Charlie’s Cookies takes to the skies with Qantas

Qantas’ in-flight snack offering has been elevated to new heights since Charlie’s Cookies launched its Proud to Call Australia Home campaign in late March.

Long known for its grass-roots values and innovative approach to business, Australian made and owned Charlie’s has developed a delicious new line of specially curated in-flight snack boxes with heart.

“Through our on-going relationship with Qantas we discovered a shared vision for wanting to get behind great Australian organisations. Charlie’s set about developing this exclusive program of philanthropic support via Qantas’ complimentary in-flight snack menu, which naturally taps into a huge captive audience. It’s a real win-win all round”, says Ken Mahlab, Managing Director of Charlie’s Cookies.

Each Proud To Call Australia Home snack box includes portions of Delre International Black Jack Aged Cheddar Cheese, Tucker’s Natural Rosemary Lavosh, Beerenberg Caramelised Onion Dip and a 2-pack of Charlie’s very own Gingerbread Hearts, making the perfect mid-flight pick-me-up.

Also launched on March 29th, the new Proud To Call Australia Home snack boxes highlight the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation, Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Long known for its grass-roots values and innovative approach to business, Australian made and owned Charlie’s has developed a delicious new line of specially curated in-flight snack boxes with heart.

Bangarra Dance Theatre Executive Director Philippe Magid says, “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Charlie’s Cookies on their innovative new campaign supporting Australian initiatives and organisations. We’ve been fortunate to have a long and meaningful association with Qantas, so this is great opportunity for us to deepen our relationship and grow brand awareness with their customers via the Charlie’s Cookies snack box.”

Charlie’s Cookies Proud To Call Australia Home snack boxes will be a complimentary offering on selected Qantas domestic flights from 29 March 2016 to 30 September 2016.

NSW IGA supermarkets win top industry awards

Leading IGA stores in New South Wales are celebrating after winning at the annual IGA Awards of Excellence held on the 10 April 2016.

Three exemplary stores, IGA Ainslie, Ashcroft’s SUPA IGA Summer Centre and IGA X-press Circular Quay Plus Liquor were recognised after taking out the key awards for IGA Store of the Year, SUPA IGA Store of the Year and IGA X-press Store of the Year, respectively.


We’re proud to support independent supermarkets across the State that deliver a great retail experience to our local community…”


The IGA awards represent the highest example of Retail Excellence and demonstrate the store’s ability to grow in challenging competition-driven environments. Keenly contested between the stores in NSW, the awards are a chance to formally recognise and celebrate the achievements of independent retailers.

Not only the IGA stores but also the team who work in the stores who put the heart and soul back into supermarkets, and set the benchmark for other IGA supermarkets across the retail network.

New South Wales General Manager of Metcash Food and Grocery Mark Garwood representing the NSW IGA Retail Council presented the awards to the store teams and said, “We’re proud to support independent supermarkets across the State that deliver a great retail experience to our local community. We acknowledge the hard work and commitment our stores have demonstrated throughout the year across all categories awarded tonight.”

“Congratulations to IGA Ainslie, Ashcroft’s SUPA IGA Summer Centre and IGA X-press Circular Quay Plus Liquor for being recognised as leaders in independent retailing. These stores and their teams represent retail excellence – going above and beyond to demonstrate excellence in teamwork, customer service and quality in their respective store offerings.”

Busy weekends offer opportunities for premium breakfast products

As the fast-paced nature of twenty-first century life continues to change breakfast from an enjoyable pastime to a chore, consumers are increasingly seeking out convenience foods in the morning. While an established trend during the week, it is increasingly creeping into weekend habits.

According to a Canadean survey of packaging executives worldwide, 77% expect high or moderate demand for on-the-go grocery products during weekday mornings, while 63% forecast high or moderate demand during weekend mornings. While the high demand during weekday mornings is to be expected, this study shows that the industry is preparing to take advantage of a surprising opportunity: convenience breakfasts for those who are time-poor at weekends.

As a result, Canadean said it expects more innovative pack formats to be developed for breakfast drinks and smoothies, including dual packs separating liquid and solid contents, and heat-retaining packs to keep indulgent breakfasts warm while on the go.

“Brands built around convenience should consider brand extensions targeting weekend needs, while those built around enjoyment and indulgence should consider diversifying their product portfolios to offer new, more convenient products that still provide something special for weekend consumers,”

Safwan Kotwal, Analyst at Canadean, says: “Focusing purely on weekday breakfast convenience means brands risk leaving money on the table. While consumers’ timetables are arguably more flexible during the weekend, busier social lives are creating a new market for convenient, but at the same time indulgent, weekend breakfast products.

“Convenience purely targeted at busy office workers or busy parents on the school run means brands could be excluding themselves from a potentially very profitable weekend market.”

While convenience is an important consideration for many consumers, indulging and enjoying breakfast on the weekend is something they look forward to. Although high demand on weekday mornings will remain the most important occasion for convenience products, Canadean said it believes brands must not discount weekends as an opportunity.

