SA attracts NZ food research company

New Zealand-based science and innovation company Plant & Food Research is establishing a base at the largest agricultural research and teaching hub in the Southern Hemisphere.

The move into the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus in South Australia will give the company access to world-class facilities and drive research collaborations aimed at enhancing production, sustainability and value-adding in the horticulture, food and agriculture industries.

Plant & Food Research Australia is a wholly owned subsidiary of the New Zealand science organisation Plant & Food Research, a NZ Government-owned Crown Research Institute.

The company has previously worked with the University of Adelaide on agricultural product development, almond orchard systems and harvest technologies.

It is also a partner in the new University of Adelaide-led Research Consortium – Agricultural Product Development, increasing the value of agricultural waste and turning it into new products; and has formal agreement in place to work with the University’s Adelaide Glycomics on complex carbohydrates and their potential in a range of sectors.

Established in Adelaide’s southern suburbs in 1924, The Waite is the largest concentration of agricultural research and teaching expertise in the Southern Hemisphere.

Plant & Food Research Australia will join 15 complementary organisations already at The Waite, including CSIRO, The Australian Wine Research Institute, Australian Grain Technologies and the South Australia Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

Like New Zealand, the South Australia relies heavily on agriculture, seafood and wine exports to drive its economy.

University of Adelaide’s Vice- Chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen said the campus had been at the heart of development of agriculture and food industries in South Australia for almost a century.

“Now with more than 250 academic staff at the university directly involved in agrifood and wine education and research we continue to lead research and innovation in these sectors,” Rathjen said.

Plant & Food Research group general manager, marketing and innovation Dr Gavin Ross said establishing a base at the campus would provide access to complementary facilities and skills within the university and other partner organisations, along with a well-trained pool of students at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.

“Science is a complicated business, requiring large teams with a vast array of skills and infrastructure, and generating large data sets that require new and sophisticated procedures for analysis,” Ross said.

“Waite has a world-wide reputation for excellence and we look forward to building on past collaborations in working closely with industry, our clients and funding bodies.”

Plant & Food Research also has a collaboration with the University of Adelaide’s almond breeding program, and has major projects in other nut crops and in pollination across a range of crops.

The company has also bred several new plant varieties commercialised and grown in Australia, including Jazz, Envy and Rockit brand apples, and potatoes licensed to South Australian potato grower Mitolo.

South Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone said there was growing global demand for the safe, healthy food for which South Australia was well known.

“The increased research capabilities (of Plant & Food Research Australia) will further the state’s reputation as a world leader in agricultural and food research, and help take advantage of the tremendous potential for growth in the horticulture and agri-food sectors,”  Whetstone said.

Adelaide tech startup secures Vonu hospitality deal

Software developed by a South Australian startup that helps hospitality venue operators engage customers in real time will be rolled out nationally.

Based at the University of Adelaide ThincLab, the startup has raised $160,000 in seed capital to test their mobile platform Bellr.

The app will now be activated in 150 food and beverage businesses across Australia in tandem with the deployment of a VIP loyalty program accessible via the app for Vonu Export beer.

Bellr CEO Mitchell Stapleton-Coory said the Vonu partnership will help get their customer relationship management (CRM) tool into the national hospitality industry.

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“Vonu came on board to partially fund the development of that (loyalty program) side of it in exchange for a licence on the technology to run the Vonu VIP program,” said Stapleton-Coory.

“By September we’re looking to have 50 Vonu venues signed up, then they’ll start to join on a rolling basis between now and the end of the year scaling up to the 150 total. In addition to that, we’re looking to have about 50 Adelaide venues live in the next couple of months.”

Bellr’s CRM software allows food and beverage businesses to customise and schedule promotions to attract and retain customers. Patrons redeem offers and process electronic payments through the app.

“Venues have the ability to promote anything they like in their venue with 100 per cent autonomy,” said Stapleton-Coory.

“We provide a dashboard to the venue where they can post whatever they want, with complete control over the price point, the products, the capacity, the timing and it’s a live promotion that goes out to people depending on how many follow the venue,” he said.

“With retention, it’s about incentivising loyalty to a venue, a brand or potentially a group of venues. We do that by running tailor-made loyalty programs on our technology which is more invite-only, closed groups like what we’re doing with Vonu and various other brands and customers,” said Stapleton-Coory.

