Schneider Electric pledges open access to proprietary weather data to aid research on global food production

Schneider Electric, the global specialist in energy management and automation, today announced its intent to provide access to data generated from its WeatherSentry weather intelligence platform as part of the UN’s Data for Climate Action campaign.

Earlier this week, Schneider Electric announced it has networked more than 4,000 disparate rural area Weather Stations to provide a more holistic view of rural weather patterns across the US; now it is making this data available to the global community.

The announcement comes at a crucial time as world leaders convene at COP21 in Paris to discuss a universal climate agreement. As a leader in weather monitoring and prediction technology, Schneider Electric’s proprietary data will be used to provide developing countries with the critical resources needed to develop solutions to assess weather impacts on agriculture and improve crop yield and soil conditions, specifically in rural communities.

The company owns and operates a network of more than 4,000 WeatherSentry stations in North America and is exploring new business models to deploy these sensors across the globe.

“Schneider Electric recognises the importance of big data in mitigating climate change, addressing the needs of farmers around the world, and aiding researchers in their quest for understanding the impact of weather on global food production,” said Ron Sznaider, Senior Vice President, Cloud Services, Schneider Electric.

“As part of our recent climate commitment pledge in line with the American Business Act on Climate, in which we pledged to invest 10 billion euros over 10 years on R&D innovation in sustainability, we also commit to work with the global research community to cooperate on big data analytics as it relates to agriculture and weather.”

Additionally, Schneider Electric is committing to collaborating with global researchers on extreme weather events, using the Schneider Electric platform and capabilities in targeted forecasting for specific sectors and clients’ needs.

Schneider Electric is joining a coalition of private sector leaders, in a campaign led by the United Nations, focused on sharing data which can be used to develop innovative climate solutions.

“We are pleased that Schneider Electric has decided to support Data for Climate Action in the fight against climate change by sharing anonymised, aggregated data for analysis to prompt climate action,” said Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of the United Nations’ Global Pulse initiative which is hosting the campaign.

“Schneider Electric’s pledge will greatly assist our efforts to bridge the technology gap between developed and developing nations by providing open data for the public good.”

Patented Curcumin targets depression & anxiety in EU Market

An ingredient formed through a turmeric extract and proven to help mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety has been brought to the European market by Arjuna Natural Extracts.

Results from a 2014 study involving 56 individuals with a major depressive disorder showed that the supplementation of the BCM-95 Curcumin succeeded in reducing the systems of depression when taken over a period of eight weeks.

According to an Arjuna Natural Extracts spokesman, the treatment was most effective in the group of individuals with common depression –with no significant differences adverse effects between BCM-95 and the placebo.

“It appears to elevate neurotransmitters such as serotonin, while lowering stress hormones, such as cortisol, and is a potent antioxidant and anti-flammatory. Curcumin also provides protection to the brain,” Arjuna said.

Health surveys indicate that major depression is experienced by 10-15 per cent of people in their lifetime, with a success rate of current treatment currently sitting at 20-40 per cent. Side effects from long-term treatments include anxiety, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, weight gain and sexual dysfunction.  

Manufactured by combining Curcumin and essential oil of turmeric, the BCM-95 curcumin has been extensively researched by universities throughout the US, Australia, Japan and India in multiple clinical studies and attained 12 international patents.

Curcumin works simultaneously on multiple pathways associated with depression. It is considered as the most promising therapeutic targets to treat depressive behaviour.

Arjuna continues to engage in research and development, with continuing scientific validation of its novel product line through advanced clinical studies.

Government Funding for the Food Industry

An interesting anomaly about government funding is that, on the one hand it is such an attractive source of cash, but on the other hand the majority of eligible companies either don’t know it exists or don’t know how to access it says Lior Stein from Rimon Advisory.

If I were to simplify government grants I would explain them in two points:
The first being Innovation and the second being assistance for bringing foreign revenue to Australia.
The benefit involved in attaining government funding can be quite large and at times could amount to between 40% – 50% of funds spent in innovation or marketing to foreign markets.

The beginning of assessing innovation is quite simple. Ask yourself the following question, are you doing something different that you believe your competitors aren’t doing and that is new in the space?
If the answer to that question is yes then the next step would be to consider the 3 basic principles of innovation grants  

The 3 basic principles of innovation grants are 
1. New Knowledge 
2. Experimentation 
3. Uncertainty

These three principles all flow into each other.
Lets explain these principles using actual case studies.

1.    New knowledge begins by identifying a gap in the market. 

An organic beverage manufacturer and formulator (Organics Pty Ltd) realised that the short shelf life of organic beverages is a limiting factor for exportation. Some web searches were done and the result was that there seems to not be an off the shelf product available in the world that solves this problem.

A doughnut maker (Jam Pty Ltd) realised that the insertion of jam into doughnuts was exceptionally time consuming and limited the speed of their production run. Some web searches were done and the result was that there seems to not be an off the shelf product available in the world that solves this problem.

2.    Experimentation
At this point Organics Pty Ltd started developing a solution to fill the gap that was found. The development process required experimentation and different iterations of the product. The process is an ongoing process as Organics Pty Ltd is continuing to improve their findings in this area.