“Brands built around convenience should consider brand extensions targeting weekend needs, while those built around enjoyment and indulgence should consider diversifying their product portfolios to offer new, more convenient products that still provide something special for weekend consumers,” Kotwal concluded.

Food manufacturers question effectiveness of star rating system

The Star food rating system which has been designed to help consumers make informed and more healthful decisions at the checkout is being rejected by major food manufacturing players.

Simplot, Nestle and Unilever along with peak lobby group, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) have questioned the effectiveness of the new government imposed system sighting a hike in labelling costs and potential job losses as the primary reasons.

Terry O’Brien, managing director of food processing giant Simplot believes that the new system could cost the $3m for the company to implement across its entire food portfolio.

O’Brien who is also chairman of the AFGC, told ABC News that the star rating system would not tackle food related issues such as diabetes and obesity.

"At Simplot, we've run our products through the suggested system and we've got anomalies all over the place, where things like products with no salt are not getting a better rating than the same product with salt.

"So if these sort of anomalies in our hands, then how the heck are they going to help the consumer?"

The star system is a product of two years of negotiation between the health sectors, government and the food industry.

 AFGC CEO, Gary Dawson estimates that the repacking could cost the food industry up to $14,000 per product equating to more than $200m across the industry.

However, health industry expert Michael Moore from the Public Health Association of Australia, who was involved in the design process of the rating system, believes that it is a small price to pay considering the burden of diabetes and cardiovascular disease on the nation’s health system.

“It’s peanuts compared with the cost of diabetes, cardiovascular, all the diseases associated with obesity and what it’s going to cost to treat them,” Moore told Financial Review Sunday


Nestlé recognised as ‘world leader’ in helping to tackle climate change

Nestlé has been acclaimed as a ‘world leader’ for its work to tackle climate change by sustainability ratings agency CDP, with the company one of only 64 out of over 2000 to claim the highest possible score in the prestigious annual ranking.

Nestlé heads CDP’s (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project’s) Climate A List with a 100 A score, for actions including the introduction of technologies to further optimise energy use to reduce emissions, including greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Nestlé is working with farmers to help them use water more efficiently, and has lent financial support to buy biogas digesters at dairy farms, to generate renewable energy and cut methane emissions. The company is also committed to preserving natural capital, and ensuring suppliers respect its ‘No Deforestation’ commitment.

Food waste is a major generator of GHG emissions, and Nestlé recently strengthened its commitment to reduce it, by announcing that it would achieve zero waste for disposal at its sites by 2020.

“Nestlé is committed to providing leadership on climate change, and we’re honoured to receive this accolade from CDP, which shows we’re on the right track,” said Magdi Batato, Executive Vice President and Head of Operations.

With the world’s water resources under threat from climate change, CDP recently commended Nestlé separately on the ‘excellent’ results of its water stewardship activities, which are also guided by public commitments.

Over the past decade, Nestlé said it has invested heavily in water-saving projects at factories, and a further CHF 62 million on community water projects with international agencies.

The CDP award comes after Nestlé received an industry-leading score of 99 per cent in the ‘environmental dimension’ of the 2015 Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Permeate powder set to boom thanks to new food standard

The market for dairy permeate powder will “explode into life” – especially in Asia – once a global Codex standard is set, which could be as early as next year.

That’s the forecast made by Arla Foods Ingredients, one of the world’s leading permeate producers and one of a number of major dairy companies involved in the process of creating the new standard.

Permeate is a by-product of whey manufacturing. It is a low-cost, carbohydrate ingredient often used as a bulk sweetener in snacks, chocolate, confectionery, ice cream, desserts, beverages and bakery products. 

Permeate is highly valued for its ability to replace other, more expensive milk solids in food products without altering the taste or texture, or requiring any changes to processing parameters. Used as an alternative to whey powder, demineralised whey powder and lactose, whey permeate can optimise product quality in a range of applications.

However, there is currently no Codex agreement for dairy permeate, a factor that deters many countries from allowing it in food and beverage products. China, for example, offers huge potential for the ingredient, but the lack of a standard means the authorities do not permit its use. In other parts of the world, permeate is already approved – but many companies are reluctant to use it because there is no global consensus on how it should be labelled.

At the Codex annual meeting in the summer dairy companies agreed to develop a new standard for permeate within two years in order to address this and other technical issues, such as harmonisation of product quality and consistency. But it is hoped that the process will be fast-tracked to completion within 12 months. 

In total 733,000 tonnes of permeate were produced in 2014, according to figures from the International Dairy Federation. North America accounts for more than half of this, but the majority of output there is used in animal feed. 

However, in recent years Arla Foods Ingredients has invested significantly in the manufacturing of high quality food-grade permeate as a free-flowing powder with a pleasant and stable taste profile. Arla Foods Ingredients has a permeate production facility in Denmark, which manufactures Kosher and Halal certified whey permeate – demand for which is expected to increase in 2016. It also has joint venture facilities in Argentina (with Sancor) and in Norway (with Tine). 

Morten Kaas, Director General Foods at Arla Foods Ingredients, said: “Permeate is a relatively new ingredient that has only been used in the food industry for the past 10 to 15 years. 

