Reducing food waste great for companies’ bottom lines

New research on behalf of Champions 12.3 has found that for every dollar companies invested to reduce food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. The report finds that household savings could be much greater.

In a first-of-its kind analysis, The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste evaluated financial cost and benefit data for 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries, finding that nearly every site realized a positive return on its investment to reduce food waste. The types of investments companies made include: quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on practices to reduce waste, changing food storage and handling processes, changing packaging to extend shelf-life, changing date labels, and other staff and technology investments.

The 14:1 return on investment comes from not buying food that would have been lost or wasted, increasing the share of food that is sold to customers, introducing new product lines made from food that otherwise would have been lost or wasted, reducing waste management costs and other savings.

“A third of the world’s food is wasted – and yet almost a billion people go to bed hungry each night. That simply cannot be right. But even if the moral imperative doesn’t move us, the clear business case should swing people to act. What this research shows is that there’s now no social, environmental or economic reason why we should not come together and take action to reduce food waste,” said Dave Lewis, Group Chief Executive of Tesco and Chair of Champions 12.3.

Government Action Saves Consumers Significant Money

The research also finds that savings for consumers could be enormous. From 2007 to 2012, the United Kingdom ran a nationwide initiative to reduce household food waste. This included consumer education through the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign via in-store messaging on proper food storage and preparation and use of leftovers; product innovations like re-sealable salad bags, changes to pack size and formats and date labelling; and financing to establish baseline data on food waste and monitor progress on reduction.

During this period, for every £1 the government, companies and the non-profit organization WRAP invested in these efforts to curb household food waste, consumers and local government saved £250. Over the first five years of this initiative, avoidable household food waste was reduced 21 percent. Figures released for 2012-2015 show that progress has stalled, which emphasises the need to regularly evaluate, review and adjust approaches to food waste reduction.

At a time of economic strain for many families, throwing away less food is a valuable way to put money back in people’s pockets. In the UK, the average household with children discards approximately £700 of edible food each year. In the United States, the average family of four wastes roughly $1,500 annually on food that goes into the garbage.

“Our experience suggests that there are two main barriers to food waste reduction: a lack of awareness of the scale of food waste in the business and the home and the business case for change,” said Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP. “This groundbreaking report we wrote with WRI shows there is a clear business case for tackling food waste for businesses, municipalities and governments. Given this analysis, our message is simple; target, measure and act.  Above all act.  It makes sense socially, environmentally and above all economically.”

City Investments in Curbing Food Waste Pay Off

In 2012, six London boroughs piloted a local-level Love Food Hate Waste campaign led by WRAP, ultimately saving local authorities £8 in avoided waste disposal costs for every £1 invested, and an average of £84 for households participating. After just six months, households had reduced their waste by 15 percent. London’s experience indicates great potential for other cities to save money and food by taking action to reduce food loss and waste. Other cities that are starting to tackle food waste, starting with measuring the problem, include Denver, Nashville, New York, and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia).

“The success we saw in the United Kingdom proves that it’s possible to make real inroads in reducing food waste,” said Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director of Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute and the new Chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board. “The challenge now is to get every country, major city and company to realise that reducing food loss and waste is a win-win. There are far too many tough, intractable problems in the world – food loss and waste doesn’t have to be one of them.”

In the study, government and business leaders also noted other reasons they find reducing food loss and waste beneficial, including better relationships with customers and suppliers, increasing food security, adhering to waste regulations, upholding a sense of ethical responsibility and promoting environmental sustainability. Since food loss and waste is responsible for an estimated 8 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, tackling this challenge can help lower emissions and meet commitments to the Paris Agreement.

The report recommends leaders take a “target, measure, act” approach to reduce the amount of food lost and wasted. First, every government and company should set a target to halve food loss and waste, in line with Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Second, governments and companies need to start measuring food loss and waste so they can identify hotspots and monitor progress over time. The recently launched Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard can help them do this. Third, leaders need to act, implementing programs and practices for reducing food loss and waste.

We’ve calculated the environmental cost of a loaf of bread – and what to do about it

What does a staple food such as bread have to do with global warming? For a start, to make loaves on an industrial scale, you’ll need powerful milling and kneading machines and a huge oven, heated to 230℃ or more. This uses a lot of energy. The flour, yeast and salt must also be shipped in and, finally, the finished loaves are delivered to stores – all in trucks powered by petrol. The Conversation

But it isn’t milling or baking or transport that accounts for most of the environmental impact of bread. In a new a study published in the journal Nature Plants, colleagues and I looked at the entire supply chain of a regular loaf – from seed to sandwich, via mill and bakery. We found that more than half its environmental impact arises not from food processing but from the production of the raw material, the wheat grain.

Food causes about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the supply chains can be so complex that it is difficult to determine what part of the process is responsible – and without this information neither the industry nor consumers will know what to do about it.

Thanks to a collaboration with a bread manufacturer we had accurate “primary” data for every stage of their particular brand of 800g loaf. We found that ammonium nitrate fertiliser alone accounts for 43% of all the greenhouse gas emissions, dwarfing all other processes in the supply chain including baking and milling. These emissions arise from the large amounts of energy and natural gas needed to produce fertiliser, and from the nitrous oxide released when it is degraded in the soil.

For crops to grow big and fast, they need nitrogen, usually through fertiliser. It is the key ingredient of intensive agriculture. Without fertiliser, either we produce less food or we use much more land to produce the same amount, at greater economic and environmental cost. That is the fix we are in.

Fertiliser-free bread?

We could reduce the use of fertiliser by recycling agricultural and human waste as manure, in order to retain the nitrogen in the same cycle. We could also harness the best of organic farming by, for example, using “green manures” or rotating crops with legumes that “fix” nitrogen in the soil. Precision agriculture can be used to only apply fertiliser where and when it is needed, using new sensor technologies including drones to monitor the nutritional status of soils and plants.

And we can even develop new varieties of crops that are able to use nitrogen more efficiently by, for instance, harnessing fungi in the soil or getting soil microbes to release less nitrous oxide.

We use more than 100 million tonnes of fertiliser each year.
oticki / shutterstock

But technology isn’t the only solution – we could also change our diets. Meat, in particular, is a very inefficient use of nitrogen, as cows or chickens use up energy and nutrients simply staying alive before being slaughtered.

Cereal crops such as wheat are a much more efficient way of converting nitrogenous fertiliser into nitrogen in food protein. Studies show emphatically that low-meat diets are also good for the environment.

There is no incentive to ditch fertiliser

But whose responsibility is it to reduce fertiliser use? After all, fingers could be pointed at the fertiliser manufacturer, the farmer, or even the retailers and consumers who demand cheap bread.

With goods like electronics or car tyres there is a growing recognition for a notion of extended producer responsibility where manufacturers are held responsible for the continuing impact of their products, often including disposal. This could be extended to fertilisers too.

Consumers could pay more for “greener bread” or apply pressure to use less fertiliser. But things can be confusing as people are usually entirely unaware of the environmental impacts embodied in the products they consume. This is particularly the case for food, where the mains concerns are over human health or animal welfare – not emissions. Many will be surprised that wheat cultivation has a greater environmental impact than baking or milling.

This highlights one of the key conflicts in the food security challenge. The agriculture industry’s primary purpose is to make money, not to provide sustainable food for the whole world. Profits for farmers and retailers rely on highly productive crops – which require lots of relatively cheap fertiliser. However the environmental impact of this fertiliser is not costed within the system and so there are currently no real incentives to fix things.

Feeding seven billion people fairly and sustainably is therefore not only a question of technology but also one of political economy. We need incentives to use less fertiliser – and we could start with bread.

Peter Horton, Chief Research Advisor, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five benefits of modern accounting for manufacturers

The manufacturing industry runs 24/7 with constantly changing customer demands, making real-time financial information essential for manufacturers, writes Todd Hunt, vice president and general manager Asia Pacific, BlackLine

New tools from robotics to nanotechnology are changing the way goods are produced, but so many accounting and finance teams are still doing things the old-fashioned way- with with spreadsheets.

This leaves teams struggling with manual accounting processes that create challenges around visibility, accuracy, and efficiency.

To keep up with customer demands, stakeholder expectations, and changing global regulations, today’s manufacturers need an accurate picture of their balance sheet.

Once relegated to the background of the manufacturing enterprise, accounting and finance now offer tremendous value to the front of the organisation.

Automating rote tasks and freeing teams for value-added work like analysis management, can put manufacturers in the enviable position of being the first to innovate, market, and identify and act on new growth opportunities.

Here are five benefits manufacturing companies experience when they empower their accounting and finance teams to effectively utilise process automation technology.

Automatically match all types of transactions

Complex intercompany relationships, multiple divisions, inventory, and global supply chains make matching large volumes of data a difficult, time-consuming and error-prone process.

With an automated transaction matching process, manufacturers can stop manually “ticking and tying” thousands of transactions. Instead, the technology matches all transaction types, which can be millions per minute, while making unmatched transactions available to create reconciling items, exception cases, and correcting journal entries.

As a result, manufacturers save hundreds of hours on bank reconciliations, credit card matching, intercompany transactions and invoice-to-PO matching.

Confirm key account balances every day

Automating the reconciliations process enables continual validation of account balances and transactional details, and verifies balances across different production facilities, business units, and currencies.

It standardises routine processes while embedding control and auditability. Companies can ensure the accuracy of critical accounts throughout an accounting period, and refocus their accountants on exception handling and discrepancy investigation, instead of tedious (and potentially error-prone) data entry.

Centralise and automate end-to-end journals management

Manually processing journal entries can take hundreds of hours every month, as spreadsheets are passed around for approval and review before eventual posting.

Manufacturing companies can automate the creation, approval, and review of journals using dynamic data from many sources, including bank feeds and credit card statements. Teams can track and manage recurring entries thus providing even greater levels of visibility and control.

Standardise and streamline inventory reconciliations

Legacy account reconciliation processes are time-consuming and prone to errors.

Automating account reconciliations simplifies and standardises the end-to-end reconciliation process to ensure the accuracy, timeliness, and quality of your high-volume reconciliations while strengthening your internal control environment.

By leveraging configurable auto-certification rules, manufacturers can automate key account reconciliations without having to implement additional process changes.

Connect and integrate with existing systems

Implementing finance automation ensures data integrity without risk of conversion and entry errors and enables data imports from bank files, POS applications, and other systems. It can also save IT resources from the difficult, time-consuming process of performing costly, custom integrations and running ad hoc reports.