Jam Pty Ltd needed to automate their insertion of jam and cream into their doughnuts process. Process engineers were hired to design and develop the process. Experiments were required in order to get the process precisely correct to optimise the automation

3.    Uncertainty
Both Organics Pty Ltd and Jam Pty Ltd didn’t have certainty at the outset that these new projects were going to work. They did believe that each would be a success but the final products were achieved through much trial and error.
These final products are the items that filled the initial gap and are now the new knowledge that each company has brought to the world.

The main innovation grant available in Australia is the R&D Tax Incentive and can definitely be applied to the food business industry should the project be eligible.

Foreign revenue being brought to Australia

This avenue is simpler to explain than that of innovation grants.
There is funding available for exporters who are spending money on marketing their products to foreign markets.
Again, 3 basic principles, the first being an Australian product, the second being that revenue flows to Australia and the third being that marketing expenses are recognised in Australia.

1.    Australian Product
The product needs to be either completely made in Australia or the majority of the product made in Australia.
If the products have an element made in a foreign country e.g.China it could still be considered an Australian product.

2.    Revenue flows to Australia
The revenue gained from the Australian products being marketed abroad needs to be recognised in the Australian entity.
An entity need not have actual revenue in the first two years of applying for this grant.

3.    Marketing expenditure being recognised in Australia
Expenditure spent on marketing to foreign markets needs to be recognised in the Australian entity.
These expenses could include staff and consultants employed in the foreign country, flights, conferences attended, google and facebook advertising, websites targeted overseas, trademarks and patents, pamphlets and flyers made and free samples being given to enter a market.

The incentive described above is known as EMDG (Export Market Development Grant).
EMDG offer up t0 a 50% grant on the expenses described above.

Statistics show that about 70% of eligible Australian companies either are unaware that they are eligible or simply don’t know how to go about accessing the funding available.

Best practice would be to consider the principles explained above and enquire as to a possible benefit and eligibility.

Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences enters into agreement to combat Alzheimer’s

The Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences SA (NIHS), a research institute of the global food maker Nestlé, has signed a research collaboration agreement with AC Immune SA – a leading Lausanne-based biopharmaceutical company focused on neurodegenerative diseases. 

The aim of the collaboration is to develop a sensitive, minimally invasive Tau diagnostic assay for early Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by applying Nestlé’s proprietary multiplexed ultrasensitive antibody technology platform.

Tangles of Tau proteins are recognised as one of two major hallmarks of neurodegeneration, the other being beta-amyloid (Abeta) plaques. 

Tangles and other abnormal forms of Tau protein accumulate inside the brain cells and spread between cells of people with Alzheimer’s disease over a long period of time. It is now well established that Tau correlates well with cognitive decline and disease progression. Furthermore, Tau may develop into a suitable biomarker for early diagnosis of the disease.

Ed Baetge, Head of NIHS said: “Our overarching goal at NIHS is to develop nutritional approaches and technologies that help people maintain or improve their cognitive vigour especially for early diagnosis and targeted intervention to combat this global health problem”.

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

Researchers from ETH Zurich have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibres. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water-resistant.

Spun into yarn and wound around cardboard rolls, it scarcely looks like gelatine at all.

Some 70 million tonnes of fibres are traded worldwide every year. Man-made fibres manufactured from products of petroleum or natural gas account for almost two-thirds of this total. The most commonly used natural fibres are wool and cotton, but they have lost ground against synthetic fibres.

Despite their environmental friendliness, fibres made of biopolymers from plant or animal origin remain very much a niche product. At the end of the 19th century, there were already attempts to refine proteins into textiles. For example, a patent for textiles made of gelatine was filed in 1894. After the Second World War, however, the emerging synthetic fibres drove biological protein fibres swiftly and thoroughly from the market.

Over the past few years, there has been increased demand for natural fibres produced from renewable resources using environmentally friendly methods. Wool fibre in particular has experienced a renaissance in performance sportswear made of merino wool. And a few years ago, a young entrepreneur in Germany started making high-quality textiles from the milk protein casein.

New use for waste product
Now Philipp Stössel, a 28-year-old PhD student in Professor Wendelin Stark’s Functional Materials Laboratory (FML), is presenting a new method for obtaining high-quality fibres from gelatine. The method was developed in cooperation with the Advanced Fibers Laboratory at Empa St. Gallen. Stössel was able to spin the fibres into a yarn from which textiles can be manufactured.
Gelatine consists chiefly of collagen, a main component of skin, bone and tendons. Large quantities of collagen are found in slaughterhouse waste and can be easily made into gelatine. For these reasons, Stark and Stössel decided to use this biomaterial for their experiments.

Coincidence helps provide a solution
In his experiments, Stössel noticed that when he added an organic solvent (isopropyl) to a heated, aqueous gelatine solution, the protein precipitated at the bottom of the vessel. He removed the formless mass using a pipette and was able to effortlessly press an elastic, endless thread from it. This was the starting point for his unusual research work.

As part of his dissertation, Stössel developed and refined the method, which he has just recently presented in an article for the journal Biomacromolecules.

