New imaging technology may provide more accurate food quality assessments

Scientists at the University of Western Australia are developing innovative new ways to assess food quality by using infra-red technology.

The technology is similar to that of infra-red thermometers which are used to detect fever in humans by converting information of the colour of the skin into an estimate of internal body temperature. Associate professor, Christian Nansen believes that the same technology can be used to assess food quality.

"With this technology, food items moving down a conveyor belt can easily be ‘tagged' by an infra-red scanner, and fast computers can quickly analyse the imaging data and determine whether or not a given food item needs to be rejected, or whether it needs to be diverted to the cargo bin for lower-grade food items,” said Nansen.

"It is similar to the baggage handling system at an airport: the infra-red scan taken along the conveyor belt represents the ‘tag' which ensures that each item of luggage – or fruit – gets to the right cargo bin and airplane."

Nansen says that although the prevalence of imaging technology systems for unprocessed and processed food items is growing, most detect and quantify defects in grains, fruit and vegetables and meat quality and that one of the biggest challenges – the fact that fresh produce varies greatly in size and in surface texture – colour classification based on surface colour via imaging technology is generally associated with low classification accuracy.

Nansen also adds that his latest research is looking to explore whether the technology can be used to detect weevil infestation inside field peas.

"The research question was whether field peas infested with beetles reflected light differently compared to field peas without internal beetle infestations," said Nansen.

Nansen’s research which is a collaboration between Associate Professor Guijun Yan, Dr Nader Aryamanesh and Masters student Xuechen Zhang at UWA has been published in the Journal of Food Engineering.

The researchers compared different classification methods and found that Nansen’s outperformed the more conventional classification methods. Nansen believes that the new approach could pave the way for accurate large-scale, commercially viable classification of food items that can be performed under tight time constraints.


Fonterra’s new Waitoa facility to commence production in March

Fonterra’s new $120m UHT milk processing plant is edging closer to completion with production to commence in March.

The new processing facility, located at Waitoa New Zealand, has taken over 12 months to complete and UHT Operations Manager, Donald Lumsden, said that the new facility will enable the co-operative to meet the growth in global dairy demand.

“This is a very exciting time for Fonterra. The global demand for dairy is growing and we’re now well-positioned to meet this growth with our new state-of-the-art UHT milk processing site at Waitoa," said Lumsden. "The site will enable us to optimise the milk our farmers produce by turning it into high-value consumer products that will meet market demand in Asia.”

The site is currently undergoing water commissioning to ensure that all elements of production are in full working order before processing commences.

“Running water through the processing lines ensures we can vigorously test how the milk and packaging will be processed. It lets us know that the site is ready to begin processing milk,” said Lumsden.  

The new site is inclusive of five UHT processing lines designed to process a range of products including UHT white milk and UHT cream. Lumsden says that when the site is in full production by August, it will be capable of producing 100m liters of milk each year.

“The site’s technology means we can produce up to 24,000 milk packs an hour per line, they will be flying off the line,” said Lumsden.


Will community support seal the deal on SPC’s future?

It was only a few weeks ago that the future of Australia’s last remaining fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona, was in doubt.

A steady influx of cheap imported tomatoes, a consistently strong Australian dollar and confusing regulation surrounding country of origin claims have all impacted on the processor, which warned it may have to cease trading in Australia.

SPCA reached out for government assistance to meet rising costs, a request that was initially met with a $25m pledge from Labor, but was later rejected by the Abbott government.

The processor also appealed to the Anti-Dumping Commission to have tariffs imposed on tomatoes imported from Italy on the basis that the cheap imports were causing material injury to local producers. The Anti-Dumping Commissioner ruled in favour of SPCA, and imposed a tariff of around nine precent on 14 Italian processed tomato brands.

The imposition of tariffs and increased consumer awareness of SPCA’s plight led to a steady increase in sales, but not enough to secure its future.

It wasn’t until late one Thursday night in early February that SPCA’s future would really take a turn for the better.

Newcastle resident and loyal SPCA customer, Linda Drummond pioneered a movement on Twitter that encouraged Australians to purchase SPC products over the weekend. She created the hashtag #SPCSunday which soon spread to various forms of social media including Instagram and Facebook.  