The app also provides insights into a range of metrics from each promotion including the total amount of clicks/impressions, how many people have secured and redeemed it and revenue.

The user interface was designed by app and web developer EB Pearls in Sydney.

Bellr chief operations officer Matthew Giorgio said the user interface was made to be simple and user friendly for venues and customers.

“We basically load you into a map, into a geolocation as to where you are in the world similar to Uber, so you can see what venues and promotions are available around you in real time,” said Giorgio.

“It’s all relative to what’s around you at that point in time. The offers themselves are ephemeral, and don’t last for more than 24 hours, so anything around you is live and interactable.,” he said.

Stapleton-Coory and Giorgio co-founded the company in Adelaide two years ago under the name ‘SHOUTback’ before rebranding. Having previously worked in the hospitality industry, the pair saw firsthand the impact of the gig economy on the business environment.

“Every sales environment has a CRM that they use to manage the customer relationship, but the hospitality industry lags significantly behind in that respect and the state of the industry is changing, they’re dealing with a lot of digital disruptions these days,” said Stapleton-Coory.

“Hospitality venues need to up-skill with tech. They’re currently the third least digitised sector of the economy, so we’re trying to develop an approachable and easy to integrate with platform which will allow them to level up in the tech space,” said Stapleton-Coory.

Bellr is targeting brick and mortar and pop-up venue spaces, and have tested the app in 30 venues around Adelaide.

The company currently receives a 14 per cent flat commission for each promotion.

“We safeguard our percentage by limiting the minimum cost of any promotion sold to $10, that means we can viably afford it,” said Stapleton-Coory.

“We ultimately want to move to a subscription base service where we take less of a commission because of cash flow reasons, we want the venues to keep as much of the sale as possible and we would be happier to just take a monthly fee for licensing the platform,” said Stapleton-Coory.

Stapleton-Coory said they have plans to expand Bellr internationally.

“We see plenty of potential to take it internationally,” he said.

“We’ve got strong connections with Lion in New Zealand who have expressed interest in trailing the software.”

This article was originally published on the Lead.

Research helps towards creating more stable brewing processes

New findings from University of Adelaide researchers, could help provide more stable brewing processes or new malts for craft brewers.

The researchers discovered a link between one of the key enzymes involved in malt production for brewing and a specific tissue layer within the barley grain.

The most important malting enzymes come from a layer of tissue in the barley grain called the aleurone, a health-promoting tissue full of minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibre.

The research showed that the more aleurone present in the barley grain, the more enzyme activity the grain produced.

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Barley is the second most important cereal crop for South Australia and contributes over $2.5 billion to the national economy. This is largely due to its use in beverage production.

University of Adelaide school of agriculture, food and wine associate professor and project leader, Matthew Tucker, said barley grains had impressive features ideal for creating the malt required by the brewing industry.

“During the malting process, complex sugars within the barley grain are broken down by enzymes to produce free sugars, which are then used by yeast for fermentation. The levels of these enzymes, how they function and where they are synthesised within the barley grain are therefore of significant interest for the brewing industry,” he said.

“Until now, it was not known that this key ingredient in the beer brewing process was influenced by the amount of aleurone within the grain, or that the aleurone was potentially a storage site for the enzyme,” said Tucker.

The researchers examined the aleurone in a range of barley cultivars used by growers and breeding programs in Australia and found remarkable variation in the aleurone layer between varieties.

Tucker said breeders and geneticists could make use of this natural variation to select for barley varieties with different amounts of aleurone and different malting characteristics.

“This will be of potential interest to large brewers who depend on stable and predictable production of malt, and also the craft brewers that seek different malts to produce beer with varying characteristics.”

PhD student Matthew Aubert used the variation to examine levels of enzymes involved in malt production.

He discovered that barley grains possessing more aleurone had noticeably more activity in one of the key enzymes that breaks down starch and determines malt quality of barley, an enzyme called free beta-amylase.

Aubert said grains with more aleurone could have an advantage that allowed them to break down complex sugars faster or more thoroughly than grains with less aleurone.

The researchers are now trying to find the genes that explain this natural variation.

Aubert’s research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in plant cell walls and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.