At the Food Futures Conference in Darwin in May 2023, Charles Darwin University’s (CDU) Northern Australia Food Technology Innovation (NAFTI) project team presented key ideas around the business and technical case for future shelf-stable food manufacturing in Northern Australia.
NAFTI project manager Dr Warren Hunt and University of Tasmania Professor Roger Stanley presented the findings from 15 months of research at the Food Futures Conference, a three-day conference held in Darwin in late May 2023.
Dr Hunt said this was big-picture thinking from the team into how we could build a food manufacturing industry in Northern Australia.
“Here in Northern Australia, food processing is limited to small niche businesses, with most of Australia’s food processing located in Southern Australia,” Dr Hunt said.
“Through this project we have been able to understand the complexities and volumes in Northern Australia’s supply chain.”
“This initiative is aimed squarely at regional value-capture of sub-premium or out-of-specification produce that otherwise would be lost to the food chain.”
“However, there is also strategic angle, as our food supply chains in the north are 3,000 to 4,000 kilometres long and highly vulnerable to interruptions. Regional food stabilisation capabilities to support northern population centres must be given more attention by governments as a matter of urgency.”
“We are now in a position to narrow down the best options in terms of food science and technology that could go into a pilot facility.”
Shelf-stable foods with NT production potential
The project has so far highlighted the types of shelf-stable foods that offer the most potential for being produced here in Northern Australia.
Shelf-stable foods include packaged snacks and convenience foods, pet food, ready meals, red-meat and seafood products, tropical juice, and wet or dry whole fruit or fruit pieces.
“Our research has showed that the most viable consumer segments are those requiring ready-to-eat or ready-to-use food, snacks and ingredients,” Dr Hunt said.
“There is also significant potential for NT-processed, shelf-stable red-meat products such as ready-to-eat meals, as well as functional beef ingredients used in numerous grocery products.”
“We have also determined that there is an opportunity to produce buffalo-meat products here in Northern Australia, as it is one of the healthiest red meats and is an ideal protein powder source.”
“This study is investigating the function that novel shelf-stable food technologies offer: For example, they can deliver food nutritional and sensory outcomes to past processing practices,” he said.
The next stage of the project includes furthering ideas on the development of a small-scale food-grade facility.
The plant would include several different processing lines with the capability to manage multiple feedstocks including red-meat, horticulture and seafood products. It would be dedicated to de-risking future potential commercial expansion by undertaking market and product testing as well as by building a workforce trained in food processing operations.
The Food Futures Conference is a biennial conference organised by the NT Farmers Association. It plays an important role in showcasing the opportunities of the north, influencing policy creation and attracting investment to the area.
This article was published initially on the Charles Darwin University website on 25 May 2023. It has been republished here with minor editorial modifications courtesy of CDU Media. View the original article.
Lead image: Charles Darwin University’s Northern Australia Food Technology Innovation project team member Dr Warren Hunt, presenting key ideas around the business and technical case for future shelf-stable food manufacturing in Northern Australia at the Food Futures Conference in Darwin in May 2023.