However, it is essential to select a solution that is built for connectivity and can integrate with your ERP system.

Modern automation technology is changing the nature of manufacturing, and it’s time for its accounting and finance teams to experience the same benefits of that technology.

The process automation tools that can enable real-time reporting and analysis and ensure an efficient and accurate close are finally here.

Now it’s up to manufacturing companies to empower their accounting and finance teams to fully utilise their benefits, thus creating competitive advantage for the entire organisation.

 

[Todd Hunt is vice president and general manager Asia Pacific, BlackLine]

Robox Energy helps wastewater treatment plant achieve maximum efficiency

Gardner Denver Industrials Group, a leading global manufacturer of industrial compressors, blowers, pumps and vacuum products; When Robuschi tested its innovative Robox energy WS 65 magnet screw compressor in Dimaro’s civil wastewater treatment plant in the Province of Trento, the new technology performed way beyond the client’s expectations.

The Dimaro plant presents an unusual challenge. While all other treatment plants in the area feature canonical 4.5m-deep oxidation tanks, the Dimaro tanks are 7m deep. In addition, the plant is located about 800m above sea level, resulting in a significantly lower atmospheric pressure compared to other sites.

When Robuschi introduced a low pressure Robox screw compressor with a conventional motor. The new compressor was able not only to replace one of the existing Robox lobe evolutions, but actually met the entire plant’s requirements on its own. The Dimaro owners and managers were once again delighted with the results of newly purchased Robuschi ROBOX energy WS 65 compressor in July 2016.

The configuration of Robox energy (which integrates both the inverter and the electric dashboard internally) also allows for an easy and effortless installation process. Along with continuous, faultless operation since December 2015, the Dimaro wastewater treatment’s Robox technologies also allow it great flexibility.

Robox energy has become the plant’s main machine. It runs alongside the company’s traditional screw compressor unit, which acts to compensate for any marked load increases during the summer tourist season or at other times of high demand. It also operates as a spare machine if the main compressor needs inspections, maintenance, or repairs.

Giovanni Stancher, Production Warehouse Manager of Provincia Autonoma di Trento wastewater treatment plants, comments, “This way we have a complete system comprising just two units that can work either together or in rotation while also giving us maximum flexibility.”

Indeed, one of Robox energy’s most interesting features is its versatility. Its Smart Process Control analyses process data and modifies the machine’s operation to match the varying oxygen supply required throughout the day.

Stancher explains, “Water requirements are not constant: there are peak periods followed by various falls and rises. It’s the machine’s job to maintain a constant oxygen level according to the value set. This feature, made possible by the integrated inverter, prevents the on-off alternation that would decrease plant efficiency. In addition, it prevents peaks in oxygen flow, thus improving the quality of the wastewater treatment. The advanced ROBOX technology therefore simultaneously saves energy and optimises the quantity of oxygen, with zero waste.”

For the plant owners and managers, the new compressor delivers lower running costs, fewer problems and therefore, greater savings.

 

How climate change threatens to make our bread less tasty

Climate change and extreme weather events are already impacting our food, from meat and vegetables, right through to wine. This series on the Climate and Food now looks at what this means for the food chain. The Conversation


The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is increasing. Everything else being equal, higher CO₂ levels will increase the yields of major crops such as wheat, barley and pulses. But the trade-off is a hit to the quality and nutritional content of some of our favourite foods.

In our research at the Australian Grains Free Air CO₂ Enrichment (AGFACE) facility, we at Agriculture Victoria and The University of Melbourne are mimicking the CO₂ levels likely to be found in the year 2050. CO₂ levels currently stand at 406 parts per million (PPM) and are expected to rise to 550PPM by 2050. We have found that elevated levels of CO₂ will reduce the concentration of grain protein and micronutrients like zinc and iron, in cereals (pulses are less affected).

The degree to which protein is affected by CO₂ depends on the temperature and available water. In wet years there will be a smaller impact than in drier years. But over nine years of research we have shown that the average decrease in grain protein content is 6% when there is elevated CO₂.

Because a decrease in protein content under elevated CO2 can be more severe in dry conditions, Australia could be particularly affected. Unless ways are found to ameliorate the decrease in protein through plant breeding and agronomy, Australia’s dry conditions may put it at a competitive disadvantage, since grain quality is likely to decrease more than in other parts of the world with more favourable growing conditions.

Increasing carbon dioxide could impact the flour your bread.
Shutterstock

Food quality

There are several different classes of wheat – some are good for making bread, others for noodles etc. The amount of protein is one of the factors that sets some wheat apart from others.

Although a 6% average decrease in grain protein content may not seem large, it could result in a lot of Australian wheat being downgraded. Some regions may be completely unable to grow wheat of high enough quality to make bread.

But the protein reduction in our wheat will become manifest in a number of ways. As many farmers are paid premiums for high protein concentrations, their incomes could suffer. Our exports will also take a hit, as markets prefer high-protein wheat. For consumers, we could see the reduction in bread quality (the best bread flours are high-protein) and nutrition. Loaf volume and texture may be different but it is unclear whether taste will be affected.

The main measure of this is loaf volume and texture, but the degree of decrease is affected by crop variety. A decrease in grain protein concentration is one factor affecting loaf volume, but dough characteristics (such as elasticity) are also degraded by changes in the protein make-up of grain. This alters the composition of glutenin and gliadin proteins which are the predominant proteins in gluten. To maintain bread quality when lower quality flour is used, bakers can add gluten, but if gluten characteristics are changed, this may not achieve the desired dough characteristics for high quality bread. Even if adding extra gluten remedies poor loaf quality, it adds extra expense to the baking process.

Nutrition will also be affected by reduced grain protein, particularly in developing areas with more limited access to food. This is a major food security concern. If grain protein concentration decreases, people with less access to food may need to consume more (at more cost) in order to meet their basic nutritional needs. Reduced micronutrients, notably zinc and iron, could affect health, particularly in Africa. This is being addressed by international efforts biofortification and selection of iron and zinc rich varieties, but it is unknown whether such efforts will be successful as CO₂ levels increase.

Will new breeds of wheat stand up to increasing carbon dioxide?

What can we do about it?

Farmers have always been adaptive and responsive to changes and it is possible management of nitrogen fertilisers could minimise the reduction in grain protein. Research we are conducting shows, however, that adding additional fertiliser has less effect under elevated CO₂ conditions than under current CO₂ levels. There may be fundamental physiological changes and bottlenecks under elevated CO₂ that are not yet well understood.

If management through nitrogen-based fertilisation either cannot, or can only partly, increases grain protein, then we must question whether plant breeding can keep up with the rapid increase in CO₂. Are there traits that are not being considered but that could optimise the positives and reduce the negative impacts?

Selection for high protein wheat varieties often results in a decrease in yield. This relationship is referred to as the yield-protein conundrum. A lot of effort has gone into finding varieties that increase protein while maintaining yields. We have yet to find real success down this path.

A combination of management adaptation and breeding may be able to maintain grain protein while still increasing yields. But, there are unknowns under elevated CO₂such as whether protein make-up is altered, and whether there are limitations in the plant to how protein is manufactured under elevated CO2. We may require active selection and more extensive testing of traits and management practices to understand whether varieties selected now will still respond as expected under future CO₂ conditions.

Finally, to maintain bread quality we should rethink our intentions. Not all wheat needs to be destined for bread. But, for Australia to remain competitive in international markets, plant breeders may need to select varieties with higher grain protein concentrations under elevated CO2 conditions, focusing on varieties that contain the specific gluten protein combinations necessary for a delicious loaf.

Glenn Fitzgerald, Honorary Associate Professor of Agriculture and Food, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As global food demand rises, climate change is hitting our staple crops

Climate change and extreme weather events are already having impacts on our food, from meat and vegetables, right through to wine. In our series on the Climate and Food, we’re looking at what this means for the food chain. The Conversation


While increases in population and wealth will lift global demand for food by up to 70% by 2050, agriculture is already feeling the effects of climate change. This is expected to continue in coming decades.

Scientists and farmers will need to act on multiple fronts to counter falling crop yields and feed more people. As with previous agricultural revolutions, we need a new set of plant characteristics to meet the challenge.

When it comes to the staple crops – wheat, rice, maize, soybean, barley and sorghum – research has found changes in rainfall and temperature explain about 30% of the yearly variation in agricultural yields. All six crops responded negatively to increasing temperatures – most likely associated with increases in crop development rates and water stress. In particular, wheat, maize and barley show a negative response to increased temperatures. But, overall, rainfall trends had only minor effects on crop yields in these studies.

Since 1950, average global temperatures have risen by roughly 0.13°C per decade. An even faster rate of roughly 0.2°C of warming per decade is expected over the next few decades.

As temperatures rise, rainfall patterns change. Increased heat also leads to greater evaporation and surface drying, which further intensifies and prolongs droughts.

A warmer atmosphere can also hold more water – about 7% more water vapour for every 1°C increase in temperature. This ultimately results in storms with more intense rainfall. A review of rainfall patterns shows changes in the amount of rainfall everywhere.

Maize yields are predicted to decline with climate change.
Shutterstock

Falling yields

Crop yields around Australia have been hard hit by recent weather. Last year, for instance, the outlook for mungbeans was excellent. But the hot, dry weather has hurt growers. The extreme conditions have reduced average yields from an expected 1-1.5 tonnes per hectare to just 0.1-0.5 tonnes per hectare.

Sorghum and cotton crops fared little better, due to depleted soil water, lack of in-crop rainfall, and extreme heat. Fruit and vegetables, from strawberries to lettuce, were also hit hard.

But the story is larger than this. Globally, production of maize and wheat between 1980 and 2008 was 3.8% and 5.5% below what we would have expected without temperature increases. One model, which combines historical crop production and weather data, projects significant reductions in production of several key African crops. For maize, the predicted decline is as much as 22% by 2050.

Feeding more people in these changing conditions is the challenge before us. It will require crops that are highly adapted to dry and hot environments. The so-called “Green Revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s created plants with short stature and enhanced responsiveness to nitrogen fertilizer.

Now, a new set of plant characteristics is needed to further increase crop yield, by making plants resilient to the challenges of a water-scarce planet.

Developing resilient crops for a highly variable climate

Resilient crops will require significant research and action on multiple fronts – to create adaptation to drought and waterlogging, and tolerance to cold, heat and salinity. Whatever we do, we also need to factor in that agriculture contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Scientists are meeting this challenge by creating a framework for adapting to climate change. We are identifying favourable combinations of crop varieties (genotypes) and management practices (agronomy) to work together in a complex system.

