University partnership develops innovative products

At the beginning of this year, Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) New Zealand commissioned the Otago University’s Department of Food Science in Dunedin to work with product development for three Pacific Island companies from Fiji and Tonga (see accompanying story).

The visiting PTI team samples the two versions of the kava-infused drink developed by the Otago University’s Department of Food Science.

As part of PTI NZ’s Path to Market programme, this Deal by Science project is designed to apply scientific rigour to Pacific Island product development, filling gaps in manufacturers’ pathway to launching their products in markets like New Zealand.

The products were based on kava, coconut and tropical fruit. Teams comprising four students each and an academic supervisor were assigned to each of the three companies’ projects.

The kava-based product development team, named Kavalicious, comprised Vivien Ting, Lyren Wang, Annalise Stuart and Katie Henderson with Dominic Agyei, as their supervisor. Dr Agyei, a lecturer since January this year, is from Ghana and has a PhD in chemical engineering from Monash university, Melbourne.

He had never heard of kava before, he told Pacific Periscope. “But I am greatly interested in indigenous foods from different parts of the world. So, this was very interesting for me,” he said.

The aim of the project was to create a kava infused juice, a premium product. The team worked since January this year on formulations, consulting several sources and experiments with a range of ingredients to zero in on two prototypes after eliminating several more after laboratory tests and taste tests involving focus groups.

Team Kavalicious displays the kava-infused beverages it developed. Standing at right is Kava Gold’s Praveen Kumar and next to him is Fiona Nyhof, Company-Student Project co-ordinator at the Department of Food Science, University of Otago.

In the absence of New Zealand standards for kava-based consumer products, the team relied on overseas standards in determining concentrations for the beverage. Keeping in mind the premium nature of the drink they wanted to create, they chose the label design and the shape of the bottle after due thought and research.

Green Gold Kava owner Praveen Kumar, who was present at the presentation, was happy with the outcomes. “This is a great result and I sincerely thank the students for their hard work. This would not have been possible to do on the island in Fiji, where we operate from,” he said.

Team Paradise, which developed a couple of flavour variations of a coconut product for Fiji’s Tavulomo Coconut Processing, comprised students Claudia, Emily, Hana, Simon headed by supervisor Biniam Kebede.

Each team had different challenges and this team’s challenge was dehydrating the coconut and getting the flavouring to stick to the product as well as standardising and uniformly spreading the flavouring.

Team Paradise after their presentation of coconut-based snack foods.

Extensive testing and taste tests across focus groups helped them arrive at the ideal formula and they chose two of the four flavour combinations after due analysis of the Hedonic scale which was used to assay the focus groups’ preferences. The choices certainly proved to be delicious as borne out by the positive responses following the presentations.

The exercise also meant testing for pesticides, husk, metal contaminants, pathogens, microbes, bacterial counts according to HACCP parameters for packaged food products.

Team Squishy that developed the bliss balls for Tongan fresh producer exporter Nishi Trading with PTI NZ Trade & Investment Commissioner Michael Greenslade.

Team Squish, consisted of Tilly, Julie Oger, Alesha East, Grace Esquilant and worked to produce a nutritious snack for the renowned fresh produce grower and exporter Nishi Foods of the Kingdom of Tonga.

The final snack developed was a bliss ball, after eliminating several promising candidates. The choice was backed by sound reasoning following research on ingredient availability, nutrition, shelf life and trendiness as a product category.

The team consciously worked toward having a lower sugar threshold without sacrificing flavour. The sugar was lower than that in competing packaged products, yet the newly developed product was preferred over the established packaged product during blind tests in focus groups.

As in the case of the coconut snack, the bliss ball product too was tested for microbial spoilage, water activity, texture change, sensory analysis, pH change at temperatures ranging from 15 degrees to 35 degrees and shelf life analyses.

During their presentations, each team outlined their methodologies, challenges faced and their aspirations for the products when they hit the market.

For more information please email PTI Trade Development Manager Joe Fuavao at joe.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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