Food – lessons from Den­mark

How does New Zealand start on the road to a cleaner and more vi­brant high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor? Pro­fes­sor Richard Archer of Massey Univer­sity says we could learn a les­son from Den­mark.

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - CONTENTS - Pro­fes­sor Richard Archer is head of Massey Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Food, Nu­tri­tion and Hu­man Health.

New Zealand, led by the gov­ern­ment, is keen to grow a high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor and Den­mark could pro­vide the blue­print.

Once an agri­cul­ture­dom­i­nated econ­omy, Den­mark is now an ex­porter of high-tech cap­i­tal equip­ment, wind tur­bines, en­zymes and other biotech­nol­ogy prod­ucts.

New Zealand would like a slice of that. But many of us are mak­ing the same mis­takes we did with the ‘knowl­edge wave’ move­ment in as­sum­ing we can leap from where we are to where Den­mark is to­day.

That is not how Den­mark did it. They did not get off the grass, and to­day has an ex­port food in­dus­try about as big as ours, along­side other hightech man­u­fac­tures.

Quick leaps into new in­dus­tries are dif­fi­cult to achieve with­out mas­sive (China-style mas­sive) in­vest­ment. Den­mark grew its biotech business via porcine in­sulin from its large pork in­dus­try. It grew its process equip­ment in­dus­try from sup­ply­ing its own ex­pand­ing dairy in­dus­try.

The les­son is to grow your new in­dus­try by vig­or­ously ex­ploit­ing cus­tomers in ex­ist­ing in­dus­tries. You must keep food and agri­cul­ture strong. Den­mark merely moved to the grassy verge and that is the sweet spot for us too.

The New Zealand high tech man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor is grow­ing at a mod­est pace. We do have a few lim­i­ta­tions – we are miles from mar­kets; we have a thin base to work from; few of our brighter stu­dents choose en­gi­neer­ing at ter­tiary level; we im­port nearly all our en­gi­neer­ing raw ma­te­ri­als. But none of th­ese is fa­tal. What is far more im­por­tant is who and where we find our thou­sand lead–user cus­tomers.

To grow an in­dus­try you must first grow firms, usu­ally many firms. For firms to grow they must have cus­tomers. There are two types of cus­tomer: business or con­sumer – so your firms grow business to business (B2B) or business to cus­tomer (B2C) busi­nesses.

B2C is not easy as you must dis­cern the in­ner wishes of a mil­lion con­sumers with whom you can’t con­verse, be­fore ei­ther they or your com­peti­tors know that in­ner wish. B2B com­merce is far the eas­ier way to grow a new high tech business. And those B2B cus­tomers are ei­ther here in New Zealand where you can reach them or they are Air­buses away.

In my view, B2B business with New Zealand cus­tomers are the best bet for small high-tech busi­nesses. The ma­jor ex­cep­tion is weight­less prod­ucts such as fi­bre-friendly soft­ware or in­for­ma­tion prod­ucts.

So where in New Zealand do you find a big enough pop­u­la­tion or business cus­tomers keen for sen­sor, soft­ware, imag­ing, ro­botic and other mecha­tronic prod­ucts? In the food and fi­bre pro­cess­ing in­dus­try.

New Zealand, rel­a­tive to pop­u­la­tion and to econ­omy, has a mas­sive biological prod­ucts pri­mary sec­tor. We have land, rain, coast­line and a plethora of food and fi­bre raw ma­te­rial like fish, fruit, raw milk or beef on the hoof. Most of this raw ma­te­rial we process al­ready but we should be pro­cess­ing more of it into far more valu­able prod­ucts.

Co­ri­o­lis Re­search di­rec­tor Tim Mor­ris has high­lighted the rapid growth of the al­ready sub­stan­tial ex­port pro­cessed food and bev­er­age sec­tor in the Min­istry of Business, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment’s food and bev­er­age in­for­ma­tion project.

The food-pro­cess­ing sec­tor in New Zealand is sub­stan­tial, com­pris­ing many com­pa­nies run by tech–savvy peo­ple hun­gry for pro­duc­tiv­ity gains. It has been grow­ing strongly for 15 years and is ac­cel­er­at­ing.

It is strongly backed by new gov­ern­ment in­fra­struc­ture such as the New Zealand Food In­no­va­tion Net­work (a set of open ac­cess pi­lot plants for re­search and de­vel­op­ment and first com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion) and the food sec­tor’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity fea­tur­ing the newly es­tab­lished FoodHQ col­lab­o­ra­tion. It is also strongly sup­ported by sev­eral very good univer­sity de­grees and poly­tech­nic cour­ses.

New Zealand’s food pro­cess­ing sec­tor is, in my view, the pri­mary po­ten­tial driver of New Zealand’s high tech man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor if we are awake to it. I con­fess to some trep­i­da­tion as the Na­tional Sci­ence Chal­lenges sort out their pro­grammes of work. I would hope the Chal­lenge on Sci­ence for Tech­no­log­i­cal In­no­va­tion tar­gets a good chunk of their ef­fort on de­vices and soft­ware for our food pro­cess­ing in­dus­try. That way we support two high–tech in­dus­tries simultaneously – our de­vel­op­ing process equip­ment in­dus­try and our more ma­ture food pro­cess­ing in­dus­try.

I re­cently vis­ited the TNO Re­search In­sti­tute in Eind­hoven, the Nether­lands. Now that re­ally is a se­ri­ous high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing ap­plied re­search group, mag­nif­i­cently equipped with peo­ple and ma­chin­ery and in­hab­it­ing the same city as Philips and the plethora of med­i­cal imag­ing com­pa­nies. TNO in­clude food in its am­bit.

They are well up with the play in 3D food print­ing and have linked with Massey Univer­sity re­searchers. They have ap­plied ink-jet print­ing tech­niques to droplet atom­i­sa­tion for spray dry­ing and pow­der en­cap­su­la­tion among other in­no­va­tions.

I am more con­fi­dent about the way Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion is de­vel­op­ing. It has iden­ti­fied food man­u­fac­ture among its clus­ter of high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors to foster. Let’s hope the var­i­ous sec­tors work to­gether rather than head­ing off to be­come in­de­pen­dent republics.

Pro­fes­sor Richard Archer of Massey Univer­sity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.