When the Codex standard for dairy permeate is agreed the market will explode into life. Most significantly, we hope China will authorise its use – and if that happens it is possible that other markets in Asia will follow. We’re confident that we’ll be able to fast track the creation of the Codex standard so that it is in place during summer 2016. This gives food manufacturers an opportunity to start formulation trials now to see how permeate can benefit their business.”


Australian grown whole almond milk launched

Leading plant milk experts, Vitasoy has launched Almond Milk Original and Almond Milk Unsweetened. 

 Since its arrival in the Australian market only about four years ago, almond milk has shown strong growth, with 12 per cent of Australian households now consuming almond milk. 
Supporting local Australian almond growers, Vitasoy says it is proud to make its almond milk with Australian grown whole almonds, sourced from the Murray River and Riverina regions. 
Beth Roberts, Senior Brand Manager said: “We know Australians share our passion in getting behind local farmers, and sourcing quality, local produce is one of our key values.  More and more grocery buyers want to understand where their products come from and the actual processes behind producing the food and drinks that go into their baskets.”
“We work closely with local partners to ensure our Almond Milk is made with locally grown whole almonds. The result is a delicious tasting milk alternative which appeals to those pursuing balance and variety.”

Redesigned tank washers with improved backwash action

The re-designed Turbodisc range, available from Tecpro Australia, has several improvements in efficiency, performance and long-term reliability.

 Turbodisc tank washers are the perfect solution for small and medium process vessels, reactors, driers, granulators, storage tanks, tablet coating machines and IBCs, Constructed with extremely high precision, the Turbodisc contains only one moving part which rotates freely on a hydraulic bearing to produce a dense spray of fast moving droplets that achieve much higher impingement and coverage than traditional spray ball cleaners. The low flow rate and high wash speed reduces effluent costs and down time.
The new range has a sleeker design and improved backwash action that minimises wash pattern interference and ensures purity and an ultra-hygienic clean by allowing no product to settle on the cleaning head.

The Turbodisc range includes a wide choice of models in 316, 316L stainless steel and Hastelloy C22, and is also available in chemical resistant, ATEX Certified carbon filled PTFE. With only one moving part, wear and tear is negligible and no replacement parts are necessary, eliminating maintenance costs.
Suitable for pressures up to 4 Bar and flow rates of up to 250 L/min, the Turbodisc range provides models with a cleaning radius of between 0.5 and 2.5m. They have a maximum operating temperature of 95ºC and an ambient temperature of 140ºC and use a BSP/NPT connection. 

Available with a 360º or 180º wash pattern, they are extremely compact and can be placed into the smallest tanks at any angle.

Nitrogen generators for food manufacturers

The use of nitrogen in food packaging has been widespread for several years. Primarily used as a non-chemical method of food preservation, nitrogen meets the demands of the food industry for ready availability of everything from exotic tropical fruits to bread, rice and potatoes throughout the year regardless of season and location. 

There is also the additional pressure of making fruits, vegetables and various other perishables available all year round in ‘just produced’ condition at competitive, affordable prices.

Nitrogen gas generators enable food manufacturers to package their goods in the most durable and purified manner possible and meet these demands head on. Nitrogen can improve the quality and expand the availability of perishable commodities without leaving any chemical residue.

Sullair’s Hollow Fibre Membranes and Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) nitrogen gas generators provide a solution for every food and industrial application that requires nitrogen gas with residual oxygen levels from 16% down to 10ppm (up to 99.999 % purity).

Nitrogen does not react with elements around it, and therefore, can be used to displace oxygen inside produce storage facilities, slowing down the ripening process and allowing the fruit to remain viable during the transport process.

Used inside food packaging to prevent oxidation and spoilage of raw food ingredients, nitrogen helps manufacturers achieve a meaningful shelf-life extension for their products.

Sullair nitrogen gas generators deliver multiple advantages in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) applications including preservation of product flavour, aroma, texture and nutritional value; increased sales through high product quality; fewer product returns; increased production efficiency with longer production runs; better product colour and texture at point of sale; extended shelf life; and increased export opportunities to new geographic markets.


China’s taste for Australian products

Australia has an edge in the alcoholic beverages, enhanced soft drinks and fresh grocery markets in China due to our heritage, expertise and geography.

There are many new ways Australia can diversify its product offerings and capitalise on the growing number of Sino-Australian partnerships in agribusinesses which are benefiting SMEs and MNCs alike.

Alcoholic beverages

According to a British medical journal, The Lancet, when excluding non-drinkers, Chinese middle class consumers now drink more litres of alcohol annually than their Western counterparts, including Australia, the U.S, the U.K and Germany. The report cites rising wages and high-pressure workplaces for the rise in consumption. Chinese consumers drink a far greater share of spirits compared to the international average, and though the alcoholic beverage industry has faced challenges due to anti-corruption prosecution on luxurious gift giving, China still consumes a quarter of the world’s beer.