Within less than 24 hours, the hashtag had been used in over 1,000 tweets and reached the likes of Australian celebrities including Magda Szubanski, Father Bob and Adam Spencer who were all eager to support the cause.

By the time Sunday rolled around, the hashtag was tweeted over 7,000 times and sales of SPCA products soared..

Food magazine recently spoke with Bronwyn Powell, the marketing and innovation director for SPC Ardmona about the #SPCSunday campaign and the impact that it has had on the business.

Powell said that sales in the lead up to #SPCSunday were already increasing, but since the campaign, more consumers have been reached than they could have possibly hoped for.

“In our key line and our key retailers we have increased sales by over 50 percent, which was actually happening even before #SPCSunday. We have had such great support from consumers, retailers and everyday Aussies, and now even more so,” she said.

“We are just overwhelmed with the everyday Australian supporter for our company really. So it’s amazing, it’s really been fantastic.”

When asked whether SPCA would consider integrating #SPCSunday into the company’s marketing activities, Powell said it is something that the company would ‘definitely’ consider.

“We are definitely looking at how we can continue to support and grow this idea whether it is instore or online with consumers. It’s only early days but trust me, my team are crazily thinking, about how we can help grow and support #SPCSundays and really connect with our consumers and the community.”

Since #SPCSunday, both Coca-Cola Amatil (SPCA’s owner) and the Victorian state government announced a new $100 million investment plan to assist the processor over a three year period. The cash injection will no doubt provide much needed assistance to the brand, however for the company to continue to prosper now and into the future, ongoing consumer support is vital.

Food magazine asked Powell what she believed Australia would lose if SPC was to close.

“There are a lot of things that we are going lose if we lose SPC. The first one that I have to say as the marketing director is great brands that have been around for nearly 100 years – Many of them people have grown up with. Household names like Ardmona, IXL jam, Goulburn Valley and Taylors more recently which is a newer brand, those brands will be lost and lost from a lot of our Australian childhood memories.

“And because we are an agricultural based company with Australian grown fruit and vegetables – we are going to actually lose a lot of Australian growers. And the sad thing for me, the thing that probably brought me the most emotion in this job was that we would be losing 100 year old pear trees that have gone through three generations of families.

“The other thing is that consumers are going to lose the reassurance that they are buying Australian, and when they are buying Aussie grown, and our products, I can assure you that they are clean, green and wholesome. We give consumers comfort that their food is premium quality and safe – that is critically important and something that we know and we can demonstrate.”

Powell says that differing standards in food safety is another concern that the Australian public will face should SPC close and shelf space be replaced with imported products. The call for stronger country of origin labelling and more rigorous testing of imported fruit was heightened last year after high levels of lead were detected in Chinese canned peaches. Tests on the fruit showed alarming high levels of lead – up to twice the amount that is legally permissible under the Australian and New Zealand food standard.

“One of the things I always say is actually look at where products come from… Have a look in the fine print and actually see where that product was really made and then ask yourself, do you really know what goes on in terms of the conditions that the product was made in? Do we really know if they have the same strict laws that we have in Australia around food safety?”

Powell explains that innovation within the Australian fruit sector is also something that the nation stands to lose.

“We would lose all of the future innovation that myself and my team have been working on. Just one of those is Goulburn Valley Perfect Fruit [soft serve fruit] which is currently in test market. We have loads of other ideas too that won’t be there if we go, as there is nobody else that really operates in fruit to offer that innovation in Australia. Fruit is at the core of what we do.”

Although SPCA has been enjoying a spate of increased support from consumers and retailers in recent months, ongoing sales is what’s required to  to keep the company alive.

In mid February, parent company Coca-Cola Amatil posted a $400m slump in net profit, related to write-downs from SPCA. In order for the company to truly come back into prosperity, constant consumer support is paramount, and also achievable.

Spring Gully, a South Australian sauce and pickle manufacturer was in a similar predicament, albeit on a smaller scale, in mid-2013. The company entered voluntary administration with debts of $4.9 million in July, but showed stronger signs of life months later as a result of community and retail support. 

Fellow South Australian food brand, Robern Menz launched the “Shop and Swap” campaign which encouraged consumers to swap one supermarket food item with its South Australian produced counterpart.

Not long after Shop and Swap was launched, three weeks' worth of Spring Gully sales took place over a three day period with Foodland, IGA and Coles placing extra orders to make up for the increase in sales. In November, the company announced that it had cleared $1 million in debt.

