FEATURE: How Brisbane is developing its food innovation talent
Words by Steven Silvester, General Manager, Investment and Industry Development, Brisbane Economic Development Agency
Food and agribusiness continues to be a fast-growing multi-billion-dollar industry for Southeast Queensland, and the export opportunity for the SEQ’s region is expanding rapidly.
International experts such as New York-based Nikki Briggs believe Southeast Queensland is the perfect place to capitalise on the growing global demand for innovative food products. And there’s no denying we are in a prime position to take advantage of the growing affluent population in Asia that are seeking clean, fresh and healthy food products.
Southeast Queensland is home to a rich and diverse range of agricultural assets including grain, beef, eggs and horticulture, as well as a number of iconic Queensland and Australian food businesses. The potential for innovation, scaling existing producers and delivering healthy organic products supported by the regions provenance is boundless.
We are increasingly becoming a leader in this space, but in order to continue that we have to nurture local talent and support the entrepreneurs, producers, and institutions that need help developing skills, networks, and access to resources that foster the scaling of their enterprise.
Through the support of the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, we started the Future Food Initiative, in which we work closely with a variety of local businesses across the sector to help them build capability, build knowledge and connect to customers both here and abroad. We aim to broaden their horizons and inspire them to think to the opportunities our close neighbours in Asia represent in terms of market size.
Whilst still in the early stages of the initiative, we aim to support scaling companies in the region. With the provenance, the growing conditions, the bulk commodities and a reputation for safety and security in the food chain, global markets are willing to pay a premium for a produced in Australia product.
This is what the Future Food Initiative is delivering, and the trends we’re identifying.
The trends in the future of food
Global readiness is something our food innovators need to aim for, and many are doing just that.
We see food producers, food innovators, logistics and equipment experts all looking to scale their businesses and knowledge globally, and that is vital for the Southeast to become a bigger, more recognised player on the world stage.
But in order to make that leap, these businesses have come to understand the importance of provenance, sustainability and story in their offering - these are the things that the emerging wealthy consumers throughout Asia are turning to when making purchasing decisions. As are the customers closer to home.
Impressively, all of the people and businesses in our first Future Food cohort could prove their provenance story. In our Meet The Buyer program three grocery chains, a major hotel and a supermarket group took on products from our cohort - noting the story behind the products really influenced their decision, and the decision of their customers. And the research we’ve seen backs this up - with customers willing to pay more and being more loyal to brands that put their provenance story first. Firsthand evidence of this is in the Wandering Cooks program at South Brisbane - a business that has flourished off the back of its commitment to events, its food story, pushing food provenance as a major indicator of success and pushing its participants to look globally for their market, not just within the city’s boundaries.
Food entrepreneurs and product innovation
Another trend identified during the program came from our participants’ eagerness to not just improve and innovate on a product level, but to change the way our food arrives to our cupboards and our plates.
Connecting these companies with the right manufacturers to deliver the best outcomes for scalability and their customers is an ongoing challenge, and a trend identified for upcoming programs that will be run through the Future Food Initiative.
Research shows there is unprecedented levels of product innovation at a global level right now, and our cohort indicated their hunger to join them with world-leading product aspirations. Their issue - they pointed out - came to manufacturing and partnership readiness, a trend we’ll be focusing on.
We’ll take participants through the manufacturing space in Southeast Queensland, such as the DAF/CSIRO Food Pilot Plant, to see how they can leverage local facilities and make their food innovations work harder. This is particularly true with a few of the food production clusters we identified, such as artisan beverages. They have issues with product integrity across the supply chain - the opportunity exists to fix this and expand their offering fast.
Organics, health and wellness opportunities
It is absolutely clear that the wellness and health categories in food innovation are booming, and the products and innovators in our region are no different. A whopping 85% of our cohort could provide health and wellness value through their products and many of them had the desire to market these products through rigorous research of the benefits they provide customers - all part of the provenance and sustainability story we know is so vital.
The opportunities here for the regions businesses is to utilise the research research talents and facilities at our local education institutions. In 2019, the initiative will be looking to facilitate interactions between researchers, food innovators and entrepreneurs in an attempt to connect groundbreaking research in food products and food production, to the farm, the factory and the plate.
We know that fast growing segments exist in convenience, personalisation of food and providing the market with food that extends health benefits to the consumer. These key product attributes backed by innovation and science will be the secret sauce that helps Australia’s food sector compete into the future.
Taking Future Food forwards
In its first year, the Future Food Initiative captured the incremental improvement of the participants and positive indication of economic impact they can deliver. But the work isn’t easy and it isn’t fast. For those businesses with an eye on Asian markets they know breaking in there can be a three- to five-year prospect so the purpose of creating these programs is to not just to get them product ready but also capability ready to withstand the reality of scaling and going global. But the rewards of that will taste as good as their products, and that has to be the aim for our region and the innovators within it.
And that’s what the second year of the Future Food Initiative will continue to deliver - a program that builds capabilities to accelerate global readiness and scale food businesses within the greater Brisbane region. We are aiming to equip these businesses with the talents and skills to take their ideas into a living, breathing product - then take that into as many global markets as they can.
That’s the future of food for Brisbane.