

The companies will next work on strategies to apply the research to their commercial product development.

Deal by Science broadens PTI’s relationship and engagement with scientific research conducted for the companies it works with and fits well with the larger framework of the PTI Path to Market programme, Mr Greenslade said.

“This research brings huge value to the companies engaged in developing these products for the international market. Having teams working for close to a year around use of science to help companies to get deals over the line is a welcome development for these companies,” Mr Greenslade said.

PTI NZ will extend the Deal by Science project next year, Mr Greenslade revealed. “Three to six research opportunities will be available next year, which PTI Path to Market graduate companies will be able to apply for,” he said.

Expressions of interest will be invited shortly and will be announced on a future edition of Pacific Periscope.

For more information please email PTI Trade Development Manager Joe Fuavao on joe.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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