The question is can SPCA follow a similar path and pave a road to recovery through increased consumer support? Powell thinks that they are most certainly on the right track.

“The support is certainly helping us, it is certainly saying to everyone that this is a company with brands and products that Australians want to keep alive.

“SPC is overwhelmed with the support, and we want to thank each and every Australian who has supported us – retailers and the consumers.”


Researchers pioneer pooperoni sausage category

Yep, you read the headline right. The next big innovation in sausage manufacturing could well be the inclusion of baby excrement according to human by-product researchers who believe that infant poop could provide a host of health benefits.

Dubbed as 'pooperoni' by some, Spanish researchers have taken bacteria cultured from faeces present in the nappies of infants, and used them as an ingredient in ‘fuets’, the researchers' take on the spicy Spanish sausage chorizo. 10ml/kg of the bacteria was added to lean pork and then stuffed into pork casings to ripen – creating a product somewhat similar to pepperoni, WAtoday reports.

Meat Science, the official journal of the American Meat Science Association published a paper on the study, which included comments from six “trained assessors” whom had taste tested the fuets, and judged them on smell, taste, hardness, ease of peeling and crumbliness.  

According to Dr Hani Al-Salami, a pharmaceutical science lecturer at Perth’s Curtin University, it is important to use bacteria from baby faeces rather than adult faeces due to the ‘milder gut content’ that infants possess.

"Babies at that young age, the gut content is quite mild and nice compared with an older person," Al-Salami told WAtoday.

"The reason is, as we grow, we do eat a lot of things and not everything we eat is the best in terms of quality."

Al-Salami says that the addition of bacteria aids in the digestion of the food, and that recent studies have proven its benefits which include the balancing of ph values in the gut, and the production of vitamins.

"The main aim is to gain a full understanding of what healthy diet means and find out how much it takes of the baby sausage, to get the benefits."

Al-Salami also said that the cultured sausages could – at some point in the future – make its way to the retail sector.

"Down the track we hope [they'll be available for purchase]," he said.

"That's why all the work is being done."


Tetra Pak’s new energy saving pasteurisation process

Food processing and packaging company, Tetra Pak has announced the introduction of a new juice pasteurisation process that saves up to 20 percent on energy consumption.

The new process, which is suitable for high-acid juices, improves efficiency by reducing the temperature of the second pasteurisation process from 95°C to 80°C, without compromising the quality of the juice produced.

Juice pasteurisation is conducted in two steps. The first pasteurization, commonly conducted immediatey after the juice is squeezed, deactivates enzymes and kills microorganisms. Prior to the filling, another pasteurisation is conducted to destroy microorganisms developed during bulk storage. This second process is usually conducted at a temperature of 95°c for 15 seconds. Tetra Pak’s new technology means the temperature of this process is brought down to 80ºC for juices with a pH level at or below 4.2.

Micael Simonsson, manager Centre of Expertise at Tetra Pak, said “We are excited by this new development, as it reduces energy consumption and therefore helps our customers improve their bottom line in an increasingly competitive market. At the same time, extensive tests show that the new process has no impact on the quality of the juice produced, be it in terms of taste, nutrition, storage stability or visual appearance."

New milk protein cuts cheese maturation process

European dairy company, Arla Foods Ingredients has launched Nutrilac FastRipe, a natural milk protein that enables cheese-makers to reduce ripening times without impacting on product quality or shelf life.

Nutrilac FastRipe enables manufacturers of continental and cheddar-type cheeses to cut the maturation process from anywhere between one to six weeks, resulting in reduced overheads in terms of storage.

The product is made from Arla’s CH-4560 natural whey protein which is extracted from cows’ milk and supplied as a fully soluble powder that can be dispersed and blended quickly in cheese milk or water – resulting in no impact on the overall manufacturing process. Once the ingredient has been added, it accelerates the mechanism in cheese that causes it to ripen.

“We’ve tested Nutrilac FastRipe extensively in a range of cheese types and each time we’ve been delighted with the results,” said Claus Andersen, Cheese Category Manager at Alra Foods Ingredients.

“Ripening time is reduced by up to six weeks, without any negative impact on the end product. As a result, storage time is significantly reduced, and the cost savings can be huge. Importantly, the application of Nutrilac FastRipe to a recipe requires no alteration to the cheese process at all.”