But Australia’s main opportunity is in the wine category, which is expected to grow by 10 percent from 2011-2016, driven largely by Chinese middle class families and the young urban elite. Of all Chinese wine imports in 2011, Australian wine came in second (after France), at 19 percent of market share. France has benefited from an early perception of quality in the market, but as China’s wine market grows in conjunction with the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, there are significant opportunities for Australia. The Australian Grape and Wine Authority noted that the market share for Australian wine in China grew by 20 percent last year. A significant trend for Chinese consumers is the increasing desire to appreciate a brand experience whilst consuming wine. For example, Spanish producers capitalised on this and inspired interest amongst Chinese wine drinkers with three month classes at a Guangzhou school for consumers to learn all there is about Spanish wine.

Red wine enjoys a good reputation both for containing less alcohol compared to Chinese spirits and because of its luxurious connotations. The (fruity, antioxidant) health claims also appeal to older Chinese, while younger, well-travelled consumers are drawn to the flavour. New players in this category must also decide whether to tap into China’s growing e-commerce mass market, or at the other end of the scale, take advantage of China’s luxurious gift giving culture.

Tapping into craft beer

Another less-conventional avenue of opportunity is the rise of niche alcoholic beverages. China, as the world’s largest beer producer and consumer is seeing domestic production slow in tandem with the rising popularity of foreign beers amongst young consumers. In fact, China saw a 66 percent increase in beer imports in 2013.  The Shanghai Beer Festival held last Autumn even included beers made with purple rice and Sichuan peppercorns.  To tap into this market, Australian craft beer producers such as the Balmain Brewing Company in Sydney have entered China (after initially entering Hong Kong) by signing a deal with a Chinese distributor to position high end craft beers to wealthy consumers in hotel bars and restaurants. To get this right, the consumer must be understood. In an interview with The Silk Initiative, Daniel Taytslin of Gotham East, a Shanghai based spirits importer and brand developer, said that the strategy isn’t about ‘going to a traditional Chinese restaurant and presenting them with one-of-a-kind gins where they’ll just drink beer and baijiu…but more about holding an education session to have bartenders act as de-facto brand advocates’.

Enhanced soft drinks

Coca Cola’s recent purchase of a Chinese multi-grain drink maker (Cu Liang Wang) is an example of the dynamic nature of China’s soft drink industry.  As the interest in sodas wane (the market saw a 3 percent decline in 2012), China’s fruit and vegetable soft drink industry is currently growing at 20 percent annually.  There is a lot of variety in this sector, with soft drinks flavoured with fruits, vegetables and even traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients.  The industry has also seen products combining different market categories, such as Super Milky Pulpy Juice, a drink developed by Coca-Cola that mixes dairy and juice.

Tapping into China’s $66 billion soft drink industry (2013) with annual growth of 15 percent requires a deep understanding of the consumer due to its flavouring and distribution challenges. The opportunity here for Australia, particularly smaller producers, is to focus on product ingredients and how these are processed. Instead of competing with conglomerates such as Coca Cola and Suntory, who are jostling with Chinese groups such as Wahaha, Australian producers should focus on strategic-in-market partnerships. For example, Zhu Xinli, the head of Huiyuan Juice (which holds 51 percent of the juice market in China), has been eyeing investments in Australian agribusiness. He suggests that there are “1.3 billion Chinese consumers crying out for premium Australian products,” whilst also emphasising the importance of co-operation between Australian and Chinese producers on “all aspects, including technology.”

Fresh groceries

China’s $1 trillion grocery market is transitioning to suit the changing demands of China’s 600 million online customers. Consumers are demanding fresh groceries to their door. Already, Australian steak is available through online retailers such as T-mall, and fruit and vegetable producers, such as Australian nectarine farmers, are eagerly awaiting approval to sell their goods through online retailers.

Fruit and vegetable imports do not necessarily have to target high end consumers. This month, Canada’s Mucci Farms sent its first shipment of ‘cutecumbers’ (mini cucumbers) to a wholesaler in Shanghai, with the CEO saying the terrific reaction to the product is due to the fact that it’s new and interesting and has a crunchy and sweet taste with no seeds. Chinese consumers are known to try new products, particularly foreign, and with fruits and vegetables still a common snack in China, new interpretations of traditional groceries such as cucumbers will attract curious consumers.

There is also value in agricultural expertise which should not be overlooked as a key point of positioning in a country dominated by sub-par wet markets. For example, Jiang Quan of the Beijing Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, has sought out Australian producers in particular to improve the production of Chinese pears. Pears are indigenous to China though there is growing awareness that Chinese growers can benefit from modern techniques and technologies.

Let's go organic

With regards to production techniques, the $500 million ‘niche’ organic industry in China is actually the fourth largest organic market in the world. Recently, the market has been growing at over 30 percent a year as concerns over pollution continue to rise. Larger foreign producers who have applied early for China’s elusive organic license include Fonterra, Anchor and Angove (wine), though Australian fruits, particularly citrus, will benefit from superior perceptions of quality and safety.

John Moore of Summerfruit Australia says that marketing to the whole of China makes no commercial or logistical sense when it comes to organic produce. Instead, he says to focus on the upper middle class in tier one cities where 48 percent of consumers look for, and are willing to pay for, imported fruits. He also notes that as it only takes 14 days for the products to reach Shanghai by sea, Australian producers have no competitors to rival their fruits for quality, sweetness and taste. Australia also benefits from its location in the Southern Hemisphere and can provide fresh counter-seasonal crops, such as apples, to northern producers.