The refined method replaces the pipette with several syringe drivers in a parallel arrangement. Using an even application of pressure, the syringes push out fine endless filaments, which are guided over two Teflon-coated rolls. The rolls are kept constantly moist in an ethanol bath; this prevents the filaments from sticking together and allows them to harden quickly before they are rolled onto a conveyor belt. Using the spinning machine he developed, Stössel was able to produce 200 metres of filaments a minute. He then twisted around 1,000 individual filaments into a yarn with a hand spindle and had a glove knitted from the yarn as a showpiece.

Whereas natural wool fibres have tiny scales, the surface of the gelatine fibres is smooth. “As a result, they have an attractive luster,” Stössel says. Moreover, the interior of the fibres is filled with cavities, as shown by the researchers’ electron microscope images. This might also be the reason for the gelatine yarn’s good insulation, which Stössel was able to measure in comparison with a glove made of merino wool.

Water-resistant fibres
Gelatine’s major drawback is that it its water-solubility. Stössel had to greatly improve the water resistance of the gelatine yarn through various chemical processing stages. First he treated the glove with an epoxy in order to bond the gelatine components more firmly together. Next, he treated the material with formaldehyde so that it would harden better. Finally, he impregnated the yarn with lanolin, a natural wool grease, to make it supple.

As he completes his dissertation over the coming months, Stössel will research how to make the gelatine fibres even more water-resistant. Sheep’s wool is still superior to the gelatine yarn in this respect. However, Stössel is convinced that he is very close to his ultimate goal: making a biopolymer fibre from a waste product.

Healthy Snack Food Production set to soar: IBISWorld

With Australians navigating increasingly busier lifestyles, leaving less time to prepare and eat home-made meals, the overall consumption of snack foods is increasing – with business information analysts at IBISWorld forecasting Australia’s Snack Food Manufacturing and Health Snack Food Production industries will generate combined revenue of over $3.0 billion in 2015-16.

While traditional Snack Food Manufacturing continues to generate the greatest overall revenue, IBISWorld identified the Health Snack Food Production industry as growing at the faster pace over the past five years, increasing by an annualised average of 3 per cent – despite revenue growth being somewhat hampered through the grocery supply chain due to downward pressure on prices. 

IBISWorld senior industry analyst Ryan Lin, said “snack food options have expanded beyond traditional snacks – such as potato chips and biscuits made with standard white flour – over the past five years as consumers become increasingly health conscious and seek higher quality snack foods”. Health snack foods are expected to make up a greater share of consumer snacking habits.

“However, there has also been a tangible shift towards premium snack foods, such as gourmet-flavoured chips, alongside those perceived to be healthier options or that respond to specific dietary requirements – such as low fat, low salt, low sugar, organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and so forth,” Lin said.

“While potato chips remain the most popular form of snack food, increasing consumer demand for healthier options manufactured by Australia’s Health Snack Food Production Industry – including dried fruits and nuts, which account for 42.8 per cent of industry revenue; muesli bars (29.1 per cent); protein bars (17.4 per cent), and other items such as fruit and vegetable bars (10.7 per cent) – is anticipated to drive growth and deliver both challenges and opportunities for industry players,” Lin said.

IBISWorld highlighted Australia’s Biscuit Manufacturing, Potato Chip Production, Cake and Pastry Manufacturing and Chocolate and Confectionary Manufacturing industries as key sectors impacted by the trend towards premium and healthier snack food options.

“While timely and clever product innovation will help drive some growth for traditional snack industries, this will be tempered by an increase in availability of healthy substitutes,” Lin said.

Supermarkets and Grocery Stores will be the biggest retail benefactors of increased snack food consumption, particularly as each supermarket chain looks to expand their private-label product portfolios. 

The growing demand for cheaper private-label products has resulted in more shelf space for these items, with private-label specialist ALDI leading the charge, followed by Woolworths and Coles. “Woolworths has already had strong success with its health-conscious Macro Wholefoods and Macro Organic private-label brands, and are expected to continue leveraging this success to gain a greater foothold in the health snack food market,” Lin said.


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.


Aussies show interest in fresh foods over processed

Volume sales of fresh foods increased to 5.3 billion tonnes in 2014, up 1.5 per cent from 2013, according to Euromonitor International’s latest Fresh Food in Australia report.

The report found that fresh food sales up 1.5 per cent in 2014, with nuts experience highest growth of all fresh food categories, increasing by 5.9 per cent in volume in 2014. Within the meat category, pork (2.6 per cent) and poultry (2.2 per cent) experienced the highest volume growth in 2014.

Lily Lam, Research Analyst says in 2014, Australians were encouraged by the media (cooking shows, celebrity chefs, social media) to explore new cuisines and flavours, with retailers consequently encouraged to broaden their product ranges. New fads and diets such as paleo, raw food, superfoods and sugar-less diets created a new health-conscious consumer who wants to eat healthily and Australians are showing interest in fresh food as opposed to processed alternatives. Australian-made products are also growing in popularity as the country is well-renowned for growing its own fresh fruit and vegetables, and producing some of the world’s best meat products. However, high prices, which reflect high wages and living standards in Australia, are currently limiting growth in fresh food.