Dumping tariffs should be invested in local industry, Xenophon

Peak industry body for vegetable growers, Ausveg, is calling upon the Federal Government to invest tariffs collected from ‘illegally dumped’ Italian tomatoes into affected local industry.

A similar program is currently in place in the United States, and Ausveg together with independent senator, Nick Xenophon say that the investment of these tariffs back into the industry would serve as a practical alternative to government funding for affected processors such as SPC Ardmona and Simplot, The Weekly Times Now reports.

William Churchill, Ausveg public affairs manager said that processors and growers need a level playing field to compete, a view echoed by Xenophon who has promised to introduce a private members’ bill.

"If a company is being hurt by dumped products, it's only fair it gets the duties collected by government," said Xenophon.

"This could give the government a revenue stream to assist industry that wouldn't be seen as direct assistance."

The Anti-Dumping Commission last week announced that it had increased the tariff for “uncooperative exporters” to 26.35 percent, a move welcomed by both growers and industry.


Special K tweaks its recipe for the first time in 50 years

Veteran of the breakfast cereal world, Special K has tweaked its recipe for the first time in 50 years to include a higher concentration of whole grain and fibre.

According to Dr Michelle Celander, senior nutrition and regulatory affairs manager for Kellogg Australia, the new formulation represents the changing needs of the brand’s consumers.

“This is the first time in the history of the brand in Australia that our food has undergone such a big change and we believe it is a positive step forward. 2014 is going to be an exciting year for Special K and this reformulation is the first step on a new journey for the brand,” says Celander.

“Our consumers are looking for a nutritious breakfast that helps them feel fuller for longer through the morning, but they don’t want to lose the Special K taste that they know and love.”

The new three grain recipe contains rice, wholegrain wheat and wholegrain oats, boosting Special K’s health credentials while retaining the consistency and taste of the original recipe.

In addition, the new recipe also contain 15 percent less sodium than previously and 5.8g of sugar per serve.

“Special K really has changed for the better,” says Accredited Practising Dietician, Nicole Senior. “It is enriched with essential nutrients that help unlock and utilise energy; the new recipe also contains eight vitamins and minerals including iron”.

The new cereal recipe will be used across all varieties of the Special K range including all snacks that feature the Special K flake.


VIC Opposition promises SPC $30m upon election win

Daniel Andrews, the leader of the Opposition in Victoria, has pledged $30 million to struggling fruit processor SPC Ardmona if it’s successful in the November election.

The grand gesture comes days after the federal government announced its rejection of the plea from Coca Cola Amatil (SPCA’s owner) for $25 million to assist the brand’s Shepparton cannery.

According to The Age, that $25 million could have prompted a further $25 million from the state government and also up to $161 million in investment from CCA.

Andrews said the state government’s $30 million promise is not a hand-out, but a partnership and will help SPCA buy new equipment and upskill its staff, before asking the premier, Denis Napthine, to match the Opposition’s promise.

''This company and the thousands of jobs that rely on it are too important to lose. Time is running out and it's now up to Denis Napthine to match our offer and support this company and the thousands of workers and growers,” Andrews said.

However, the state government refused, accusing the Opposition of grandstanding but said they would consider offering more assistance – on top of the $4.4 million offered last year – after further discussions with SPC.

'We're certainly not going to commit a blank cheque without a plan attached, which is what Labor has done today. It's typical Labor fashion to spend money you don't have and ask questions later,'' said Victorian treasurer Michael O’Brien.

The working conditions of staff were also put in the spotlight, with the federal government citing the company’s enterprise agreement with workers as a contributor to its reluctance to provide financial assistance.

It was reported that SPC workers are paid up to 58 percent above award wage levels and receive nine weeks’ paid leave.


Lead in Chinese products furthers push to can imports in hospitals

The call for stronger country of origin labelling and more rigorous testing of imported fruit has been strengthened by the detection of high levels of lead in Chinese canned peaches last year.

Tests on the fruit showed alarming high levels of lead – up to twice the amount that is legally permissible under the Australian and New Zealand food standard.

Both Commonwealth and Victorian health officials are currently investigating the reports with Liberal MP, Sharman Stone stating that the test results have further reinforced the notion that foreign food imports can carry “high risk” as they are not manufactured to the same strict standards that Australian processors adhere to.