We can mitigate the effects of some climate variations with good management practices. For example, to tackle drought, we can alter planting dates, fertilizer, irrigation, row spacing, population and cropping systems.

Genotypic solutions can bolster this approach. The challenge is to identify favourable combinations of genotypes (G) and management (M) practices in a variable environment (E). Understanding the interaction between genotypes, management and the environment (GxMxE) is critical to improving grain yield under hot and dry conditions.

Genetic and management solutions can be used to develop climate-resilient crops for highly variable environments in Australia and globally. Sorghum is a great example. It is the dietary staple for over 500 million people in more than 30 countries, making it the world’s fifth-most-important crop for human consumption after rice, wheat, maize and potatoes.

‘Stay-green’ in sorghum is an example of a genetic solution to drought that has been deployed in Australia, India and sub-Saharan Africa. Crops with stay-green maintain greener stems and leaves during drought, resulting in increased stem strength, grain size and yield. This genetic solution can be combined with a management solution (e.g. reduced plant population) to optimise production and food security in highly variable and water-limited environments.

Other projects in India have found that alternate wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation in rice, compared with normal flooded production, can reduce water use by about 32%. And, by maintaining an aerobic environment in the soil, it reduces methane emissions five-fold.

Climate change, water, agriculture and food security form a critical nexus for the 21st century. We need to create and implement practices that will increase yields, while overcoming changing conditions and limiting the emissions from the agricultural sector. There is no room for complacency here.

Andrew Borrell, Associate Professor, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, The University of Queensland; Centre Leader, Hermitage Research Facility; College of Experts, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image: Shutterstock

Choosy consumers drive a near 1,000% spike in vanilla prices

If you had been a canny investor back in 2008, you could have done a lot worse than make a substantial bet on upmarket ice cream futures. The price of vanilla beans has rocketed from as little as US$25 per kilo eight years ago up to US$240 at the end of 2016. Some forecasts predict it will reach as much as US$450 per kilo by the middle of 2017. Even by the standards of volatile prices in agricultural commodities such as rice and grains this is exceptional. The Conversation

Unlike other price increases that were shortlived and the result of policy decisions, the price of vanilla beans is being driven by something else. In short, it is all down to us, the fickle consumer and our love of authentic cones, custard and crème brûlée.

It is a classic case of economic supply and demand, but with a curious twist. On the demand side, vanilla bean prices are being driven by the changing food preferences of consumers in the developed world. Increasingly, they want to buy food, especially processed food, that is free of artificial ingredients. But to make convenience food cheap, food processing firms and manufacturers source and use low-cost raw materials. One such input being used in the production of food products including ice cream and chocolate is synthetic Vanillin.

Getting the good stuff.
Juli/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Back to nature

Vanilla beans provide vanilla the flavour, of which Vanillin is the key element. But even in the 19th century demand for vanilla beans exceeded supply and chemists wasted no time seeking alternative sources. Over the years various sources have been used to derive this compound, including pine bark, wood pulp, spruce trees and rice bran. But the vast majority of supply today comes from something called guaiacol derived as a result of a petrochemical process.

The resulting synthetic Vanillin is a cheap and reliable source. And so, we have plenty of it. But we need it. It has been estimated that the flavouring is present in at least 18,000 products. It is the go-to ingredient for millions of mass-produced cakes, ice creams and pastries eaten daily all over the world. But, as a result the vast majority of Vanillin being used cannot be described as natural. Less than 1% of the total global market in vanilla flavour is actually sourced from vanilla beans.

That means that the majority of Vanillin used to satisfy demand cannot be described as a “natural ingredient”, and this matters when consumers demand this characteristic. Given the way in which “natural ingredients” are defined by governments, even naturally derived substitutes cannot necessarily be described as such.

All natural?
Kimberly Reinhart/Flickr, CC BY-ND

The nuances can be confusing. There is even a difference between the meaning of vanilla “flavoured” and vanilla “flavour” when applied to something like icing on cream buns, according to UK food ingredient regulation (“flavoured” means from the beans; “flavour” means from synthetic Vanillin).

Now, whether or not the rejection of synthetic ingredients by consumers is a rational act is irrelevant. Food manufactures simply need to make products that are accepted by consumers in order to survive, particularly if they are trying to sell into high-value markets where “authentic” ingredients and an image of vanilla pods on the packet can help shift units.

Volatility

It is this curious supply-and-demand dynamic that keeps manufacturers coming back to the beans – or seeking to develop more Vanillin from sources they can describe as “natural”. And when it comes to the genuine beans, a combination of poor supply and speculation is driving prices. The supply of vanilla beans has always been subject to uncertainty. Witness the tropical storms that ravaged vanilla bean production in Madagascar in early 2000.

The production methods are labour intensive (it takes 600 blossoms pollinated by hand to produce 1kg of cured vanilla beans) and the production of quality vanilla cannot be achieved quickly. The curing process cannot be rushed, even though current prices make it an appealing prospect. Attempts to quick-cure vanilla along with the introduction of vacuum packing in Madagascar has sometimes resulted in lower quality beans being produced.

Vanilla drying at a farm near Mananara in Madagascar.
aaabbbccc/Shutterstock

Of course, while demand for natural vanilla remained relatively low – when consumers didn’t mind or care about the use of “artificial ingredients”, and while prices were nothing special – there was little incentive for vanilla bean farmers to worry overly about production.

But that means they have been ill-prepared for a spike in demand thanks to our desire for all things “natural” in food production. As is typical in agriculture, the ability of producers to respond to increased demand in the short run is limited. Yes, vanilla producers can eventually generate new production, but the planting, growing and harvesting takes several years. And there needs to be ongoing management of existing plantations. Continued vine renewal is required as the plants that yield the vanilla beans need to be replaced on a regular basis.

The current focus of the price rises has been on vanilla beans produced in Madagascar. There are other countries involved in production, but much like other food ingredients there are differences in vanilla beans by source. By and large, thanks to our refined (or fussy) tastes, food manufacturers want Madagascar bourbon vanilla. But with global demand for vanilla beans expected by industry sources to be in the range of 2,500-3,000 tonnes per annum, this is well in excess of production capacity in Madagascar (estimated at 1,400-1,800 tonnes this year). Until new production capacity comes on stream, prices will likely remain high.

Middle-class demand for genuine vanilla bean products is only one part of the story, but combined with the unique aspects of growing, harvesting and trading there is no reason to think that we can expect lower prices any time soon. As with all commodities, some degree of price certainty would help all participants in this industry. Something to ponder while you drink your £3.40 vanilla spiced latte.

Iain Fraser, Professor of Agri-Environmental Economics, University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image: jessp713/Flickr

 

Fact or fiction – is sugar addictive?

Some of us can definitely say we have a sweet tooth. Whether it’s cakes, chocolates, cookies, lollies or soft drinks, our world is filled with intensely pleasurable sweet treats. Sometimes eating these foods is just too hard to resist.

As a nation, Australians consume, on average, 60 grams (14 teaspoons) of table sugar (sucrose) a day. Excessive consumption of sugar is a major contributor to the increasing rates of obesity in both Australia and globally.

Eating sugary foods can become ingrained into our lifestyles and routines. That spoonful of sugar makes your coffee taste better and dessert can feel like the best part of dinner. If you’ve ever tried to cut back on sugar, you may have realised how incredibly difficult it is. For some people it may seem downright impossible. This leads to the question: can you be addicted to sugar?

Sugar activates the brain’s reward system

Sweet foods are highly desirable due the powerful impact sugar has on the reward system in the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released by neurons in this system in response to a rewarding event.

Drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and nicotine hijack this brain system. Activation of this system leads to intense feelings of reward that can result in cravings and addiction. So drugs and sugar both activate the same reward system in the brain, causing the release of dopamine.

This chemical circuit is activated by natural rewards and behaviours that are essential to continuing the species, such as eating tasty, high energy foods, having sex and interacting socially. Activating this system makes you want to carry out the behaviour again, as it feels good.

Our brain systems encourage us to undertake activities that will continue our species – such as eating high energy foods.
from www.shutterstock.com

The criteria for substance use disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) cites a variety of problems that arise when addicted to a substance. This includes craving, continuing use despite negative consequences, trying to quit but not managing to, tolerance and withdrawal. Although sugary foods are easily available, excessive consumption can lead to a number of problems similar to that of addiction. So it appears sugar may have addictive qualities. There is no concrete evidence that links sugar with an addiction/withdrawal system in humans currently, but studies using rats suggest the possibility.

Sweet attractions

Dopamine has an important role in the brain, directing our attention towards things in the environment like tasty foods that are linked to feelings of reward. The dopamine system becomes activated at the anticipation of feelings of pleasure.

This means our attention can be drawn to cakes and chocolates when we’re not necessarily hungry, evoking cravings. Our routines can even cause sugar cravings. We can subconsciously want a bar of chocolate or a fizzy drink in the afternoon if this is a normal part of our daily habits.

Sugar tolerance

Repeated activation of the dopamine reward system, for example by eating lots of sugary foods, causes the brain to adapt to the frequent reward system stimulation. When we enjoy lots of these foods on a regular basis, the system starts to change to prevent it becoming overstimulated. In particular, dopamine receptors start to down-regulate.

Now there are fewer receptors for the dopamine to bind to, so the next time we eat these foods, their effect is blunted. More sugar is needed the next time we eat in order to get the same feeling of reward. This is similar to tolerance in drug addicts, and leads to escalating consumption. The negative consequences of unrestrained consumption of sugary foods include weight gain, dental cavities and developing metabolic disorders including type-2 diabetes.

Quitting sugar leads to withdrawal

Sugar can exert a powerful influence over behaviour, making cutting it out of our diets very difficult. And quitting eating a high sugar diet “cold turkey” leads to withdrawal effects.

Sugar can trigger similar addictive responses as do drugs.
from www.shutterstock.com

The length of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms following a sugar “detox” varies. Some people quickly adjust to functioning without sugar, while others may experience severe cravings and find it very difficult to resist sugary foods.

The withdrawal symptoms are thought to be factors of individual sensitivity to sugar as well as the dopamine system readjusting to a sugar-free existence. The temporary drop in dopamine levels are thought to cause many of the psychological symptoms including cravings, particularly as our environment is filled with sweet temptations that you now have to resist.

Why quit sugar?