Other key findings include:

Proposal to impose GST on fresh food sparks debate

Fresh food, along with health and educational services, are currently exempt from the goods and services tax (GST) in Australia. In 2014, a proposal to impose a GST on fresh food was made by the government as a way to deliver up to A$21.6 billion in extra revenue annually. This sparked debate and criticism from the opposition, as well as farmers and the public alike. This is because one of the most important factors consumers takes into account when buying food is price. Therefore, if a 10 per cent GST were applied to fresh food, overall consumption would inevitably fall. Lower demand in fresh fruit, vegetables and protein would only lead to a decrease in overall sales and poorer health outcomes. The GST debate has yet to be concluded and will be examined in the government’s strategic review of the tax system in 2015.

Supermarkets dominate fresh food sales

Supermarkets dominate fresh food in Australia, accounting for over 50 per cent of total volume sales in 2014. Leading supermarket players Woolworths and Coles continue to increase their sales share at the expense of specialty retailers such as fruit grocers and fishmongers through ongoing price wars and promotional campaigns. The major supermarkets also drive sales by sponsoring popular TV cooking shows, My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef (Coles), and Recipe to Riches (Woolworths). The online retail market continues to grow, albeit gradually, with Woolworths opening its first ‘dark store’, a dedicated online store to fulfil online grocery orders. However, internet retailing has not yet taken off as it is still considered an inconsistent service in Australia. Also new in 2014 was the emergence of fruit and vegetable bars (vending machines) to challenge Australians’ poor snacking habits.

Stable demand for fresh food expected over forecast period

Total volume sales within fresh food in Australia are expected to rise at a CAGR of 1% over the forecast period, with growth set to be driven by increasing consumer demand for fresh food over frozen and processed food. All categories are expected to grow, with nuts and fish and seafood expected to be the strongest performing areas. This will be due to promotional activities, such as nuts being promoted with the daily consumption of fruit and vegetables and fish and seafood being promoted as an excellent alternative source of protein. However, sugar and sweeteners as well as meat will continue to experience declining demand due to the fact sugar consumption is being linked with obesity while beef is associated with cancer and its harmful impact on the environment. The resultant effect will be consumers looking for product substitutes or opting for smaller volumes of high-quality premium products.


Gluten-free leads “free from” surge: Innova

Interest in free-from foods is continuing to rise globally, led by the growing availability of gluten-free lines.

Products positioned on a gluten-free platform accounted for 10 per cent of total global food and drinks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of April 2015, rising to over 18 per cent in the US.

“This is partly due to improved labelling regulations,” said Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights “but also to rising awareness of gluten intolerance in the diet and the development of more mainstream and good-tasting gluten-free products across a whole range of food and drinks sectors.”

Key areas for activity in recent years have been in bakery and cereal products and snack foods, largely because of rising demand for alternatives to the relatively high number of gluten-containing lines in these sectors or because of the availability of alternative gluten-free ingredients.

The cereal products market, encompassing breakfast cereals and cereal bars, is relatively well set up to cater to the gluten-free trend, with numerous non-gluten cereal options already available. As a result of this and the relatively concentrated nature of the market, it is perhaps not surprising that the share of gluten-free launches in the cereals market is much higher than the average of the food and drinks market as a whole at 21 per cent, rising to 43 per cent in the US.

Interestingly, despite being one of the product categories most strongly associated with wheat and thus gluten, the bakery products sector has a slightly lower than average share of gluten-free launches recorded, at 9 per cent, perhaps partly reflecting the diversity of the sector and the high levels of new product activity overall. The actual number of gluten-free bakery launches has nonetheless risen consistently in recent years. Biscuits account for the largest number of gluten-free bakery launches, with over 40 per cent, equivalent to 8 per cent of total biscuit introductions, while bread has less than 16 per cent of gluten-free bakery launches, but this is equivalent to 9 per cent of total bread introductions.

The snacks market is also seeing a relatively high proportion of launches featuring gluten-free claims, averaging 13 per cent globally, but rising to over 42 per cent in the US. In terms of product and market development, the snacks market benefits particularly from the fact that many basic snacks ingredients, such as potatoes, corn, soy and nuts, are naturally gluten-free, so it is a claim that is relatively easy to achieve in many instances. Ingredients used to replace wheat or other cereals and offer a gluten-free formulation over the past few years have included lentils, black beans, navy beans, cassava, brown rice, nuts, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of other vegetables.

Many other areas of the food and drinks market are also seeing rising levels of interest in gluten-free reformulations, or even in just emphasizing the gluten-free nature of existing lines. 

“Gluten intolerance is no longer the only reason for buying gluten-free foods,” Williams said. “Issues such as overall well-being, digestive health, weight management and nutritional value often deemed to be equally if not more important by consumers. With more labelling of gluten-free foods and the growing availability of a range of high quality products with a good sensory profile, the sector seems set to take further advantage of the huge potential market for this type of product.”


Aussies hungry for more nutritious vending machines

Health conscious Australians are hungry for more nutritious options in fast food vending machines, according to new research by the University of Sydney and University of Wollongong.

The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, reveals an appetite for healthy food options such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and yoghurt in vending machines in public places like hospitals and universities.

Eighty seven per cent of the 240 people surveyed thought the current range of vending machine snacks are ‘too unhealthy’, with 80 per cent willing to pay the same or extra for healthier alternatives.