Stone has been pushing for taxpayer-funded aid for Australia’s largest remaining fruit and vegetable processor, SPC Ardmona, stating that the government should be doing more to support local industry by using Australian peaches instead of imported in hospitals and aged care homes.

“I am deeply concerned fruit with dangerous lead levels could be served in hospitals, aged care homes or prisons and also concerned that if we lose our last fruit processor Australian customers may also no longer have a choice to buy Australian tinned fruit,” stone told The Guardian.

Major supermarket retailers, Woolworths, Coles and Aldi last year committed to sourcing only Australian grown fruit for their private label brands in a bid to support the struggling processor, however the company states that it still needs government support to survive.

The labor government had promised a $25m grant to SPCA, with the processor warning last year that it would be forced to close if the Abbott government refused to proceed with the funding.

The Weekly Times Now reports that the $25m assistance package for the processor Goulburn Valley plant will be reassessed tomorrow by Federal Cabinet.


US food manufacturers remove 6.4 trillion calories from the market

Leading food and beverage manufacturers including the likes of Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods Group/ Mondelez and The Coca-Cola Company have sold 6.4 trillion less calories in 2012 than they did in 2007 according to a recent independent evaluation.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the evaluation found that members of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (which includes 16 of America’s largest food and beverage manufacturers) exceeded their commitment to remove 1.5 trillion calories by 2015 by over 400 percent.

The initiative has equated to a reduction of 78 calories per person per day in the US, marking the first time that calories sold by major companies in the US marketplace have been tracked.

“It’s extremely encouraging to hear that these leading companies appear to have substantially exceeded their calorie-reduction pledge,” said James S. Marks, MD, senior vice president and director of the Health Group at RWJF. “They must sustain that reduction, as they’ve pledged to do, and other food companies should follow their lead to give Americans the lower-calorie foods and beverages they want.”

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill combined data on foods and beverages sold by the participating companies, using the nutritional information of those products – all of which is available publicly or commercially.

“The companies whose sales we analyzed have a big influence over the foods and beverages almost every American eats and drinks every day,” said Barry Popkin, professor in the School of Public Health at UNC, who is leading the evaluation team. “The evaluation system we’ve created will enable to us to determine how changes to what’s sold influences what people consume.”

A full, peer-reviewed study is expected to be published later in the year.

The full list of companies committed to the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation pledge include

  • Bumble Bee Foods, LLC
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • ConAgra Foods (includes Ralston Foods)
  • General Mills, Inc.
  • Hillshire Brands (previously Sara Lee Corporation)
  • Kellogg Company
  • Kraft Foods Group/Mondelez
  • Mars, Incorporated
  • McCormick & Company, Inc.
  • Nestlé USA
  • PepsiCo, Inc.
  • Post Foods
  • The Coca-Cola Company
  • The Hershey Company
  • The J.M. Smucker Company
  • Unilever


3D printed chocolate might be around the corner

3D Systems has announced a partnership with confectionery giant Hershey to bring 3D printed chocolate to the mainstream.

3D Systems showcased the ChefJet printer at the Las Vegas CES expo this month, which begin at around $US 5,000 and were developed by the husband-and-wife team at the The Sugar Lab. The ChefJet units print in sugar and chocolate.

“We believe that innovation is key to delivering relevant, compelling consumer experiences with our iconic brands,” said VP and chief R&D officer at Hershey Co., William Papa, in a statement.

“Mainstreaming 3D printing is fundamental to our success and we are fortunate to partner with Hershey, the largest producer of quality chocolate in North America and a global leader in chocolate and confection to expand the 3D printing experience into delectable edibles,” said Chuck Hull from 3D Systems.

Reuters reports that there is no sign yet regarding when the multi-year agreement will produce anything, and that a company spokesperson has suggested Hershey would like to bring the printers to consumers rather than put them purely to commercial use.


Blow moulding basics

Stephen Barter from the Australian Institute of Packaging sheds light on the best ways to approach blow moulding and the influence it can have on a package’s effectiveness.

The strength and success of a bottle design, regardless of its contents, is in every case a direct descendant of the bottle shape. The shape – which includes the corners, handles, necks and panels – governs both the physical performance in filling and the degree of difficulty in moulding the bottle; the two are delicately connected and cannot be separated.