Andrew Kuiler ( is the managing director of Shanghai-based food and beverage consultancy, The Silk Initiative. 


Cracking down on food waste means paying attention to sell-by dates

New French legislation has made it illegal for supermarkets to dispose of, or destroy, unsold foodstuffs. The law was introduced to tackle the epidemic of waste alongside food poverty. Supermarkets must now donate unwanted food to charities or for use as animal feed.

Arash Derambarsh, the French campaigner who kickstarted the change in legislation, is now turning his attention to the rest of the world. The food waste legislation is tabled to be discussed at the next autumn G20 meeting. In the UK, where levels of food waste are anything up to 30% higher than in France, there are going to be some hard questions to answer.

Reducing global food waste is going to be an essential condition if we’re to feed the planet’s growing population. But any decisions about “giving away” unsold food to charities need to be taken in the context of the nature of food past its “best before” dates and associated food safety risks.

Food safety

Food waste, in the context of food safety, can be divided into two types: products with high moisture content, such as meat, dairy products and fresh perishable produce such as vegetables and fruit; and related intermediate moisture products, including bread.

In the first group, the risk associated with the consumption of products after the “best before” date will depend on specific characteristics. Consumption of a yogurt that doesn’t show any alteration or “gone off” odour may not be a problem in terms of food safety. It will probably have increased acidity which will make it sharper and less pleasant, but not unsafe to eat.


Charity donations. US Dept of Agriculture/flickr, CC BY


On the other hand, consumption of products such as “ready-to-eat” salads, might be counted as a serious risk for the consumer, since such products can be contaminated with a small number of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella that can still be growing, even under very strict packaging conditions, and become a problem when eating a product after its normal lifespan.

The “intermediate moisture” content foods, such as bakery products, provide good growing conditions for dry-loving moulds, some of which can produce mycotoxins (toxic chemicals produced by fungi) which are toxic to both humans and animals. These toxins have been demonstrated to cause several effects, including damage to the liver, poisoning to the kidneys. They have also been related to the development of various syndromes and cancers.

Although these products contain some ingredients in their formulation, for example propionic and sorbic acids and their salts, that are intended to delay the growth of these organisms, they are not able to reduce or kill the initial populations and thus allowing consumption after the recommended times could potentially pose a risk for consumers. Fungi might be growing in the products before they can be detected by smell or sight and may be releasing toxic compounds completely unnoticed.

Early data obtained at the applied mycology group at Cranfield University suggests that climate change conditions (including increased temperature, rainfall or drought conditions and increased atmospheric C02) could lead to an increase in toxin production by some of these species, especially during storage.

Continuous checks of the “sell by” and “best before” dates will have to be performed in the coming years to reduce risk to consumers. Besides, domestic disposal of products contaminated with these fungi may also pose significant risks to consumers by exposure to the spores – a percentage of the population is sensitive (allergic) to spoilage moulds, such as Penicillium and Aspergillus.

The Conversation

Naresh Magan is Professor of Applied Mycology at Cranfield University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The why behind the buy

Image recognition technology can help food manufacturers understand the marketplace and react in real-time.

Understanding what and why consumers buy is a tricky science. While purchase patterns can be obtained from cash registers with relative ease, understanding the consumer’s behaviours and preferences and the circumstances behind the purchase is much more complicated but equally important. As much as 80 percent of the consumer’s purchase decisions are made while he or she is in front of the shelf.

In a complex and competitive landscape such as retail, food manufacturers are grappling with audits that are expensive, manual and time-consuming, with shelves and store promotion lagging behind real-time changes and customer demands.  To audit one food product category takes approximately 15 minutes and involves physical measurements that are prone to human error, inaccuracies and inconsistencies. The number of food brands and sub-brands, design changes (for example, regular versus “Limited Edition”) and SKUs make auditing a colossal and very costly task. Food and beverage manufacturers can spend as much as US$12 million annually in a single market to employ a sizeable sales force to undertake these audits. 

Despite the massive efforts and costs, food manufacturers can only be content with basic statistics and KPIs, which offer little value to the business. Even if reports can be generated from the data collected, they can take weeks or months to produce, rendering them of little or no use to manufacturers. Such limited reporting not only hinders timely and effective responses to tackle the ever-changing taste buds of fussy consumers, it prevents manufacturers from making more intelligent, accurate and profitable business decisions in a highly competitive marketplace.

Businesses around the world are realising that technology is paramount to driving growth and enhancing customer engagement. Having the ability to capture and manage huge amounts of customer or product data and transform them into pieces that can be actioned upon, will give them a leg up over the competition. It is no different for food manufacturers. They are beginning to see the benefits of image recognition technology and are starting to aggressively pursue the technology to allow for greater efficiencies in their audit and execution processes and drive more intelligent and profitable business decisions as a brand.

Reducing auditing time

Image recognition technology—a combination of fine-grained recognition algorithms and contextualisation models—allows manufacturers and retailers to leverage and manage the huge amount of data collected in-store to understand the marketplace and react in real-time.