The lead researcher and accredited practising dietician, Professor Vicki Flood from the University of Sydney, said vending machines are part of an unhealthy environment which is contributing to a rise in diabetes and obesity through the availability of energy-dense snacks and sugary drinks.

“We know that around one third of our daily calorie intake comes from snacking and with the busy lifestyles that we all lead, healthy eating often falls victim to convenience,” Flood said.

“However this study shows that many Australians are becoming more aware of their diet and there is an opportunity to use vending machines to promote healthy snacking, particularly in busy environments like train stations and hospitals.”

The study was conducted in a university campus and public hospital in regional Australia, and surveyed the views of over 120 students and 120 hospital employees, patients and visitors.

The researchers also assessed the impact front-of-packet nutritional labelling had on purchase decisions, finding that more people chose the healthier food option when presented with nutritional values before purchase. The same impact was not seen in the drinks category.

A 2012 audit of vending machines in Sydney train stations by Professor Flood and colleagues at the University of Wollongong found few healthy snacks are on offer.

Only three per cent of all vending machine slots were allocated to healthier choices like nuts, tuna or portion controlled chips, and these options were generally more expensive.

Following a food preferences survey of 650 students earlier this year, the University of Sydney will be trialling more nutritious options in vending machines from Semester 2, 2015.

Ms Elly Howse from the Health Sydney University initiative said over ninety per cent of students showed an interest in healthier food for lower cost.

“We are trialling better vending machine options in popular library and study spaces, as we know from our students that convenient food options are needed after-hours when campus food outlets are closed,” Howse said.

Professor Flood said there are logistical challenges to improving vending machines but innovative businesses in Queensland and Melbourne have already recognised the market potential.


Sanitarium joins ARC food processing training centre

University of Sydney researchers will work with Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing, as part of a three-year industry training centre.

Sanitarium has joined 11 other companies in becoming a member of the University’s Australian Research Council Food Processing Training Centre (ARC-FPTC).

Fariba Dehghani, Professor of chemical engineering and Director of the ARC Food Processing Training centre says ARC-FPTC was created to support Australian business design better methods of food processing and storage, as well as develop advanced manufacturing techniques aimed at reducing costs and increasing energy efficiency.  Current members predominantly come from varying agricultural and food industry groups ranging from fruit growers to food packaging providers.

"The centre is focussed on boosting the Australian industry's capacity to compete in a global market, particularly in the production of nutraceuticals for pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, or food ingredients."

“Our vision at the centre is to educate a new generation of engineers and scientists and foster the capacity of Australian food industries to further develop advanced technologies in manufacturing and product improvement,” Professor Dehghani said.

Sanitarium, best known for its Weet-Bix and Up&Go products, joined the ARC Centre in the new financial year.

Dr John Ashton, strategic research manager for Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing, said, ““As a leader in the field of nutritious and innovative food products and plant-based milks, we are delighted to be joining and working with the team at the University of Sydney. 

“The partnership with the University of Sydney will assist us in continuing to create and produce great-tasting and nutritious products now and in the future, helping give families a healthy start to their day.”

Sanitarium will contribute to the funding of the Training Centre and will also provide expertise and resources from Sanitarium’s Development and Innovation Centre on the Central Coast.


Pork CRC appoints Commercialisation and Research Impact manager

Charles Rikard-Bell has been appointed Manager, Commercialisation and Research Impact at Cooperative Research Centre for High Integrity Australian Pork (Pork CRC).

Announcing the appointment, Pork CRC CEO, Roger Campbell, said Rikard-Bell’s role would be to generate revenue from those Pork CRC research outcomes with identified genuine commercial potential.

“Charles will also work with our scientists to develop R&D projects with greater emphasis on commercial outcomes,” Campbell said.

“We have a number of valuable outcomes and deals on the books, including AusScan Online, a patent on enhancing reproduction, a performance enhancer for pigs at weaning, a technology for enriching the environment of sows and weaner pigs, a quantitative PCR for Lawsonia and other diagnostic tests related to animal health and even the health of bio digesters, including covered ponds.”

For the past 11 years Rikard-Bell has worked for Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly, with its Australian Pig and Poultry livestock team as Account Manager and Technical Consultant, before his most recent regional role as Marketing Manager-Swine for the Asia Pacific Rim.

He did his PhD with the first Pork CRC and has a wealth of knowledge of the Australian and Asian pork industries.

In other Pork CRC executive staff moves, Research Manager Graeme Crook, who has been with Pork CRC for eight years, playing major roles in program management, education and student mentoring, translation of research outcomes and managing IT systems, finished yesterday (June 30).


Clean Labels here to stay

Clean labelling has moved beyond being a trend and is regarded as standard in the food industry, according to Innova Market Insights.

Consumers are demanding shorter and more recognizable ingredients lists and manufacturers are responding by increasingly highlighting the naturalness and origins of their products.

With growing concerns over the lack of a definition of “natural,” however, there is a need for more clarity and specificity, with consumers, retailers, industry and regulators all driving the demand for more transparency in food labelling.

Over 20 per cent of US products tracked in 2014 featured a clean label positioning, up from 17 per cent in 2013, according to Innova Market Insights data. Significant rises in the use of clean label ingredients have also been tracked, with growing interest in natural sweeteners, such as stevia and monk fruit, natural colours such as those based on spirulina, elderberry and beetroot, and thickeners such as tragacanth and gellan gums.