Useful pointers and guidelines when blow moulding:

  1. One of the important facts about moulding plastic is it shrinks as it cools; the longer it takes to cool the more it shrinks. The mould acts as a heat transfer mechanism removing the heat from the plastic at 190 degree celsius down to less than 70 degree celsius at which point the plastic is a solid state and no longer liquid.
  2. As the plastic takes the shape of the mould, the plastic becomes variable throughout the bottle, thicker cross sections shrink more than thinner sections inducing stress within bottle features and creating issues like buckled label panels. The best method to reduce this effect is to design contours to reduce thicker sections.
  3. Features can be added to the shape to improve mouldability and function and do not detract from the appearance. Features like corners act as hinge points for slumping and top-load weakness. Using variable radii in all the corners will increase structural strength; fixed radii will reduce structural strength.
  4. Bottle components:
    Neck – orientating the thread start over the part line (opposite the handle) will improve the capping process, the bottle is able to handle downward pressure from the capper when the thread start of the cap lands on top of the thread start of the bottle. In these conditions the bottle is able to bounce back after being hammered by the capper.

    Shoulder – making the bottle strong through the shoulder by keeping surfaces in the form of an upside down funnel and compound radii allows the top load to be dispersed down trough the bottle into the base. Compound curves reduce plastic and ovality in the neck finish, especially on oval shaped bottles.

    Handles – the closer to square or round for the handle crossection the easier the handle will be to mould. As the depth of the handle increases in relation to the handle width the risk of webbing increases, a major quality complaint.

    The above rule applies to blending the handle out into the bottle; try to avoid blending the handle by increasing the depth of the handle only without increasing the width in similar ratios.

  5. Panel features: 2D or conical curves in label panels make labelling easy. 3D curves in panels will lead to the labels lifting and bubbling. The reason for a conical shape in particular is the increase in the bottle topload strength.

    Bulging in the panel is difficult to control, especially with thin walled bottles. Start the design with bulge in the shape and work back by changing only the label panel back to a 2D curve.

    Imagine the bottle shape you have in mind and then partially blow up a balloon inside this bottle shape. Take particular note of the corner radii and then factor these into the shape of the bottle. These will not only improve slump resistance, it will also make the bottle a lot easier to mould.

  6. Base corners: base controls the topload strength and stability of the bottle on-shelf. Using a simple radius in the base corner will result in poor topload, slump resistance, base rock as well as difficult moulding. Compound curves are essential here.

It is paramount the bottle designer is aware that most design flaws cannot be ‘processed out’ by the moulder. Quite often an over-confident moulder can underestimate these details, which can significantly delay, and add substantial cost to new projects and the finished bottle weight – costs that may be carried for the life of the bottle.


Abbott government tipped to reject SPC Ardmona’s assistance plea

The Abbott government is allegedly close to rejecting food processor SPC Ardmona’s plea for funding amid fears that it could spark a ‘dangerous precedent’ for other companies in financial trouble.

Following discussion on Monday, ministers have stated that the processor is largely responsible for its cost pressures amid allegations that dozens of workers are on salaries of $120k, and are subsequently placing the onus on Coca-Cola Amatil, SPC Ardmona’s parent company to make a stronger case, The Australian reports.

The discussions were shaped by advisors who were allocated to the SPC case including former labor minister Greg Combet, and business leaders Catherine Livingstone and Dick Warburton.

Cabinet discussed its reservations about the assistance package, stating that its high costs were a result of union agreements with generous pay rises. The Australian reported that workers will receive a five percent pay rise over 10 months, while some team leaders will enjoy a 8.5 percent increase over the period.

The decision has been placed on hold until next year to allow time for a final report from the Industry Department and co-coordinating comments from Treasury.

Prime Minister Abbott commented, "government support cannot substitute for strong management, and strong management in a company under pressure starts with getting your costs down.

“…If you've got a problem in any particular area, you have got to tackle it and you've got to tackle it purposefully and you've got to be prepared to take responsibility for what you do rather than simply say it's all too hard, government's got to fix the problem."

The Nationals and rural Liberals have warned the government that up to 2000 jobs could be at stake in addition to the grim flow on effects that thousands of farmers will experience should the company’s Shepparton cannery close.

Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce also voiced his opinion stating that his concern was “not about the company, it's about the growers."

"The company is merely an article to make sure the best returns go back to growers at the farm gate. The rest of my discussions I will keep private and within cabinet," he said.


Naturally functional foods to lead the way in 2014: trend forecast [infographic]

According to the annual industry forecast, 12 Key Trends 2014, weight wellness, slow energy and naturally functional foods will be key drivers for growth opportunities within food manufacturing throughout the next 12 months.

The forecast which was prepared by Julian Mellentin, international specialist in global nutrition business, and published by New Nutrition Business, states that there is a ‘wealth of opportunities’ for growth within the food and beverage sector.

According to Mellentin, the ‘naturally functional’ category will lead the way in food trends for 2014. Evidence suggests that products within this category that boast naturally healthy ingredients can help create a ‘health halo’ of sorts which has the capacity to increase sales – sometimes significantly as was the case for coconut water and almond milk during 2013.

However Mellentin does caution the use the word ‘natural’.

“If you want to be successful, don’t use the word natural on your product. You run the risk of getting bogged down in a regulatory minefield,” says Mellentin. “There are plenty of other ways of communicating the naturalness of your product without ever using the word ‘natural’.”

Mellentin notes that sales of coconut water in the US surged from zero in 2007 to over US $390m in 2013 on the back of its ‘naturally healthy – nothing added’ image, while almond milk rose from close to zero in 2009 to US $407m in 2013.

The 12 key trends include:

  1. Naturally Healthy
  2. Dairy – rebirth as a natural whole food
  3. Protein
  4. Energy – coffee, energy drinks and the like
  5. Weight Wellness – everyday food choices that maintain health and wellness
  6. Snacking – convenient snack sized portions
  7. Slow Energy – low GI foods – sustained energy foods
  8. Sugar – Further demonization of the white stuff
  9. Permission to Indulge
  10. Free-From – Gluten free, dairy free, etc.
  11. Seniors – An ageing population is creating opportunities for science and smaller companies
  12. Kids’ Nutrition – Communication and emphasis on natural ingredients key to success




EU risk assessment concludes aspartame is safe for consumption

Following a full risk assessment of the artificial sweetener aspartame, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that the current Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40mg/kg bw/day is safe for consumption for the general population.

The re-evaluation of aspartame is part a programme set up by the Commission Regulation (EU) which involves comprehensive re-evaluations of all food additives approved prior to 2009.

In May 2011, EFSA was asked by the European Commission to bring forward the full re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame (E 951), which was previously planned for completion by 2020, due to concerns raised regarding recent studies.

The comprehensive assessment included a rigorous review of all available scientific research on aspartame and its breakdown products, including both animal and human studies.

EFSA stated that they examined all uncertainties related to the evaluation of aspartame to ensure that potential risks associated with aspartame were not underestimated.

The assessment concluded that aspartame does not harm the brain, the nervous system or affect behaviour or cognitive function in children or adults, nor does it pose risks during pregnancy. Researchers also ruled out a potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer.

The only exception that the researchers mentioned was in relation to patients suffering from the medical condition phenylketonuria (PKU), where the ADI is not applicable as sufferers require strict adherence to a diet low in phenylalanine.

Chair of EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Foods (ANS Panel), Dr Alicja Mortensen said that the assessment marks one of the most comprehensive reports of the sweetener.   

“This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken. It’s a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and the regulation of food additives”, said Mortensen.


Bees a key contributor to food security: study

A Swedish paper published in the Royal Society Journal found that bees have the capacity to significantly contribute to food security.

The study states that the pollination process increases crop shelf life, quality and yield – which can help to reduce the almost 50 percent of crops that are wasted between harvest and the supermarket, ABC Rural reports.

Queensland based professor of agriculture ecology, Helen Wallace says that pollination is incredibly important to the future of Australian agriculture.

"One thing we don't tend to do very much in Australian agriculture is we don't manage bees very well," said Wallace.

"I think we've got a long way to go, we're doing a big catch-up. I think we're starting to realise the importance of it, but again, I don't think there's been a lot of work done."

Australian beekeepers have been faced with numerous hurdles over the fast few years including the threat of varroa mite which has the potential to destroy entire bee colonies.