Food sales representatives simply use a smartphone to take photos of relevant store shelves, which are stored, analysed and reported in real-time. Within minutes, the food sales rep has actionable reports in the store, detailing key metrics such as share of shelf, competitors’ share, shelf standards, planogram compliance, pricing and promotional materials.

The use of the technology can save up to 60 percent of audit time in stores, freeing the reps’ time for other sales activities. Imagine the cost savings food manufacturers such as Nestle, which have as many as 6,000 brands, can achieve in just one grocery store.

Accurate, multi-faceted data in real-time

Not only does image recognition remove human error out of the equation, it also delivers accurate and reliable data on product distribution and availability. Using image recognition can provide at least a 20 percent improvement on the accuracy level achieved by manual auditing and can reach an accuracy level as high as 99 percent.

By leveraging image recognition, a rep can get over 50 different measurements, such as share of shelf (market share), planogram compliance, pricing and competitive insights, just from a few images of the shelf. This is a giant leap for food manufacturers, who have to contend with today’s auditing methods that only consider merely four or five KPIs.

Unearthing more opportunities to sell

Food manufacturers are facing shrinking margins and limited opportunities for horizontal growth. As competition intensifies, the emphasis has turned to vertical growth or new customer segments.

Image recognition technology can support this strategic focus. A rep can identify and process all the category opportunities available for the store in real-time to upsell, cross-sell and provide range extensions in-store. In some markets, companies like Coca Cola have successfully leveraged the data they have gained through the use of image recognition; they have seen three percent gains in market share, better performance of their brands in-store and a positive impact on their bottom-line.

Future of image recognition apps is bright

Newer and more innovative technology such as image recognition on all smartphones, tablets, analytics and wearable electronics are quickly becoming a reality. The technology is also leveraging video capabilities, which is better suited for modern trade channels, i.e. big supermarkets with long aisles, as it does not require reps to take as many images and they can simply scan the shelf.

Although current applications of image recognition are mainly benefitting businesses, it is evolving into the consumer space, enabling them to shop faster in a time-poor world. Mobile applications with real-time information on shoppers’ favourite food and other products in the store are available to help them make smarter and more informed purchase decisions. It allows shoppers to check if their favourite products are in stock and receive targeted promotions and discounts. For consumers, wearable electronics allow them to engage directly with manufacturers at the shelf, make informed purchase decisions and receive targeted sales promotions.

While the retail market is huge, the industry’s ability to grow and compete has been challenged by infrastructure, increased competition, and most importantly, ineffective tracking and analysis tools at the shelves within stores. Image recognition not only resolves these challenges but also provides a better yardstick of how consumers react to brands.

Joel Bar-El is the CEO of Trax Image Recognition.


Food-focused business expo to address waste

The challenge of reducing food waste and the related costs will be tackled at the Bringing Your Business Idea to Life expo in Victoria.

Food technologist and UK academic Dr Ajay Shah will present new solutions to reducing the massive cost of wasted resources, which amounts to $8 billion worth of food every year.

In NSW, the average household throws out $1036 of edible food every year, according to state government research, while in 2012 a Victorian government report estimated that people threw away $2,000 worth of food each year.

“This equates to 20 per cent – one out of five bags – of groceries bought. Further, up to 40 per cent of the household bin is comprised of food,” Dr Shah said.

“What we propose in the mix of solutions is the need to address aspects such as food safety and packaging; for instance, modifying the gases used inside the packaging but not changing the food.”

Now in its second year, Bringing Your Business Idea to Life – The Expo in Moorabbin, southeast Melbourne, helps business builders to energise their enterprise and is a designated ‘featured event’ of the Small Business Festival Victoria.

Organiser Jane Del Rosso said the expo was designed to support emerging food and non-food businesses by facilitating and providing essential expert knowledge and advice from successful businesses that had a great deal of experience to share.

“The topic of food safety and longer shelf life is certainly one of the more critical challenges facing new and emerging enterprises, not just the business fundamentals such as cash flow, licencing or regulatory matters,” Del Rosso said.

“If we can help today’s entrepreneurs to tackle some of the bigger issues such as food safety, safe packaging and product longevity, then they stand a greater chance themselves of staying in business longer. Food and hospitality businesses are notorious for being challenging to set up and sustain.”

The Bringing Your Business Idea to Life expo will be held 19 August at Kingston City Hall, 985 Nepean Hwy Moorabbin.


Burra Foods’ halves energy costs

Australian dairy ingredient processor Burra Foods recently halved their energy costs by installing a new wastewater treatment system.

According to Burra Foods’ Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor Daniel Tsivoulidis, they began to see results at the Korumburra site in the South Gippsland region of Victoria just one week after installing the Hydroflux HyDAF Dissolved Air Flotation unit.

“Within a week we were already removing so many of the solids in primary treatment that our secondary treatment Sequencing Batch Reactors did not need as much oxygen. We immediately saw a drop in electricity costs.

“With some more fine tuning we saw even more improvements.  We reduced our energy costs by almost half and the sequencing batch reactors can now process double the volume of water,” he said.