Cutting sugar from your diet may not be easy, as so many processed or convenience foods have added sugars hidden in their ingredients. Switching from sugar to a sweetener (Stevia, aspartame, sucralose) can cut down on calories, but it is still feeding the sweet addiction. Similarly, sugar “replacements” like agave, rice syrup, honey and fructose are just sugar in disguise, and activate the brain’s reward system just as readily as sucrose.

Physically, quitting sugar in your diet can help with weight loss, may reduce acne, improve sleep and moods, and could stop those 3pm slumps at work and school. And if you do reduce sugar consumption, sugary foods that were previously eaten to excess can taste overpoweringly sweet due to a recalibration of your sweetness sensation, enough to discourage over-consumption!

The Conversation

Amy Reichelt, Lecturer, ARC DECRA, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

No animal required, but would people eat artificial meat?

Futurists tell us that we will be eating in vitro meat (IVM) – meat grown in a laboratory rather than on a farm – within five to ten years.

IVM was first investigated in the early years of this century and since then criticisms of farm animal production systems, particularly intensive ones, have escalated.

They include the excessive use of land, energy and water resources; local and global pollution; poor animal welfare; a contribution to climate change; and a unhealthy eating habits and disease in humans.

At the same time, human (and livestock) population growth continues, farming land is requisitioned for urban expansion and meat consumption per person is rising.

So we want a new source of meat – or do we?

Reaction to artificial meat

Growing meat artificially, under laboratory-type conditions, is not impossible on a large scale. But people’s concerns about eating IVM have rarely been explored.

In a recent survey, published this month in PLOS One, we investigated the views of people in the United States, a country with one of the largest appetites for meat and an equally large appetite for adopting new technologies.

A total of 673 people responded to the survey, done online via Amazon Mechanical Turk, in which they were given information about IVM and asked questions about their attitudes to it.

Although most people (65%), and particularly males, were willing to try IVM, only about a third said they would use it regularly or as a replacement for farmed meat.

But many people were undecided: 26% were unsure if they would use it as a replacement for farmed meat and 31% unsure if they would eat it regularly. This suggests there is scope to persuade consumers that they should convert to IVM if a suitable product is available. As an indication of this potential, 53% said it was seen as preferable to soy substitutes.

The pros and cons of IVM

The biggest concerns were about IVM’s taste and lack of appeal, particularly in the case of meats seen as healthy, such as fish and chicken, where only two-thirds of people that normally ate them said that they would if it was produced by in vitro methods.

By contrast, 72% of people who normally eat beef and pig products would still do so if they were produced as IVM. Interestingly, about 4% of people said they would try IVM products of horse, dog or cat – despite these being meats that they would not currently eat.

The perceived advantages of IVM were that it was environmentally and animal-welfare friendly, ethical, and less likely to carry diseases. It could increase the proportion of happy animals on Earth if it replaced intensive farm animal production. By happy, we mean well nourished, comfortable, healthy, free from pain, and able to perform.

The disadvantages were that IVM was perceived as unnatural, potentially less tasty and likely to have a negative impact on farmers, by putting them out of business.

The IVM consumer

So who would be most likely to use IVM, and hence dictate the focus of advertisers’ pitch?

Gender was the biggest predicting factor, with men more likely on average to say they would try IVM, whereas women were less sure. Men also had more positive views of its benefits.

Recognising that meat-eating men are often viewed as more masculine, it is not clear whether this prevailing attitude would change if men converted to eating IVM.

Those with liberal political views rather than conservative ones were also much more receptive to the idea, confirming their more progressive viewpoints generally, as well as their traditionally stronger focus on fairness and avoiding harm to others.

Vegetarians and vegans were more likely to support the benefits of IVM but least likely to try it. People who ate little meat were also more supportive, compared with big meat eaters.

IVM on the menu

While a reasonably large proportion of the sample reported willingness to try IVM in the future, there appears to be hesitation around the idea of incorporating it into a daily diet.

Resistance came primarily from practical concerns, such as taste and price. But these are factors that are largely under the control of the manufacturers.

The concerns – about taste, price and impact on farmers – could all be effectively dealt with if there was sufficient financial advantage in producing IVM.

As tissue engineering techniques improve, culturing meat in vitro also brings the opportunity to introduce health-promoting ingredients, such as polyunsaturated fats, more easily than in living animals.

Another commonly cited concern was the perception that the product was unnatural. This may be similar to people’s concerns about genetically modified (GM) foods – some of those who oppose GM foods are moral absolutists who would not be influenced by any argument in favour.

By expressing concern about the naturalness of IVM, some people were suggesting that there are fundamental issues that would cause them to reject it.

But with a little investigation into the processing and production of some meat products today, they might soften their attitudes towards IVM.

If IVM doesn’t take your fancy, lab-grown leather is actively being developed by a company that was dissuaded from producing IVM because it thought only 40% of people would even try it.

That was back in 2012 and now our survey has found that 65% of people surveyed in the United States said that they would definitely or probably try IVM. So maybe people are becoming more responsive to the idea as opposition to conventional animal farming grows.

Although ours was a relatively small survey in a developed country (with a huge appetite for meat!), one can speculate that people in developing countries might be less concerned about issues like the taste and natural appeal of IVM. They might view it as a valuable source of protein they would not otherwise get.

Perhaps the futurists are right and IVM will be what fills our dinner plates in the near future.

The Conversation

Clive Phillips, Professor of Animal Welfare, Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, The University of Queensland and Matti Wilks, PhD Candidate in psychology, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Goodbye control cabinet!

Cabinet-free drive technology enhances productivity throughout the entire value stream. Bosch Rexroth outlines five requirements of the future.

Quickly convert machines for new products, subsequently expand production lines, reduce installation area – these and additional customer requests inspired Bosch Rexroth to develop cabinet-free drive technology. The current IndraDrive Mi generation also reflects the future requirements of mechanical engineers and end users.

Intelligent servo drives are indispensable for modern machines. The advantages are clear: at the touch of a button, they apply format conversions or changes in the movement profile and, in so doing, shorten changeover times. The other side of the coin: larger and larger control cabinets increasingly occupy “unproductive” space. At the same time, in almost all industries there has been a loud call for modular drive concepts that help shorten product life cycles and flexibly adapt existing production lines to new tasks.

Five requirements of the future

For Bosch Rexroth engineers, this resulted in the following five key requirements for developing cabinet- free drive technology. They oriented themselves to these requirements on the path to the current IndraDrive Mi generation. The first requirement revealed itself with a glance to the conventional drive technology: here, the motor and control device are separate from one another, a power cable and an encoder cable run from each motor to the control cabinet. Rule of logic: less cable, less control cabinet.

1.Less space, more flexibility

The advantages of the servo technology can also be enjoyed with an up to 90 percent reduction in cabling requirements. To this end, the decentralised drives of the IndraDrive Mi are entirely connected through a common hybrid cable for communication and erformance. Up to 30 servo drives can be combined with a cable harness up to 200 meters long to make one drive assemblage. The first drive is connected directly to the power supply and control unit through the hybrid cable. Mechanical engineers can also connect sensors, I/ Os, and fieldbus components directly to the decentralised drives without laying an additional fieldbus cable in the machine.

The mains connection and power supply components up to this point located in the control cabinet can now also be installed in the machine – performed in IP65. The mains module, including the filter, throttle, and contactor, is connected directly to the network. A regenerative supply module is responsible for supply and control electronics and integrates brake resistors and transistors alongside control electronics. In this way, the end user can completely forego the control cabinet and gain precious space on the surface.

2. Modularity in Electronics

The second requirement of cabinet- free drive technology follows the trend of modularisation. As the mechanical engineer can pre-install the drive modules and get them operating at his own plant, stations created subsequently to this can be incorporated quickly into existing production lines. Only the power supply and connection with the higher-level control unit need to be established on-site with the end customer. Moreover, if the drives are already parameterised, the quicker start-up also reduces the machine downtime resulting from modification.

To enable further integration of the modules into the end user’s automation landscape at no additional cost, Bosch Rexroth provided its solution with a Multi- Ethernet interface that supports all common Ethernet protocols, Sercos, PROFINET, EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT, and POWERLINK among them. This means fewer variations and less warehousing for maintenance.

3. Standard-compliant safety

Of course, conventional approaches cannot detract from machine safety

but ideally should increase availability. In the end, the machinery directive with Bosch Rexroth decentralized drive concepts easily translates into a basis for modularization. In addition to certified safety functions within IndraDrive Mi, the hybrid cable ensures transfer of all safety signals without additional wiring, thereby also eliminating an additional source of error.

What is particularly interesting is the easy adaptation of safety zones with several drives in one drive train. For Safe Torque Off, the first drive of a safety zone is wired in such a way that it processes the safety signals. To add additional drives to a safety zone, all that needs to be done there is to use a safety plug, which is extremely easy to do at start-up and transparent during operations. Several safety zones are possible within one drive train. This solution shortens the time required for restart after a manual adjustment and thus increases the machine’s availability.

4. Efficient use of energy

It is often right at the top of specifications: energy efficiency. Beyond its contribution to climate protection, it exerts a significant influence on life cycle costs. To this effect, cabinet-free drives can score with an energetic coupling for the system. As an energy exchange is possible between the drives using the hybrid cable, the brake energy of a stalling drive can be available to an accelerating drive, for example, and surplus energy can be fed back into the network. Power consumption can be cut in half as a result. On top of this, the power dissipation in the control cabinet drops as does the energy demand for cooling the control cabinet.

5. Ready for integration

The last and increasingly important requirement lies in the ability to network with company IT in terms of Industry 4.0. The decentralised drives already fulfill a major prerequisite for this as they operate independently according to higher-level instructions.

The Multi-Ethernet interface ensures the communication ability needed for horizontal and vertical networking. Beyond this, Rexroth is the first drive and control manufacturer to bridge drive technology and IT – in addition to the options for SPS-based automation in accordance with IEC 61131-3 and PLCopen as well as OPC UA technology.

For on-demand access to all drive parameters by way of high-level language-based applications, Bosch Rexroth has incorporated Open Core Interface technology from the higher-level Open Core Engineering solutions portfolio directly at the drive level. With the help of Open Core Interface for Drives, end users can for example read out and analyse energy consumption using common spreadsheet programs via macros. To simplify drive start-up, parameterisation, and diagnosis, self-programmed commercial smartphone and tablet apps using Open Core Engineering have found their way into day-to-day mechanical engineering.