“This demand for clean labelling has now brought the need for clear labelling equally to the fore,” reports Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights, “resulting in a move to clearer and simpler claims and packaging for maximum transparency and necessitating an industry response in terms of reformulation and new communication strategies.”

“From Clean to Clear Label” was identified by Innova Market Insights as the number one in their top ten trends for 2015, recognizing that it is no longer a niche area for the food and drinks industry.


Research helps winemakers find descriptions easily understood by Chinese wine consumers

New research will help wine producers and distributors to describe their product more effectively using terms more easily understood by Chinese wine consumers.

The Chinese Lexicon Project – a two year long research initiative by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia funded by the Australian Grape and Wine Authority (AGWA) – has revealed what terms Chinese consumers use when describing a wine and what Asian fruit and vegetable flavours are equivalent to the Western ones used to describe wine.

“Describing a wine as tasting of blueberry is hard to understand if you have never seen or tasted a blueberry”

The project, led by Dr Armando Corsi, Dr Justin Cohen and Prof Larry Lockshin, involved more than 250 Chinese wine consumers from Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

The participants described the taste of a selection of Australian white, red, sparkling and dessert wines.

Participants selected a series of generic wine descriptors as well as choosing from a list of specific fruit and vegetable flavours. These flavours were either Western fruit and vegetables or proposed Chinese equivalents.

The research found that generic wine descriptors, such as “mellow”, “lingering” or “fruity” were three times more likely to be used than specific wine descriptors by Chinese wine consumers.

Dr Corsi says that wine has been predominantly described in China using Western terminology but such descriptors lack meaning if the consumer has little or no experience of tasting that particular fruit, vegetable or spice.  

“Describing a wine as tasting of blueberry is hard to understand if you have never seen or tasted a blueberry,” Dr Corsi says.

“What this research has provided is evidence of what specific Chinese fruit and vegetable flavours are equivalent to the Western descriptors currently used on wines in China.

“We can now say that the equivalent to blackberry preserve is dried Chinese hawthorns.”

The project also investigated the likeability, willingness to pay and perceived price points of different wine styles.

The research showed that what is perceived to be more expensive is not necessarily what is liked the most.

“There is also the potential for similar research to be undertaken in other countries to determine what cultural descriptors they would use to describe the taste of different wines.”


Cider still UK-centric product, but USA, Australia and South Africa making inroads

Canadean expects global consumption of cider to grow around 5 per cent annually to reach over three billion litres in 2020.

Although the UK will remain the world’s largest cider market, it will lose considerable consumption share to the US, Australia and South Africa.

According to a new Canadean report, over the next five years an additional 640 million litres of cider will be consumed worldwide. Total volume of the global cider market is expected to reach three billion litres in 2020, up from an anticipated 2.4 billion litres in 2015. Although the UK will hold its position as the market leader in cider consumption, the country’s share in the global cider market is shrinking. Canadean expects the UK's market share to decline from 41 per cent in 2015 to 33 per cent in 2020, losing most of it to the US, Australia and South Africa, where nearly 70 per cent of the additional 640 million litres of cider will be consumed.

New and innovative ciders will cause growth in the US

The US cider market – the third largest in the world – will grow at an average annual rate of 12 per cent between 2015 and 2020, compared to an average global growth rate of just 5 per cent. Rakhee Sturgess, analyst at Canadean, said: “The launch of new and innovative ciders will cause this growth, as will the introduction of cider to new regions in the US. More consumers will discover the beverage and change from beer and other flavoured alcoholic drinks to cider. Tradition and culture are important in the promotion of ciders and will increase demand for products from the UK.”

Premium flavours and craft drive growth in Australia

According to Canadean, growth will also be strong in the Australian cider market, with an average annual growth rate of 12 per cent between 2015 and 2020. “Super premium fruit flavours of Scandinavian cider brands like Kopperberg and Rekorderlig are driving the increased consumption in Australia. But growth is also caused by the introduction of mass market brands like Somersby at a far lower price point than typical branded ciders,” said Sturgess. Craft ciders are also growing in popularity, with more apple producers returning to their roots and producing small-scale artisanal ciders.

Product positioning key to success in South Africa

In South Africa, product innovation in terms of both flavour and packaging, which appeals particularly to a younger demographic, is helping to drive up both volume and value. The market is becoming increasingly competitive, with new players entering the sector and existing producers investing in strong product positioning to expand their consumer base.

In terms of per capita consumption increase, New Zealand stands out, with consumers expected to drink an extra 10 litres per person in 2020 than in 2015; reaching 18 litres compared to the UK’s 15.5 litres and a global average of just 0.4 litres. New Zealand’s premium apple crop is spawning a flourishing interest in cider production. “Cider's profile as a summery, fun drink fits well with the taste and culture preferences of Australians and New Zealanders,” Sturgess said.


Barley study may produce longer lasting ‘super’ pita

Healthier and longer lasting pita bread may be the outcome of barley research underway at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus.

Researchers in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine have been investigating different varieties of barley to find ones that have higher levels of Vitamin E and other antioxidants at harvest and after storage.

