Covid-19 has escalated the need for greater automated solutions within vineyards, orchards and farms, says Nicky Molloy, Business Innovation Manager for Agritech at Callaghan Innovation.
At full capacity, the new manufacturing capability is expected to inject an additional $38.5 million per year in export revenues back into the New Zealand economy from the sale of new, value-added consumer products.
"With this expansion, FoodWaikato will provide a greater level of development and innovation capability to dairy companies – that's cow, goat and sheep – as well as fruit and vegetables producers," says Waikato Innovation Park chief executive, Stuart Gordon.
"We're moving from helping our customers manufacture ingredients that sell for around US$4,700 per tonne to US$20,000 per tonne. At full capacity, we will produce around 2500 tonnes of new, value-added products."
Gordon says the facility expansion will help more companies take their innovations to new export markets.
"There's no other open access spray drying facility in Australasia where companies can manufacture smaller runs of their first commercial batch of a new product," Gordon says. "The only option for them is to build their own plant, which is cost-prohibitive for most companies – especially new market entrants. FoodWaikato offers a unique solution to eliminate this major innovation barrier."
Capital works kicks off this month and the spray dryer will be commissioned and fully operational in March 2015.
FoodWaikato's expansion will involve installing blending, separating and injecting equipment within the footprint of the existing plant. This new equipment will allow specialty ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and oils to be wet blended with milk or fruit juice – prior to being spray dried in the facility.
"The current facility doesn't support the on-site mixing required to manufacture formulated powders, and it hasn't had the capacity to have milk solid standardisation. This has limited our potential client base and our ability to support the fast growing nutritional and non-dairy markets," says Gordon.
Gordon says the FoodWaikato team will measure its success by the number of customers who expand their export sales and outgrow what the facility offers.
"If we're successful, we will see our customers using the spray dryer to scale up to commercial production, take new products to market and become successful enough to build their own commercial factories. Our role is to facilitate as many companies as we can through this process," he says.