Cabinet-free means future-proof

With its cabinet-free drive technology, Bosch Rexroth meets the essential requirements for the future with regard to spatial requirements and modularisation, safety and energy efficiency as well as vertical and horizontal networking. What appears especially promising is the integrated intelligence and interface technology suitable for implementing Industry 4.0 applications which are now at the top of the agenda for mechanical engineers and end users alike.

 

True Foods sees the benefits of innovation

A large audience gathered at the Victorian Manufacturing Showcase in Ballarat to hear from business leaders about challenges and opportunities in emerging growth sectors, writes Hartley Henderson.

Key factors considered central to success in today’s changing manufacturing environment included an ability to adapt, the development of a competitive risk-taking culture, and exploiting collaboration with other companies and universities.

Also highlighted was the critical role of strong leadership, involvement of employees in seeking new ideas and productivity improvement, and recognising the importance of consistently delivering quality added value products for clients.

True Foods is an Australian owned family business that was established in 2001 as a specialist manufacturer of flat bread products.

In 2011 the company purchased a major production facility in the Victorian regional town of Maryborough which consists of 27 acres with 3 acres under roof.

True Foods Director, Mark Thurlow, says the company has experienced enormous growth in its production capabilities, now employs some 250 people, and has an annual turnover of around $50 million.

“We have grown to become the largest Australian-owned manufacturer of Tortilla Wraps, flatbread products, and bakery snacks such as crumpets and pikelets, and this is supported by a supply chain that distributes significant volumes of shelf stable, ambient and frozen products nation-wide,” he said.

“Innovation is a driving force in our success and we continue to invest in new capabilities and capacity to bring innovative new products to market for our customers, which range from large multi-national supermarket brands and international franchise groups to weight-loss companies and health food chains.

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“Our culture of innovation is aimed at finding unique solutions across the entire value chain – from new product development, to purchasing of raw materials, and finding new production and supply chain efficiencies. We are always looking to invest in new capabilities that are synergistic with our existing purchasing, production and supply chain efficiencies.

“The focus on innovation is backed by an R&D team that is equipped for rapid prototyping to help us quickly focus on a clients’ specific brief, and our multiple production lines have all been modified to make slightly different products. This in turn means that the company has some of the broadest capability in Australia to offer a range of products, with or without inclusions, and to make multiple health claims.

“We are constantly increasing the range of products we offer, and because of our ability to run segregated production lines, allergen-free, gluten-free, organic, Kosher or Halal products can be effectively processed.

“It is people that make a business and development of a loyal culture and a highly reliable workforce is essential. We have established a diverse management team with backgrounds in food manufacturing, food technology, logistics management, corporate finance and marketing, and a key feature of the company’s culture is to encourage and listen to employee ideas.”

Collaboration benefits

Thurlow says great emphasis is also placed on collaboration, communication and the sharing of ideas, both internally, with suppliers, and with valued customers.

“For example, True Foods enjoys a wonderful working partnership with the team at Laucke Flour Mills, with significant collaboration on many of the technical aspects of flour right across the supply chain – from sourcing grain, to developing technical specifications, right through delivery and final use in our facility,” he explained.

“Both companies have invested considerable time to better understand the requirements of the other, and through this transparent and collaborative approach we have built significant trust.

“Through their hands-on approach, world-class equipment and technical knowledge, we have developed a flour that consistently meets our specialised needs, and we continue to work on cross-seasonal strategies.

“Actively engaging with our partners at all levels is a central feature of our operations. This includes identifying emerging trends and working with our partners to develop market leading products, achieving supply chain efficiencies, and utilising lean manufacturing to drive costs out at all levels of our production process.”

According to the General Manager of Laucke, Peter Cobb, locality is a key factor in enabling strong collaboration between Laucke and True Foods. “We are positioned at Bridgewater on Loddon, which is only about 40 minutes by road from True Foods in Maryborough,” he said.

“This assists many areas of collaboration, including in product development because we are able to instantly run samples from our laboratory to True Foods and thereby help our client to keep ahead of the game.

“Close geographic location also applies to logistics where collaboration with another partner, CVT Transport, which is located in Maryborough, provides very fast and reliable delivery of the main bulk ingredient flour in specialised tankers from Laucke storage containers to True Foods, where the flour is blown into their bulk storage facility.

“In this way, raw materials supply is managed in an extremely efficient and reliable manner to give True Foods comfort in its scheduling, which in turn also benefits effective scheduling at Laucke.

“Strong collaboration is providing a strategic advantage by enabling differentiated supply options to be offered to ensure the management of quality as well as efficiency in delivery of tailored products to our client.

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“We have developed a flour specific to True Foods requirements to ensure that it goes through its automated plant in a certain way, ensuring for example that the correct amount of water is absorbed by the flour and that specific requirements for consistency are met.”

Cobb says Laucke is able to tailor the flour to end user requirements in niche markets, which includes the supply of specialty flours such as certified organic, and differentiates the company from big multinationals.

“At the planning stage we work closely with True Foods product development team and are also able to provide ideas and feedback on marketing and sales strategies for specific products.

“The relationship between Laucke and True Foods is multi-tiered and there is an understanding about how each other’s factories operate. Information is shared openly including between CEO’s, production schedulers and planners, and often across both organisations by people of equal job function.”

What’s in store for the Australian food & beverage sector?

Once again 2016 was a less than spectacular year for Australian manufacturers. And once again the food and beverage sector was an exception to this trend. Matthew McDonald takes a closer look at what’s in store for the industry’s top performers in 2017.

Ford’s gone and Holden and Toyota will soon follow suit. Industries like steel, petroleum and aluminium are in decline and Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull’s attempt to rally the nation with his call to ‘innovate, innovate, innovate’ failed to set the nation on fire during last year’s election.

So, while things aren’t crumbling around us, it isn’t exactly easy to get excited about Australian manufacturing. We seem to be stuck with a slow decline of about 2 to 3 per cent a year.

But it’s not all bad news. Food and beverage makers have many reasons to be happy about where their sector is headed in 2017.

“Food and beverage manufacturers have remained resilient to factors affecting other manufacturing industries in Australia,” Nick Tarrant, Senior Industry Analyst with IBISWorld told Food & Beverage Industry News.

For example, we are blessed by our proximity to key export markets in the Asia Pacific. Also, because perishable items like butter and other dairy products can’t be easily transported from overseas, demand for such goods is fairly constant.

The Winners

Late last year, as featured in our sister publication Manufacturers’ Monthly, IBISWorld compiled a list of Australia’s top 100 manufacturing companies for 2016. As we move into the new year, it is worthwhile to take a look at the food and beverage makers on that list and consider where they are headed in 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 10.36.08 AM

Australia’s largest integrated cattle and beef producer, Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) was one welcome addition to the list. And the success of the company (which is said to be the nation’s oldest continuously operating business) is expected to continue. According to Tarrant, it should grow at a rate of 38 per cent over the coming financial year to reach $781 million.

“A lot of that is due to growing sales revenue due to high demand for [its] beef produce in the USA and South Korea,” said Tarrant, adding that AACo is positioning itself as a premium producer on international markets and that the company is part of a trend in which manufacturing industries are increasingly relying on Australia’s natural resources.

Fellow beef producer Teys Australia (a Cargill joint venture) is in the same boat. Last year, with help from the high demand for beef, strong cattle supply and good weather conditions, the company was able to increase its stock production and increase its revenue by 21.7 per cent.

Dairy

The year, 2016 was a pretty torrid year for the dairy sector. Fonterra and Murray Goulburn (MG) both found themselves cast as major villains (not just by suppliers, but by the wider community) when they retrospectively cut their farmgate milk prices and instantly put many dairy farmers into debt.

As a result, many accused the two co-operatives of incompetence or worse, with the attitude of many being “how could they let things get so out of hand”.

Whatever the case, the root cause of the crisis was global oversupply and subsequent low milk prices.

“[Milk prices] kind of bottomed out a couple of years ago so the worst of it seems to be over,” said Tarrant.

He said that he expects MG revenue within the milk and cream processing sector to decrease by 6.4 per cent in the coming year to $475.5 million, while Fonterra revenue in that sector is expected to fall by 2 per cent to $260.8 million.

Despite these problems, MG and Fonterra remain two of the mainstays of the Australian food and beverage industry. Pointing out that milk and cream processing is worth about $2.2 billion, Tarrant said the fact the sector is so reliant on export markets means that slight downturns in demand can negatively affect it. However, he maintained that a lot of the problems are short term.

“A lot of them can be due to changing policy or looking to purchase more locally made produce. It can be affected by change in the Australian dollar as well,” he said.

“There is strong demand for milk from places like China where it sells for about $8 a litre…[and] free trade agreements as they are introduced sets up opportunities for milk producers to export.”

He said that as MG and Fonterra become more vertically integrated, streamline their costs and get more efficient distribution methods going both should be able to recover.

The other big player in the sector, Warrnambool Cheese & Butter is expected to see revenue grow by 43.8 per cent in 2016/17 to reach $653 million.

“A lot of that is not necessarily organic growth,” explained Tarrant. “They acquired Lion Dairy & Drinks. They’re a cheese business, so they’re also becoming more vertically integrated and trying to consolidate their supply chain. And they’ve also got a Japanese joint venture.”

Beverages

According to Tarrant, in the current year the beverage sector is growing by 2.2 per cent (which is the second strongest growth for a manufacturing sub-division).

“Most of that is to do with the strength of Australian wine production,” he said.

TWE global portfolio article image

“Revenue for the wine production industry is expected to grow by 7.1 per cent in the current year to reach $6.2 billion. A lot of that is to do with strong export growth. The industry is recovering from a wine glut where there was some structural over supply for about a decade due to lower grape prices and the sharp entrance of a lot of wine producer into the Australian industry.”

But, he added, strong export demand from Asian markets combined with poor harvests in Chile and Argentina have meant an undersupply for exporters. This, in turn, has seen Australian wine makers picking up that slack. On top of that, Australia’s clean green image hasn’t hurt. Australian wine is seen as high quality.

When asked to nominate a top performer in the wine industry, Tarrant pointed out that our wine industry is quite fragmented, with a lot of small producers.

“The biggest is Treasury Wines [which owns Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Yellowglen, and others]. It’s expected to grow by 7.4 per cent in the current year but that’s roughly in line with the industry average.”

Beer manufacturing, on the other hand, is expected to decline by 0.7 per cent over the five years to 2016/17, to $4.2 billion.

“Although beer consumption has been declining in Australia over that period, there’s been a shift to premium beers, craft beers, beers that are low in carbs or foreign labels. That’s kind of negatively affected companies like Carlton United Breweries are focused more on their traditional staples like VB, Carlton Draught, etc.,” said Tarrant.