They are then making pita bread with different combinations of malt, wholegrains and flour (all made from promising barley varieties) to see if they can produce pita bread with higher antioxidants, making them healthier and prolonging their storage capacity.

“Barley has historically been used for malt and livestock feed,” said Professor Amanda Able, University of Adelaide Professor of Plant Science.

“Recently, however, there has been growing interest in the use of barley in human foods largely due to its high content of fibre, beta-glucan and antioxidants.

“Antioxidants are crucial in maintaining the health of tissues and organs because of their ability to slow tissue damage by acting against damaging free radicals.

“Malt and food products containing antioxidants have the additional benefit of lasting longer on the supermarket shelf. And, while antioxidants can be easily destroyed by light, water and heat, we’ve found barley varieties that not only start with higher levels of antioxidants but the levels remain stable during storage before processing.”

The research is being carried out by PhD candidate ThuDung Do, who is supported by AusAid. Preliminary results have one hull-less (no outside husk) barley variety in particular showing promise for its high and stable levels of Vitamin E.

“Usually it’s the varieties with husks that have the higher levels of antioxidants so this hull-less variety has the additional benefit of being softer and a better type of grain for pita bread,” said Professor Able. “Husked grain can be quite hard and not so suitable for pita.”

The next steps in the research are conducting consumer testing and further research to see if the Vitamin E from the barley is being digested and used by the human body. They are also investigating the additional shelf-life due to the higher antioxidant levels.

Other research will look at genetic sequencing of the barley to see which genes are responsible for the antioxidant and Vitamin E levels for future breeding programs.


Aussies turning to discretionary food: ABS

In every State and Territory, Australians love their treat or discretionary food – food high in energy but low in nutritional value – according to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The results are from the Australian Health Survey showing different eating habits for each State and Territory. Louise Gates from the ABS says that while the report shows all Australians enjoy a treat there are interesting differences by state.

"The report tells us Australians obtain over a third (35 per cent) of their energy from discretionary foods.” said Ms Gates “Tasmanians and Northern Territorians obtained the highest proportion of energy from discretionary foods at 38 per cent while Canberrans had the lowest at 33 per cent.”

The choice of treat also differs with Northern Territorians' being soft drink with one in three (33 per cent) drinking it, the highest in the country. They were not as keen on confectionary (20 per cent) and snack food (13 per cent), being the least likely to consume these foods.

Tasmanians were the most fond of confectionary with over a third (37 per cent) consuming and snack foods were most popular in New South Wales where 16 per cent of people ate them. On the other hand, soft drink was least popular in Canberra where only 23 per cent of people reported drinking it.

For recommended intakes, Tasmanians had the highest proportion of people, nine per cent, meeting the recommended daily intake of vegetables compared with only five per cent in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Canberra. However, Tasmanians were least likely to meet the recommendations for fruit (48 per cent), while people from New South Wales and Canberra were the most likely (54 per cent).

“We also found 22 per cent of people in the Northern Territory ate fish making them the most likely state or territory to eat fish but least likely to eat fruit (53 per cent).” said Ms Gates

“Tasmanians on the other hand were least likely to eat fish (13 per cent), however they matched South Australians as the most likely to enjoy cheese (36 per cent compared to 32 per cent of all of Australians).

“Canberrans were most likely to enjoy a glass of wine (22 per cent) while in the Northern Territory, beer is the alcoholic drink of choice (21 per cent).

“Adults in Western Australia were most likely to have an alcoholic beverage (39 per cent) and Victorians and Tasmanians were least likely (30 per cent).”

The report also covers food avoidance with Canberrans most likely to avoid food due to allergy or intolerance (21 per cent) and Queenslanders least likely to avoid particular foods for cultural, religious or ethical reasons (four per cent).

“The report also contains new data on food security with rates similar for all states and territories.” said Ms Gates.

“Nationally, four per cent of people lived in a household that, in the previous 12 months, had run out of food and could not afford to buy more, and 1.5 per cent of all Australians were in a household where someone went without food when they couldn't afford to buy any more.”

ABS has compiled a full report for each State and Territory. Further information is available in Australian Health Survey: Nutrition – State and Territory results, 2011-12 (cat. no. 4364.0.55.009) available for free download from the ABS website.


Microbiologists patent a new type of food thickener

Microbiologists at Oregon State University have discovered and helped patent and commercialise a new type of dairy or food thickener, which may add probiotic characteristics to the products in which it’s used.

The thickener is now in commercial use, and OSU officials say it may have a significant impact in major industries. The global market for polymers such as this approaches US$7 billion, and there are estimates the U.S. spends up to $120 billion a year on probiotic products such as yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk.

The new product is produced by a natural bacterium that was isolated in Oregon. It’s the result of decades of research, beginning in the early 1990s when a novel polymer with an ability to rapidly thicken milk was discovered by an OSU microbiologist. The polymer is known as Ropy 352 and produced by a non-disease-causing bacterium.

“This is one of many naturally occurring, non-disease-causing bacterial strains my research program isolated and studied for years,” said Janine Trempy, an OSU microbiologist. “We discovered that this bacterium had a brand-new, never-before reported grouping of genes that code for a unique polymer that naturally thickens milk. In basic research, we’ve also broadened our understanding of how and why non-disease-causing bacteria produce polymers.”

