Why Queensland is feasting on food R&D
With multiple food “incubators” offering state-of-the art facilities, the state’s small-to-medium enterprises are reaping the benefits.
Food-and-drink manufacturers in Queensland are leading the nation in quality and innovation – and it’s thanks in part to assistance from the state and federal governments.
Making the biggest contribution is Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, which is encouraging the state’s SMEs to trial new manufacturing processes, scale-up products and test out the latest food technology. The agency’s support is leading to some exciting new product developments.
Pilot plant takes off
The focal point of CSIRO’s efforts in Queensland is the state-of-the-art Coopers Plains pilot plant in Brisbane, which is home to more than 120 individual food-processing units. “Within food, one of our major unique selling propositions is a novel processing technology suite that aligns with modern trends,” says Dr Ciara McDonnell, who heads up the facility.
Together, the plant’s five flexible-layout processing areas provide thermal processing and drying, high-hygiene cool and cold workspaces, a warm room for thermal operation or fermentation and much more. The individual food-processing units include a freeze dryer, membrane filtration and a high-pressure processing unit.
The Coopers Plains facility makes testing and processing more affordable by allowing food and drink manufacturers to create short runs of new products. Staff can also assist SME operators with marketing services and advice, encompassing product pricing and packaging, store placement and product promotion. In addition, staff can undertake general research and provide information about export regulations.
Currently on trial at the Coopers Plains plant is a groundbreaking technology called Shockwave, which discharges electrical currents underwater to apply pressure to meat, tenderising it rapidly. “Reduced ageing time and achieving more consistently tender meat is what we’re working on,” explains McDonnell. It is hoped the technology will get meat into the hands of consumers faster.
Processing methods that extend the shelf life of meat are also being tested. These include pulsed electric fields, microwave, plasma and high-pressure processing. “A lot of our technologies specifically target microbial cells and don’t affect any of the nutrients or flavour or colour molecules,” McDonnell says.
Product development possibilities aplenty
Queensland’s state government is also helping develop the food and drink manufacturing sector by funding the launch of a comprehensive website for the FNQ (far-north Queensland) Food Incubator.
The incubator is an independent organisation comprising food-and-drink manufacturers and marketers from Cairns to Mount Isa, south to Townsville and north to Thursday Island. Its mission is to help fledgling manufacturers access shared-use prep facilities and marketing-related services to help streamline new product development.
Funding the $20,000 website is part of the Queensland government’s 10-year action plan for agriculture and food, which has also included a $350,000 investment in the food-processing sector over the past two years.
Through the new website, beginner manufacturers can schedule a free consultation with an industry expert to discuss the process of new product development; book time at a range of shared-use manufacturing facilities, including those operated by TAFE Queensland; and find out more about the incubator’s workshop series, which covers the entire product development process (including marketing, supply-chain issues and more).
“[The site] connects the food sector in Cairns to existing facilities, skills, government services and industry innovators able to support individuals to explore their ideas and produce viable product lines,” Queensland’s Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner, said in a statement.
“Designed by industry, the site will help to navigate the approvals and regulatory requirements that are a prerequisite to establishing a food business.”
Strong support spreads far and wide
For those food-and-drink manufacturers outside of Brisbane and far-north Queensland, several other government and non-government options are available.
These include Startup Toowoomba, an independent organisation that provides development and marketing assistance to businesses in all sectors. Startup Toowoomba is about to run an eight-week Startup Bootcamp for Food & Ag that will specifically address food-and-drink product development from start to finish.
Another option is the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast, which is located at the University of the Sunshine Coast campus at Sippy Downs. It is a membership-based organisation for all sectors, providing office space, expert mentoring, assistance with marketing plans and access to like-minded entrepreneurs.
Two government programs also offer assistance to food-and-drink manufacturers. Trade and Investment Queensland is the state government’s dedicated global business agency with a mission to help Queensland exporters do business in global markets. The agency runs regular workshops and networking events and can provide one-on-one advice about doing business overseas.
There’s also Regional Development Australia – Darling Downs and Southwest, which collects information and grant opportunities relevant to local businesses on its well-maintained Facebook page.
It’s little wonder, then, that the state’s SMEs are leading the way in Australia’s ever-evolving food-manufacturing sector.