Burra Foods HyDAF unit now removes 60 to 70 per cent of contaminants in a continuous automated process and it has shown savings through reduced energy and chemical demand, as well as a reduction in operational expenses in downstream treatment.

The DAF unit also enabled improved pH fine-tuning and there is less down time now required for washing the microfiltration and reverse osmosis plants that form part of downstream processes.

The Burra Foods site can use up to a million litres of water a day and final treated water is discharged to the environment. Improved primary treatment reduces water variations going into the secondary and tertiary treatment further guaranteeing the high quality of this discharged water.


McCain Foods to invest $10 mill in Smithton plant

McCain Foods Australia/New Zealand will spend up to $10 million dollars over the next two years upgrading onsite storage facilities and building a new packing line at the Smithton plant in Circular Head, Northern Tasmania.

McCain Foods will spend an estimated $7.9 million on the on-site storage over two years and $1.6 million on the new packing line.

The improved storage facility will hold up to 55,000 tonnes of potato for processing.

McCain Foods Australia/New Zealand Agriculture Director John Jackson said the investment in upgrading storage and a new packing line will increase efficiencies and make the plant more sustainable.

“While this added investment will increase the plant’s capability and efficiencies, we still have a number of challenges before us in maintaining the competitiveness of the plant to ensure its long term survival,” he said.

“One of the challenges, in such a competitive market, is maintaining and increasing efficiencies to drive cost-reduction. Even in Northern Tasmania, we have to realize that we are competing in a global commodities market.

“In addition, rising local water and energy costs impact on the plant’s cost base reducing its overall profitability against global competitors.”

The Smithton plant processes potatoes for French Fries and potato products for the local and interstate markets.


Online shopping agreement links Australia and Korea

Australasian online shopping channel, Yes Shop, has signed a supply agreement which could help Australian food manufacturers break into Korea.

The reciprocal agreement allows Australian brands to list their products on Hyundai’s HMall online shopping platform. Hyundai Department Store Group is one of the biggest retailers in South Korea, with its Home Shopping and Online businesses among the biggest there too.

“This supply agreement allows Australian Food & Beverage producers to sell their products to South Korean consumers, without having to invest hundreds of thousands in warehousing, distributing and marketing their products,” said Paul Ding, Director, Yes Shop

HMall carries over 2 million lines of product and has relationships with more than 3,500 suppliers of quality products and global brands. South Korea has the world’s most developed home shopping market, where online retail recently over-took traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ department stores in sales.

“Similar to the Amazon model, producers warehouse their own goods, and ship directly to the purchaser from their warehouse, allowing both large and small businesses to take advantage of this agreement, without needing to invest in a large production run up-front,” Ding said.

“When the Korean Free Trade Agreement is in full effect, nearly 99.8 per cent of goods will enter duty free, meaning that a range of food and beverage producers can use this agreement to gain easy access to the Korean market.

“There’s tremendous demand for high quality Australian food and beverage products in the Korean market.  Organic food products including baby foods and those with certain health or beauty benefits are highly sought after." 


Food and beverage manufacturing expands again

The food, beverages and tobacco sub-sector has reached its 13th month of expansion, according to Australian Industry Group’s Performance of Manufacturing Index.

The sub-sector’s index increased by 0.7 points to 60.5 points in June (three-month moving averages), where an index reading above 50 points indicates that activity is generally expanding; below 50, that it is declining. The distance from 50 is indicative of the strength of the expansion or decline.

Food and beverages exports are continuing to benefit from a lower Australian dollar, while local demand remains solid.

This sub-sector is the single largest manufacturer, accounting for around 25 per cent of all output and employment. It has recorded the strongest and most consistent growth trend among all manufacturing sub-sectors since 2013.

Food and beverages was one of eight manufacturing sub-sectors in the Australian PMI that expanded in June. The other sub-sectors that expanded are: wood and paper (for a fourth month); textiles, clothing, footwear, furniture and other manufacturing; and printing and recorded media.

Overall, The PMI recorded a result of 44.2, down from May’s 52.3. The previous result was a break from five previous months of negative results.


The Australian native food industry: the next big boom?

The native food industry has grown considerably in the last five years and is gaining traction within the food manufacturing industry.

In 2010, farm gate production of the native food industry was valued between $15 million and $25 million. The annual riberry (Lilly Pilly) production alone was between 4 and 5 tonnes, and it’s estimated in 2016 production will increase to between 15 and 20 tonnes, according to Michael Clarke, RIRDC, who was the Principal Researcher on the Australian Native Food Industry Stocktake in 2012.

“With large international companies such as Bonne Maman creating products to include Australian native species in their products, plus interest from The United States, Europe and many Asian countries, the demand could well  exceed those expectations and continue to increase at a rapid rate,” Clarke says.

Jude Mayall, Outback Chef and Deputy Chair of the Australian Native Food Industry, says the perception of the native food industry has changed.

“If you go back maybe even five or six years ago, native food was still something people thought of as chomping on a leaf or eating a witchetty grub. Come up to the present day and people are starting to get really excited about native food,” Mayall says.