This polymer appears to give fermented foods a smooth, thick, creamy property, and may initially find uses in sour cream, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, cream cheese and artisan soft cheeses. Composed of natural compounds, it offers a slightly sweet property and may improve the sensory characteristics of low-fat or no-fat foods. And unlike other polymers that are now commonly used as thickeners, it may add probiotic characteristics to foods, with associated health benefits.

“There are actually very few new, non-disease-causing bacterial strains that produce unique polymers with characteristics desirable and safe for food products,” Trempy said. “In the case of a dairy thickener, for instance, a bacterium such as Ropy 352 ferments the sugar in the milk and produces a substance that changes the milk’s properties.”

These are chemical processes driven by naturally occurring bacteria that do not cause disease in humans, Trempy said, but instead may contribute to human health through their probiotic potential.

One of the most common polymers, xanthum gum, has been in use since 1969 and is found in a huge range of food products, from canned foods to ice cream, pharmaceuticals and beauty products. Xanthum gum is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, but is derived from a bacterium known to be a plant pathogen and suspected of causing digestive distress or being “pyrogenic,” or fever-inducing.

Trempy’s research program has determined the new polymer will thicken whole and non-fat milk, lactose-free milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and other products designed for use in either dieting or weight gain. Beyond that, the polymer may have a wide range of applications such as thickening of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, fruit juices, cosmetics and personal care products.

In their broader uses, microbial polymers are used for food production, chemical production, detergents, cosmetics, paints, pesticides, fertilizers, film formers, lubricants, explosives, pharmaceutical production and waste treatment.


Axieo partners with Monash University

Axieo and Monash University have embarked on a three-year partnership to research and explore opportunities to co-develop innovative solutions for the food and nutrition, plastics, agriculture and mining sectors, and provide industrial training opportunities for graduates in chemical science and engineering.

The “Axieo Centre for Innovation” will be housed within the new Green Chemical Futures building at Monash.

Axieo CEO Sam Bastounas, who holds a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Chemistry and a Master of Business Administration from Monash University said that innovation is the key to unlocking the potential for local industry to be globally competitive.

“Axieo serves customers in 109 manufacturing sectors, and one of the key competitive advantages we offer is our commitment to work with them to create products that are better for consumers and better for our environment as well,” Bastounas said.

“Monash University’s Green Chemical Futures facility provides state-of-the-art facilities and equipment and the world class skills and knowledge of Monash staff.

“We are excited about the potential that close collaboration between Monash University’s researchers, our industry partners and our team has to customise proprietary technology and provide innovative solutions to our local customers.”

“Through Monash’s industry links via the C&P Manufacturing Innovation Network, incubation support from the Victorian Centre for Sustainable Chemical Manufacturing (VCSCM) and Axieo’s global network, this partnership is poised to do great things,” Bastounas said.

Joseph Lawrence, Director of Industry Partnerships at Monash University said: “We are excited about this engaging partnership, which combines Monash University’s world-class capability in chemical sciences with Axieo’s entrepreneurial drive and expertise to deliver innovative, tailored solutions to the challenges faced by Axieo’s customers in a wide ranging global marketplace.

“There is great value in stimulating collaboration between a dynamic company such as Axieo and a world class University, and I have no doubt that Axieo and Monash will together create global industrial impact going forward,” Lawrence said.

The Green Chemical Futures is a $72.8 million facility at Monash University.

Food & Beverage Supply Chain training centre receives funding

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Food & Beverage Supply Chain Optimisation Industrial Transformation Training Centre (ITTC), hosted by the University of Newcastle, will train the next generation of multi-disciplinary researchers capable of designing and managing safe, sustainable, and cost-effective food supply chains.

The training centre received $2.1 million in ARC funding through the Industrial Transformation Research Program, which will employ three postdoctoral researchers and support 10 PhD students.

Based at the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast campus, the centre will bring together a diverse set of research organisations and industrial partners to ensure the research carried out, and training provided, are both at the cutting-edge and industrially relevant.

The food industry is important to the Australian economy with 15 percent of the national workforce involved in food production and food exports equating to $30.5 billion each year.

The National Food Plan White Paper states the vision for Australia’s food system is a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply, supporting access to nutritious and affordable food.  Key to achieving this vision are safe, sustainable, and cost-effective, food supply chains.

The ARC Training Centre for Food & Beverage Supply Chain Optimisation will support the development of new and innovative postharvest treatments to improve horticultural market access and reduce waste in the horticulture supply chain.
Centre Director Professor Rick Middleton said the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre scheme had a focus on postgraduate research that was directly linked to industry needs.
"The ARC Training Centre for Food and Beverage Supply Chain Optimisation brings together researchers both in operations research (optimising logistics) and in food science."

The University’s School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Environmental and Life Sciences form part of the training centre.

Researchers at the centre will collaborate with the University of Sydney, The Georgia Institute of Technology, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, NSW Department of Primary Industries and Ghent University Global Campus, as well as industry organisations Coca Cola Amatil (Australia), Sunrice, Batlow Fruit, and the Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing Company.