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Helping to grow the Australian food bowl

The world is on the cusp of a leap in demand for customised, high-value food, and Australian food businesses are uniquely positioned to benefit. 

In fact, global demand for fresh, healthy food from a known and trusted source is projected to reach $AU8 trillion per year by 2025, with the majority of new demand arising from Asia, a report from Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) reveals.

However, Australia’s food and agribusiness sector is faced with a number of challenges and opportunities related to demand, supply, innovation and regulation that will shape the evolution of the sector in the coming years. 

From a demand perspective, the growth in consumers will drive large increases in demand for food, coupled with an existing unmet food demand right now, with almost 800 million people worldwide hungry and more than two billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies. 

Meanwhile, consumer preferences are rapidly changing. There’s also a trend toward food and wellness and increasing pressure on social grounds to look for new ways to improve sustainability of production in food. 

These things combine to create an immense opportunity for Australia’s food producers. This country is recognised as one of the safest and trusted food producers in the world.

Luckily, Australia’s thriving food sector has been pushing the limits when it comes to food innovation in a range of sectors. Specialists in their respective fields are exploring and developing automation technologies, cell creation of food, exploring proteins and even 3D printing of food in what ultimately sounds like it would appeal to Star Trek fans, rather than everyday Australians. 

The FIAL report points out that this isn’t without challenge, however. Currently, the gross value of Australian agricultural production is $50 billion – but the sector aspires to double this to $100 billion by 2030.

To achieve this target, new thinking is needed about how to grow value-add food goods and achieve the sustainable intensification of production needed to build scale in the most profitable markets.

Fingers in many pies

UNSW has a strong focus on partnerships with industry to take products from prototype to market, with a common vision to create the next generation of sustainable, efficient food production in Australia. 

To achieve this, UNSW is working with a range of leading food industry researchers, industry leaders and government to evolve and grow sustainable food production in Australia. 

The University’s cooperative research centre recently received a Federal Government funding injection worth $35 million to be spent over the next decade to help position Australia as a global leading in advanced food manufacturing. 

This incredible research centre is focused on developing new technologies, products and services to help Australia solve major economic, environmental and social challenges across the country’s food supply chain, from farmers and food manufacturers. 

The research centre is also exploring a range of future food innovations, including how to optimise the productivity of regional and peri-urban food systems, taking new products from prototype to market and implementing rapid, provenance-protected supply chains from farm to consumer.

Allergies on the rise

One of the key projects in the food space being addressed at UNSW in the all-important area of food allergies in a bid to improve the lives of allergy sufferers. 

Alice Lee is the Associate Professor of Food Chemistry in UNSW’s School of Chemical Engineering, Food and Health cluster. Her main area of focus is in the allergy space, with a current project focused on the current haphazard approach to labelling because allergenic ingredients aren’t usually separated from non-allergic ingredients at manufacturing facilities.

Taking another look at food labelling legislation is important, she says. “We know that only 10% of the labels that carry ‘may contain nuts’ as a precautionary statement actually contain allergens. But 90% of them do not have. Some companies use precautionary statements just to protect themselves. This approach obviously has significant implications with people with severe allergies, where even a speck of a peanut can kill them,” Lee says.

“At the agricultural level, crop rotation comes into play. If you grow soy and wheat near each other and rotate crops, you’re likely to have contamination of soy in wheat and vice versa, which hasn’t been extensively looked at in Australia or globally yet,” Lee says.

Sharing the problem

Lee is a key player in an annual collective think-thank attended by a number of Australia’s small business food producers along with researchers, clinicians, consumers, food manufacturers, regulators and industry groups.

The Food Allergen Management Symposium enables Australian food industry leaders to share experience and interact with global leaders in food allergy and food allergen management, attracting 200 attendees from 124 organisations from 15 countries this year.

Attendees collectively unpack the complicated task of managing and communicating risk within a complex supply chain. 

Banking on support

St.George Bank’s Executive Manager of Consumer Goods, Jacki Fraher has been working closely with UNSW to better understand the significant change occurring within the food and beverage industry as a result of breakthroughs in science and technology and changing consumer preferences. 

St.George Bank is actively seeking ways to add value to food innovators across the industry, particularly given that funding growth and research is a key part of the puzzle, Fraher says. 

“We’re working closely with our food industry customers across the country to help support growth periods by providing funding options while they focus on what they do best - supporting innovation in the food industry, often through globally leading technological advances.”

“St.George Invoice Discounting helps businesses access funding by leveraging money tied up in the businesses debtors’ ledger.  The great thing about this approach is that businesses in the Australian food sector can better manage their cashflow during periods of growth.   This product has been very popular overseas and has been growing in the Australian market over the years.”

If you’d like to discuss how St.George could help your business, please reach out to us today.


Jacki Fraher

Executive Manager, Industry Banking

St.George Bank

0422 841 210