“We’re getting food manufacturing companies, pharmaceutical companies and cosmetic companies. Everyone’s starting to look at our native food.”

“We’re doing a lot of scientific research on native food as an industry body and it’s showing some amazing things happening with native food and the Lilly Pilly is one…we’re discovering some absolutely amazing results with all the health benefits,” Mayall says.

The Lilly Pilly has attracted the attention of French jam manufacturer, Bonne Maman, who has collaborated with the Australian Native Food industry to release a Blueberry and Lilly Pilly Conserve.

“There’s a heap of species of Lilly Pilly and everyone knows of it, but so many Australians haven’t tasted it. The industry is still in its pioneering days but having companies like Bonne Maman embracing our flavours, it’s amazing. This is what is going to help the industry as a whole to move forward, to have companies who have really great traditions embracing our flavours.”

Mayall was involved in sourcing the Lilly Pillys for Bonne Maman, and said it was vital to work with growers who know what they are doing.

“The one thing that you’ve got to keep in mind with native food is that it’s all wild harvested, handpicked and there’s no machinery,” Mayall says.

“The other thing is we’re watching the seasons, we’re watching the days…we’re watching the cycles of the moon, we’re watching the climate, the wind, the rain, and then all of a sudden [the grower] says ‘okay they’re ready, I’m going to start picking.’”

“Once they were ready the grower was literally up at 1am and 2am in the morning, he was out picking until 10 and 11 at night. It really was a process that just kept going and that’s just the way that it is, it’s not bringing in the big tractors and shakers because we don’t want the fruit bruised.”

While most of the native food crops are wild-harvested, there is a move towards harvesting, developing cultivation methods and researching the health benefits of native food.

The native food industry also has the potential to fuel employment, “particularly for those living in remote communities, for farmers and for indigenous people,” Mayall says.

“So it’s an industry all Australians can embrace, and that’s why I’m very keen to have big companies who already have an established name saying ‘well, this is worth a try.’”

Above: Jude Mayall, Outback Chef and Deputy Chair of the Australian Native Food Industry.

Lean manufacturing book released

Grow Your Factory – Grow Your Profits: Lean for Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturing Enterprises by Tim McLean has been released.

The book explores how businesses can grow and increase their profits by adopting Lean manufacturing as a tool for continuous improvement in the work place.

“My start point was in Grow Your Factory – Grow Your Profits was to ask. What are the problems faced by growing manufacturers and how can Lean overcome these problems? The book therefore goes through the typical steps that an SME needs to follow in order to develop a Lean production system and overcome the barriers to growth that it faces,” McLean said.  The book includes many case study examples, all from Australian SMEs that the TXM team has worked with.

Utilising Lean techniques helped Tasmanian beverage manufacturer, Juicy Isle to improve product flow, productivity and safety, enabling them to grow their businesses more effectively.

“TXM showed us how 5S can be incorporated into our business functions to make our production facility a lot simpler to run,” said Michael Goward, General Manager of Juicy Isle. “With tools such as visual cues, kanbans and others, we have been able to have a designated place for everything and everything in its place. Work instructions, test results and efficiency measures are all in place to make the operations run smoothly.” 


New wine industry software to improve efficiency

A team of students have developed a software system that could save the food and wine industry millions of dollars a year.

A team of University of Adelaide students have developed a software system that could save the wine industry millions of dollars a year – and their work could also be applied to global food production.

The team, called Seer Insights, has developed the GrapeBrain software system, which they hope will improve the efficiency of production in viticulture.

The system captures a greater and more reliable volume of information about grapegrowing and winemaking processes, enabling those in industry to more accurately assess annual yield levels and the resources needed.

“Not being able to accurately predict the grape yield from one year to the next is a major and extremely costly issue for the wine industry,” said Seer Insights team member Harry Lucas, 20, who is studying Mechatronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide. The other members are Petros Bakopoulos, 21, a Mechanical Engineering and Finance student, and Liam Ellul, 23, who is studying for a double degree in Commerce (Marketing) and Law.

“At the moment we’re working with the wine industry and applying this technology to both growers’ and winemakers’ operations. It could potentially save the industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” Lucas said.

“There is also the potential for our system to be expanded into other industries. It’s the kind of technology that could improve global food production, helping to feed the world.”

The system won the Tech eChallenge competition run by the University of Adelaide’s Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre (ECIC) and School of Computer Science in conjunction with Microsoft.

As the inaugural winner of the Tech eChallenge, Seer Insights will receive prizes valued at more than $20,000, including a trip for all three team members to Microsoft’s headquarters in Seattle, USA. The trip will provide a unique opportunity for the team to pitch its technology to Microsoft executives.

“Seer Insights is to be congratulated for their innovative software project, which is highly relevant to the needs of industry,” says the Director of ECIC, Professor Noel Lindsay.

“The inaugural year of the Tech eChallenge has already proven to be a great success, with a staggering 65 teams entering the first round of the competition. We are pleased to be partnering with Microsoft to foster new technology ideas and new talent, such as in the case of Seer Insights,” Professor Lindsay says.