“Other companies like Lion, a subsidiary of Kirin which produces Tooheys, XXXX, James Boag’s, etc., have looked to acquire more craft beers to respond to that trend. They own Little Creatures and White Rabbit. Although they’re expected to decline by 1.3 per cent this year, the outlook for them as they transition towards more craft and premium beers is positive.”

IBISWorld

03 9655 3800

www.ibisworld.com.au

 

Maltra Foods celebrates 20 years

Melbourne-based Maltra Foods will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary. Matthew McDonald takes a look at this expert in dry powders and blending and finds a company that places customer relations high on its priority list.

In March 1997, Greg Eydlish founded Maltra Foods. A small outfit, operating out of St. Kilda, the business made hot beverages and drinking chocolate powders for Melbourne’s cafés and the wider food and beverage industries.

“It had between seven and 10 employees, including factory hands and administration,” Jack Eydlish, Maltra Foods Vice President of Sales (and son of the founder) told Food & Beverage Industry News. “At the time there would have been about ten core products within the portfolio.”

The company grew and not long after, in 2000/01, moved to Moorabbin. Ten years of further growth followed and then in 2010/11 Maltra moved to its current location, a purpose-built 6,550 square metre facility in Clayton. This plant is a state-of-the-art blending and packing facility with the latest automation equipment.

Apart from the location changes, there have been many other milestones for the company over the past 20 years.

Twelve years ago, Maltra launched its own Arkadia brand of Chai tea latte, premium drinking chocolate and frappes. Then in 2013, it launched the Green Spoon brand of Stevia- based natural sweeteners.

Today

From the single digit figures of 20 years ago, today on any given day Maltra employs up to 100 people.

Contract manufacturing has always been a big part of the company.

“It’s been in our blood from day one. The business started with a backbone of contract manufacturing,” Henri Kalisse, General Manager of Maltra Foods told Food & Beverage Industry News. Today, 75 per cent of the business is devoted to contract manufacturing.

According to Eydlish, the company can make a range of food and beverage dry-powder products, including hot and cold beverage powders. On top of that, in the last decade they’ve also branched out into soft serve or ice cream powder mixes, sports nutrition and dietary, baking mixes, health foods, milk powders, fortified milk powders and sugars (including specialty sugars and natural sweeteners).

These can be delivered with a broad range of packaging options, from small 20g sachets up to 500kg bulk bags. And within that mix customers can choose between composite cans, HDP jars, and Doy packs.

Maltra Foods_20Years Logo

“The most important thing about our business is that we try and bring ideas to life with excellence in service.” said Eydlish. “We want to be the leaders in contract manufacturing in this industry and try and set the benchmark.

“Our plan is to continually improve operations and become more efficient, more streamlined and focus significantly on export markets.” That way, he added, the company can deliver not just to Australia, but to the world.

“We hope that we continue with sustainable growth in the next 20 years and continue to be the leaders in the industry; continue to drive innovation, and (importantly for us) be an equal opportunity employer.”

End to end solutions

Asked what sets Maltra Foods apart from other food makers, Kalisse pointed to the breadth of services his company offers.

“We don’t just see ourselves as a service provider. A lot of contract manufacturers can fall into that trap quite easily. We see ourselves as a strategic partner for our customers,” he said, adding that many of those customers have been with Maltra for the full 20 years.

“We deliver end to end solutions. We don’t just offer parcels to process. We like to be there from the idea to the commercialisation and execution. And we’ve got people at every level of the process…from R&D to marketing to manufacturing to sourcing and, at the end, logistics.

“So we like to deliver the full package and to make sure that our customers are not just happy with the outcome but that they’ve got sustainable products that can be delivered at call and that can be delivered within the specs and to their customers on time and in full.

This, of course requires a full infrastructure. “We’ve got our state-of -the-art packaging facilities that we’ve invested a lot of money in and continue to reinvest to keep them at the cutting edge,” he said.

“We’ve been in this building now for over five years and we continue to invest in those facilities to make sure we are right at the forefront of equipment development so that we can continue to deliver the best to our customers.”

Maltra 3

Maltra’s certifications include Dairy Foods Safety Victoria, AQIS, BRC, HACCP, ISO9001, Organic Certified and Fairtrade.

“At that certification we can deliver on kosher, halal, gluten free, nut free. We can isolate allergens,” he said.

Being able to deliver end-to-end solutions requires deep business relationships. According to Kalisse, customer relations are “at the forefront of our values”.

“Our relationships with a lot of our customers span 20 years but not just our customers, our suppliers. So we make sure that we’ve got an entire supply chain covered,” he added.

The future

While the broader Australian manufacturing sector has been a place of much doom and gloom for some time now, the food and beverage sector, with its natural advantages and promise of future export success, has inspired more optimism. Eydlish shares this optimism.

“We are still quite upbeat about the future. If you look at the likes of the big retailers there is a much bigger emphasis on products being made in Australia,” he said.

“New food labelling laws are coming out that indicate the proportion of ingredients that come from here as well as what’s manufactured here. So I do believe there’s a big future for Australian manufacturing and it is something that’s sort after.”

And, according to Kalisse, the future is particularly bright for Maltra Foods.

“We’re really, really excited about reaching the 20 year milestone being in Australian manufacturing and Australian food manufacturing. Over those 20 years we’ve seen
a lot of people come and go but we’ve been in there focussed, growing and supporting Australian manufacturing,” he said.

“We’re 100 precent family-owned, we’re 100 per cent Australian- owned, and we manufacture here in Melbourne. We do our R&D and all of that in Melbourne.

“We’ve had a great 20 years. Our strategic plan is all about the next 20 years. How we’re going to contine to deliver the growth, innovation and give support to our customers. So we think 20 years is great but we are planning for the next 20 years.”

Telling the market you’re GMO free

Putting aside the arguments for and against GMO food, the fact is that many consumers give it a big thumbs down. As Matthew McDonald writes, food makers stand to benefit from establishing that their products are GMO free.

Consumers want food that tastes good, is good for them and doesn’t cost too much. More and more, consumers are also hoping that their food is produced efficiently and with factors like the environment and global food security in mind.

Supporters and patent owners of genetically modified (GMO) foods claim such products can potentially address these issues right now.

Even so, many Australian consumers don’t want to eat them. The reason is simple. As multiple National surveys have proven, they don’t want to eat them because they don’t trust them.

The fears surrounding GMO food are many. While they may often be overblown, most have not been conclusively refuted by the scientific community.

The public health effects of GMO foods in areas like increased herbicide usage, allergens and antibiotic resistance may be slim, yet they have not been 100 per cent refuted. Despite all the best intentions, testing and legislation the whole story of GM, biodiversity and the intrinsic value of organisms is not set in stone.

As a consequence, consumers tend to approach GMO foods with caution.

“If you put two products side by side and they look the same, smell the same but one’s labelled as certified non GMO and the other one is a maybe you’ll probably sell more of the certified non GM,” Martin Stone Director of HACCP Australia and GMO-ID Australia told Food & Beverage Industry News.

Stone argues that it makes good sense for food makers to establish their products as Non-GMO.

GMO-ID Australia offers businesses in Australia and the Pacific Non-GMO certification, which allows them to do just this.

As Stone explained, the company also counts those who want to export to GMO sensitive markets, such as Europe and the UAE amongst its clients.

The aim of the Non-GMO programme is to provide businesses with independent, third-party certification verifying that their production and handling systems, identity preservation systems, quality systems, and internal controls result in food eligible to be called Non-GMO.

In addition, all clients certificated against the Non-GMO standard are listed on a directory which is used as a tool to connect buyers with suppliers and help clients raise their industry profiles.

GMO food in Australia

So how much GMO food are we consuming in Australia?

“That’s a very difficult question to answer,” said Stone. “It’s uncertain.”

“There’s a few different routes of GMO consumption in Australia. The first of those is legally approved GMO foods which are grown as crops and then highly refined and turned into some sort of food ingredient.”

He explained that, where all traces of the DNA have been removed in the refinement process, the products do not legally have to be labelled as GM.

“A good example is canola oil. There’s a great deal of GMO canola grown in Australia that’s turned into oil and then consumed. We don’t know exactly how much of this refined GMO material is used from both domestic and international sources.”

“The second route is where there’s a legally approved GMO product and that’s consumed whole or in a form that is not so highly refined. In that case it needs to be labelled.”

As mentioned, there are very few if any such products consumed in this country. “It’s almost pointless putting GMO soy on the market where you have to label it because people wouldn’t buy it,” said Stone.

The third route includes illegal products which are mostly grown overseas. The amount of such foods in this country is almost completely unknown.

“…European regulatory sources indicate that there’s a great deal of GMO rice floating round in the Chinese market and papaya out of Thailand is contaminated heavily with GMO papaya. So if you’re eating dry papaya in breakfast cereals or things like that it could well be there. These are illegal GMO products which have escaped into the market place,” he said.

Pointing to the number of GMO food applications currently before FSANZ, Stone said the GMO food market is growing. Applications include those for things like corn, soy, potatoes, wheat, sugar beet, and rice.

Testing

Testing is a key part of the certification process offered by GMO-ID.

In simple terms, genetic modification involves cutting a piece of DNA that bears a particular trait from one organism and inserting it into the DNA of another (target) organism.

“…you can imagine that DNA is a strand or a string. Basically when you make these GMO products you cut that string somewhere… You take out a little bit of it and then you replace it with a little bit of something else,” said Stone.

“When you put that additional genetic information in there there’s the join between the two ends of the string and at the join typically marker genes are found. And you can search for those marker genes which tell you that something (you don’t know what) but something has been put into the DNA strand at that particular point,” said Stone.

Image 2
Martin Stone, Director of HACCP Australia and GMO-ID Australia.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are used to do this. These involve firstly isolating and then multiplying DNA up to a level that makes it possible for DNA technicians to look for specific markers which tell them that the product is genetically modified.

“With legal genetically modified product that’s a relatively easy task because when you have a legal product, these are typically patented by large companies so you know what to look for…like a formulation if you like,” explained Stone.

“The illegal GMO products are a little bit more difficult but they still carry some classic markers that the DNA technicians looks for.”

PCR tests are accurate (down to about one part per million) and digital PCR testing, which is likely to soon be possible, should deliver Limits of Detection of around one part per billion.

Identity preservation

Apart from testing products to determine whether or not they are GMO free, the certification process also involves identity preservation. Given the complex global supply chains of today’s food industry, this is crucial.