 In order to protect the nation’s bee colonies, the federal government has co-developed and launched the Pollination R&D Plan, as well as the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, both of which are designed to prevent pests such as varroa mite from entering the country.


Mondelēz’ innovation strategy focuses on graduates

This year marks the first time that Mondelēz International has amended its graduate program since 2005 – resulting a switch that will see the company focus on becoming a training ground for the next generation of innovators within the Mondelēz portfolio.

The decision follows a three year ‘innovation transformation’ where all staff were encouraged to help discover the next big idea in food – be it a new product, a new taste or a new manufacturing method.

During the time since the innovation transformation has been launched, an impressive number of products were purpose-created to suit changing consumer preferences and emerging markets including the development of 30 new products in the last year alone.

The new and improved 18 month graduate program now includes innovation-specific elements through the recruitment and training process including; testing innovation-indicators for applicants and the introduction of innovation-focused theory and practice elements.

 “Innovation will be the key to Australia’s economic prosperity. Australia’s future strength will be derived from our minds not our mines,” said the director premium chocolate & dairy, research & development, Asia Pacific, Nicolas Georges.

“Iconic brands like Vegemite and Cadbury were both once new ideas, and we are now working to encourage every Mondelēz staff member – from the CEO and manufacturing site managers through to the graduates and everyone in between, to take ownership of developing the next big thing in food.

Georges says that while Mondelēz may not know what lies in the future of tastes, food and food manufacturing, he does know that innovation and creatively are key to developing winning products.

“Breakthrough products come from breakthrough thinking, and we are working from this year to make our graduates the ‘Innovation Generation’ – providing our future young leaders with the skills and strong foundations to strongly contribute to our company,” he said.

“Our vision for our graduates is that through their program, they will learn how to think like an entrepreneur and act as change agents for the wider business, bringing fresh perspectives to business problems or opportunities in their home function.”


HSBC study plays down dining boom expectations

HSBC has released a global research paper analysing future prospects for the Australian food and agricultural industry.

The report has cautioned against economic reliance on inflated ‘dining boom’ expectations, pointing out that increased foreign investment and limited natural resources could pose major hurdles in Australia’s ability to produce food on a much greater scale.

The notion of Australia becoming Asia’s food bowl has been a topic for debate over recent months as the emerging Asian middle class continues to rise and subsequently demand higher quality meat and dairy products.

The paper found that while demand for Australian food will continue to grow, it will never reach the same scale as mining, The Australian reports.

HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said that at present, agricultural production accounted for just two percent of the Nation’s overall economic output, while the mining sector contributes over 10 percent.

"No one should expect us to go from a mining boom-led economy to, as suggested, a dining or even wining boom, because the rural sector is simply not big enough," said Bloxham.

"Even if our rural output doubled (as the National Food Plan projects) it would still be a fairly small proportion of the overall economy.

"However good its prospects are and the food story is; agriculture is unlikely ever to be big enough to take over from the mining story in terms of its economic contribution."

The report also warned that increased foreign investment in the Australian agricultural industry will determine how significant the sector becomes to the economy in the future.

Additional challenges listed in the report included limited access to resources such as arable land, water availability and soil fertility, as well as the adverse impacts of climate change on food production.

"There is a positive story here; as Asia's middle classes expand they will require more protein, in beef and dairy; some of that demand has already arrived but there is more to come," said Bloxham.

"I'm not saying the food boom isn't real, I just think we have to be careful not to overstate how big a share of the economy or national growth it can be."


SPC Ardmona offers aid to the Philippines

Victorian based cannery, SPC Ardmona has offered to supply canned food to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

SPCA contacted the federal member for Murray, Sharman Stone, stating that the company is prepared to supply canned food at cost price, and should the government be prepared to purchase a significant amount, SPCA will donate an additional $250,000 worth of product to victims of the Typhoon.

SPCA has asked Stone to propose its offer to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, The Weekly Times Now reports.

“We have canned food in storage that is ready to go if our Federal Government is prepared to distribute this food as part of their aid package,'' said SPCA’s managing director, Peter Kelly.

"We've spoken previously about providing food as foreign aid instead of cash.

"For the benefit of people in the Philippines, I urge the Government to take this opportunity to put this initiative into action.

"Our employees stand ready to have our products prepared for shipping within 48 hours if the Government wishes to accept our offer to assist.''