As Stone put it, identity preservation means “…you know what’s happened to it, you know where it’s been, you know what it’s been mixed with and stored with and stored alongside all the way through the supply chain.”

“So you can guarantee that what started off as non-GMO finishes as non-GMO in the product that you use here in Australia.”

Considering that GMO foods are common in some parts of the world, identity preservation has to be robust. For example, in the US, a large amount of GMO Corn and GMO soy is grown. These crops yield many products used as ingredients by the food industry such as dextrose and proteins.

“If you are using a dextrose type product out of America then it’s had every opportunity to become infected with genetically modified material so you need a very good identity preservation system to be able to prove and control the non-GMO status,” said Stone.

Finally, asked if other non-GMO claims not involving certification by GMO-ID or a similar organisation can be trusted, Stone was adamant. “They can’t be,” he said.

“You see it around a little bit actually, where people have put non GMO in a small star or something similar on the label. That’s based on the fact that probably their ingredient suppliers don’t trigger the labelling requirements from  FSANZ in this country.

“We take a lot more thorough look at the whole process …so if you find that a product that is claiming to be non GMO actually does contain GMO material almost certainly it will be a self-declaring product, a non-certified product.”

The tragic story of Soviet genetics shows the folly of political meddling in science

A few years ago, one of us (Ian) was lucky enough to be invited to visit the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry in St Petersburg, Russia. Every plant breeder or geneticist knows of Nikolai Vavilov and his ceaseless energy in collecting important food crop varieties from all over the globe, and his application of genetics to plant improvement.

Nikolai Vavilov was pilloried because he wasn’t a political favourite in Soviet Russia.
Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

Vavilov championed the idea that there were Centres of Origin (or Diversity) for all plant species, and that the greatest variation was to be found in the place where the species evolved: wheat from the Middle East; coffee from Ethiopia; maize from Central America, and so on.

Hence the Centres of Origin (commonly known as the Vavilov Centres) are where you should start looking to find genotypes – the set of genes responsible for a particular trait – with disease resistance, stress tolerance or any other trait you are looking for. This notion applies to any species, which is why you can find more human genetic variation in some African countries than in the rest of the world combined.

By the late 1920s, as director of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Vavilov soon amassed the largest seed collection on the planet. He worked hard, he enjoyed himself, and drove other eager young scientists to work just as hard to make more food for the people of the Soviet Union.

However, things did not go well for Vavilov politically. How did this visionary geneticist, who aimed to find the means for food security, end up starving to death in a Soviet gulag in 1943?

Heroic science?

Enter the villain, Trofim Lysenko, ironically a protégé of Vavilov’s. The notorious Vavilov-Lysenko antagonism became one of the saddest textbook examples of a futile effort to resolve scientific debate using a political approach.

Lysenko’s theories went against the latest science, but prevailed due to politics.
Wikimedia

Lysenko’s name leapt from the pages of history and into the news when Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, mentioned him during a speech at a meeting of chief scientists in Canberra this week.

Finkel was harking back to Lysenko in response to news that US President Donald Trump had acted in January to censor scientific data regarding climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency. Lysenko’s story reminds us of the dangers of political interference in science, said Finkel:

Lysenko believed that successive generations of crops could be improved by exposing them to the right environment, and so too could successive generations of Soviet citizens be improved by exposing them to the right ideology.

So while Western scientists embraced evolution and genetics, Russian scientists who thought the same were sent to the gulag. Western crops flourished. Russian crops failed.

The emerging ideology of Lysenkoism was effectively a jumble of pseudoscience, based predominantly on his rejection of Mendelian genetics and everything else that underpinned Vavilov’s science. He was a product of his time and political situation in the young USSR.

In reality, Lysenko was what we might today call a crackpot. Among other things, he denied the existence of DNA and genes, he claimed that plants selected their mates, and argued that they could acquire characteristics during their lifetime and pass them on. He also espoused the theory that some plants choose to sacrifice themselves for the good of the remaining plants – another notion that runs against the grain of evolutionary understanding.

Pravda – formerly the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party – celebrated him for finding a way to fertilise crops without applying anything to the field.

None of this could be backed up by solid evidence. His experiments were not repeatable, nor could his theories claim overwhelming consensus among other scientists. But Lysenko had the ear of the one man who counted most in the USSR: Joseph Stalin.

Head to head

The Lysenko vs Vavilov/Mendel/Darwin argument came to a head in 1936 at the Conference of the Lenin Academy when Lysenko presented his “-ism”.

In the face of scientific opinion, and the overwhelming majority of his peers, Pravda declared Lysenko the winner of the argument. By 1939, after quite a few scientists had been imprisoned, shot or “disappeared”, including the director of the Lenin Institute, there was a vacancy to be filled. And the most powerful man in the country filled it with Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko was now Vavilov’s boss.

Within a year, Vavilov was captured on one of his collection missions and interrogated for 11 months. He was accused of being a spy, having travelled to England and the United States, and been a regular correspondent with many geneticists outside the Soviet Union.

It did not help his cause that he came from a family of business people, whereas Lysenko was of peasant stock and a Soviet ideologue. Vavilov was sent to a gulag where, tragically, he died in 1943.

Meanwhile, his collection in Leningrad was in the middle of a 900-day siege. It only survived thanks to the sacrifice of his team who formed a militia to prevent the starving population (and rats) from eating the collection of more than 250,000 types of seeds, fruits and roots – even growing the potatoes in their stock near the front to ensure the tubers did not die before losing their viability.

In 1948, the Lenin Academy announced that Lysenkoism should be taught as the only correct theory, and that continued until the mid-1960s.

Redemption and regrowth

Thankfully, in the post-Stalin era, Lysenko was slowly sidelined along with his theory. Today it is Vavilov who is considered a Soviet hero.

In 1958, the Academy of Science began awarding a medal in his honour. The leading Russian plant science institute is named in his honour, as is the Saratov State Vavilov Agrarian University. In addition, an asteroid, a crater on the Moon and two glaciers bear his name.

Trofim Lysenko speaking at the Kremlin in 1935, with Stalin on the far right.
Wikimedia

Since 1993, Bioversity International has awarded Vavilov Frankel (after Australian scientist Otto Frankel) fellowships to young scientists from developing countries to perform innovative research on plant genetic resources.

Meanwhile, research here in Australia, led by ARC Discovery Early Career Fellow Lee Hickey, we are continuing to find new genetic diversity for disease resistance in the Vavilov wheat collection.

In the post-Soviet era, students of genetics and agriculture in Russia are taught of the terrible outcomes of the applications of Lysenkoism to Soviet life and agricultural productivity.

Lysenkoism is a sad and terrible footnote in agricultural research, more important as a sadly misused “-ism” in the hands of powerful people who opt for ideology over fact. It’s also a timely reminder of the dangers of political meddling in science.

The Conversation

Ian Godwin, Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics, The University of Queensland and Yuri Trusov, Plant molecular biologist, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Main image: Wikimedia

IAF technology for high temperature fats recovery

A flotation cell that allows fats and solids recovery in high temperature applications will be featured at FoodPro 2017 by Australasian and Asia-Pacific waste water treatment specialist CST Wastewater Solutions.

The company’s new Induced Air Flotation (IAF) technology – to be featured on Stand S9 – is a major advance on one of the world’s most preferred and simplest flotation technologies for industrial applications, Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF).

DAF is a tried and trusted treatment of industrial wastewater effluents produced by food, beverage and primary processing plants. However, it has shortcomings when applied to demanding high temperature applications for which IAF is purpose-designed, says CST Wastewater Solutions Managing Director, Mr Michael Bambridge, who will be on hand at FoodPro on July 16-19 in Sydney to answer questions about applications including:

  • Treatment of high temperature rendering waste in meat works.
  • Clean in Place (CIP) wastewater in food factories.
  • Quenching liquors in coke ovens applications.
  • Oil and grease removal from hot solutions, such as rolling mills.

“Applications for which DAF is suitable are integral to the economies of many countries in Australasia, Asia, Africa, America and Europe.,” says Mr Bambridge. “However, in high temperature applications (ie wastewater above 80oC), DAF has a number of limitations, including: 

  • The solubility of air is very low, so very high recycle ratios are required.
  • Cavitation is a problem in recycle pumps.
  • Higher saturator pressure is required.
  • Large cells are needed to accommodate increased recycle flow.

CST Wastewater Solutions overcomes these problems by introducing an energy- efficient IAF High Temperature Cell to provide a different method of introducing pressurised air into the flotation process.

The high temperature IAF cell uses a spinning disk to provide pressurised air for vortex bubble formation in the volumes required in high temperature applications.

The flotation cell is based on a multi-stage separation process, graphically depicted below, with an innovative internal launder to ensure the float product produced from the cell remains at the same temperature as the liquid, so as to facilitate sludge transfer.

This is essential to the efficiency of the system in overcoming previous barriers to high-temperature flotation,” says Mr Bambridge, whose company is widely experienced with DAF systems over more than 25 years. His company produces DAF and, where required, complementary environmentally efficient anaerobic digestion systems for cleaner waste water and local electricity production for major meat, food and beverage operations.

To ensure the practicality of the process for particular applications, CST uses a pilot IAF cell to assess the technology’s efficiency, scalability and design data, says Mr Bambridge.

“DAF’s great strengths as a primary treatment include relative simplicity in installation and proven cost-efficiency in separating oil and suspended solids from wastewater in applications as diverse as dairy, beef, pork poultry, grains, cereals and crops such as beets, cassava, potatoes, soy, wheat, corn and sugar cane. Compact and robust DAF systems achieve environmental sustainability by reducing Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) loading by the removal of high COD contaminants including fats, oils and greases, colour, organic matter and colloidal material.

“The new IAF technology extends the efficiency and environmental sustainability benefits into new markets, by extending the capacity of flotation systems to generate bubbles at temperatures above 80 deg C, the usual limit for DAF systems. This opens up the potential for new levels of efficiency in high temperature applications, which also benefit from reduced energy consumption.

“By eliminating bubble solubility issues at higher temperatures – including removing the need for higher pressures and larger cells – the new design is energy-efficient and sustainable over the longer term, as well as highly effective immediately upon installation in oil-water separation at elevated temperatures.”

 

 

The future of solar energy in Australia

Solgen Energy Group’s executive general manager David Naismith talks about renewable energy, the solar industry and the challenges associated with the growing solar power storage sector.

Could you tell us more about Solgen’s business direction here in Australia and what are your plans for your customers here?

David Naismith: Solgen Energy Group is a leading solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) group providing turnkey renewable solutions in the commercial and industrial sector. While the basics of solar power are generally well understood, the applications are growing. We’ve completed projects covering large ground-mount solar farms, multi-story solar car parks with charging stations, solar pumping for agriculture – the applications are enormous and the market is demanding more innovative solutions. We have a very busy New Ventures team that spends all its time vetting product and opportunities, continually looking for the next solution for our clients.

What is Solgen’s position with regards to Industrial Internet of Things? (i.e. The need for cyber physical systems, Internet of Things, cloud technology)

David Naismith: We have seen a general commoditisation of products in the solar and storage space. Differentiation for solar is generally determined by the underlying design and experience of the vendor. Storage however is currently enjoying a differentiation by brand. Over time this will change and storage is likely to become extremely commoditised.

The leaders in the space will be the data owners and software developers that control the interaction between the grid, solar, storage and integration of consumption patterns. It is this platform that will lower electricity price delivery to the consumer by managing where that power comes from, and opens the opportunity for peer-to-peer energy trading. In addition, the platform will learn consumption patterns of the business and interact with machinery to best manage energy demand.

Why will solar energy be essential for businesses in future?

David Naismith: Solar power effectively acts as a long-term hedge on energy prices. Solar power is able to deliver electricity over 20 years at approximately $0.06 per kilowatt hour in today’s money – that’s a very stable savings both now and well into the future. Incorporating solar power into a business’s energy mix gives the business greater control over their rates moving forward. In addition, customers are demanding to source their products from businesses that can demonstrate manufacturing techniques that are environmentally sustainable at an efficient price. Solar delivers in both of these areas – renewable energy that delivers long-term savings to businesses.

Why would customers buy Solgen’s products over a competitor?

David Naismith: Solgen Energy Group stands out from its competitors by its experience in delivering some of Australia’s most iconic solar projects nation-wide. Our reputation for installing industrial solar panels is backed by our performance of projects in the field. We have carried out major rollouts for the National Broadband Network right through to food manufacturers in the Northern Territory. We have a simple and transparent commercial process for every industry that is renowned for delivering certainty around generation and financial returns.

Is Solgen looking to exploit economic opportunities from the home battery revolution? 

David Naismith: Storage is a very exciting space. While still relatively expensive, the cost of energy storage is expected to fall rapidly over the next few years and we are already seeing evidence of these price drops. Current pricing means the business case in a commercial environment is difficult. However, where storage begins to play a role in demand management as well as shifting consumption patterns, we will see increased demand in the commercial space.

What supplementary service does Solgen offer customers? 

David Naismith: Solgen Energy Group focuses on providing solar solutions to the commercial and industrial sector. Beyond this core market, the group also offers services for medium scale (megawatt) solar power plants and more niche markets such as solar water pumping solutions for agri-businesses, solar-hybrid solutions for remote communities and mines, and power factor correction for businesses with high inductive loads.

PACE: How do customers access product maintenance? 

David Naismith: As a contract requirement, all customers are sent operation and maintenance manuals following the installation completion. These manuals are compiled in-house and are specific to every system. Contained within are maintenance schedules for the system, as well as shutdown and isolation procedures. Data sheets and warranties for every component used are attached to the manual, providing the customer with more in depth information on the technical specifications and maintenance duties for every part of the system.

In the event a customer requires further advice, or product is showing a fault or requires comprehensive technical maintenance, the customer would call their Solgen project manager that is always on hand.

What challenges do renewable companies face in competing against established interests like Big Oil and Big Coal?

David Naismith: Fossil fuels are no longer seen as a ‘competitor’ to renewable energy. Renewables have carved their own space and work in harmony alongside traditional energy. Fossil fuels face far greater challenges than renewables, simply because they are reliant on a finite resource, uncertain markets and enormous amounts of infrastructure to deliver. That infrastructure requires significant maintenance just to keep it running each day. Solar power on the other hand, has no moving parts and simply does its thing with exceptionally low maintenance requirements.

How do companies judge what level of solar power can meet their energy needs?

David Naismith: We assess the consumption patterns of a business over a minimum 12 month period and overlay a system specification that best meets the energy needs of the business. In most cases, the system is shaped on delivering energy that can be consumed in the business without exporting to the grid. However, even with the right blend of export to the grid, that can still deliver the highest financial returns. Our primary aim is to deliver the best financial outcome to the business.

When do you think renewable projects will not need government subsidies such as the renewable energy target (RET), ARENA support or grants from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation?

David Naismith: Anything that can contribute to higher returns is naturally a factor in our clients’ decision to implement solar. However, increasing grid energy prices and the lower cost of components mean that financial returns have gradually become strong enough as a standalone business case. This is why the Renewable Energy Target incentives are beginning to unwind. Our clients want to see the financials stack up without too much reliance on government policy.

With state governments ramping up renewable energy targets, is 100 per cent renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal etc.) a realistic proposition or not?

David Naismith: Not only is it possible, it makes sense and delivers a far more stable outcome that is sustainable well into the future. Intermittency issues associated with wind and solar are now being addressed through significant advances in energy storage. Furthermore, with peer-to-peer energy trading, we are no longer reliant on single points of failure in delivery of our energy.

How much human labour is needed in future on renewable energy products?

David Naismith: The Climate Council recently noted that a 50 per cent Renewable Electricity target scenario in 2030 will lead to over 28,000 new jobs, or almost 50 per cent more employment than the current targets would deliver and 80 per cent of these jobs are an addition to the economy.

What is the next step in renewable energy – e.g. how do you see all the elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution linking together? Do you see renewable energy linking up with quantum computing?

David Naismith: We have gradually seen barriers to purchase fall away, primarily driven by advances in technology that have driven significant reductions in price. This has been key in placing solar on a level playing field with grid power. We have gone from an industry that wasn’t really solving a problem other than green credentials to one that is becoming a critical part of any business’s energy mix.

We are in a very exciting space. Business and consumers will continue to pressure the grid to become more service-based and less supply-centric. That service will create unlimited opportunities for peer-to-peer, business-to-business energy trading where combinations of renewable energy, storage and cloud-based technologies will mean that businesses will have far greater control over how they consume energy and what they pay for it. We are a very progressive organisation and while solar will remain our core business, we need to keep innovating across its application and be mindful of adjacent technologies that in combination will maximise results for our clients.

What is the potential for solar microgeneration and people going off grid? What are the implications for Solgen and energy companies of Microgen?

David Naismith: We are seeing a large uptake of solar-hybrid systems that effectively allow people to come off-grid. This can be in combination with diesel generation or simply solar and battery storage.

 

*David Naismith is a founder of Solgen Energy Group with close to 10 years of experience across some of Australia’s leading solar projects. David has spent more than 10 years in corporate finance followed by his role as Chief Financial Officer of a technology group listed on both the Nasdaq and London Stock Exchange. David’s finance background provides a unique blend of financial and project development insight behind the drivers of deployment of solar power. David holds a Bachelor of Commerce, an MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management and is a chartered accountant.

 

Do vegetarians live longer? Probably, but not because they’re vegetarian

In the past few years, you may have noticed more and more people around you turning away from meat. At dinner parties or family barbecues, on your social media feed or in the news, vegetarianism and its more austere cousin, veganism, are becoming increasingly popular.

While the veggie patty and the superfood salad are not going to totally replace lamb, chicken or beef as Aussie staples any time soon, the number of Australians identifying as a vegetarian is rising steadily.

According to Roy Morgan Research, almost 2.1 million Australian adults now say their diet is all or almost all vegetarian. Ask someone why they are a vegetarian and you are likely to get many different answers. The reasons include environmental, animal welfare and ethical concerns, religious beliefs and, of course, health considerations.

It’s this last factor we set out to investigate. There are several existing studies on the impact of vegetarianism on health, but the results are mixed. A 2013 study, which followed more than 95,000 men and women in the United States from 2002 to 2009, found vegetarians had a 12% lower risk of death from all causes than non-vegetarians.

Given the contentious nature of discussions about vegetarianism and meat eating, these findings generated lots of coverage and vegetarianism advocates hailed the study.

We set out to test these findings, to see if being a vegetarian would translate into lower risk of early death in the Australian population. Australia is home to the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the southern hemisphere, the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study. This gives us a pool of more than 260,000 men and women aged 45 and over in New South Wales to work with.

We followed a total of 267,180 men and women over an average of six years. During the follow-up period, 16,836 participants died. When we compared the risk of early death for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, while controlling for a range of other factors, we did not find any statistical difference.

Put more simply, when we crunched the data we found vegetarians did not have a lower risk of early death compared with their meat-eating counterparts.

Vegetarians are less likely to be obese.
from www.shutterstock.com

This lack of “survival advantage” among vegetarians, outlined in our paper in Preventive Medicine, does not come as a complete surprise. In 2015, a United Kingdom-based cohort study concluded vegetarians had a similar risk of death from all causes when compared with non-vegetarians. This is contrary to the US-based study findings.

Does that mean everyone should drop the asparagus, fire up the barbie and fill up on snags, steaks and cheeseburgers? Not necessarily.

Other ‘healthy’ factors

It’s standard practice in epidemiological studies to statistically control for various factors (we call them “confounders” as they may confound an association). We controlled for a number of factors to get a true sense of whether vegetarianism by itself reduces risk of death.

It’s important to acknowledge that in most studies vegetarians tend to be the “health-conscious” people, with overall healthier lifestyle patterns than the norm. For example, among the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up participants, vegetarians were less likely than non-vegetarians to report smoking, drinking excessively, insufficient physical activity and being overweight/obese. They were also less likely to report having heart or metabolic disease or cancer at the start of the study.

In most previous studies, vegetarians did have lower risk of early death from all causes in unadjusted analysis. However, after controlling for other lifestyle factors, such as the ones listed above, the risk reduction often decreased significantly (or even completely vanished).

This suggests other characteristics beyond abstinence from meat may contribute to better health among vegetarians. More simply, it’s the associated healthier behaviours that generally come with being a vegetarian – such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly – that explain why vegetarians tend to have better health outcomes than non-vegetarians.

In a separate study we conducted using data from the 45 and Up Study, we found people who ate more fruit and vegetables, particularly those who had seven or more serves per day, had a lower risk of death than those who consumed less, even when other factors were accounted for.

And although there is unclear evidence a vegetarian diet promotes longevity, studies have consistently shown other health benefits. For example, a vegetarian diet has been consistently associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

A meta-analysis (a statistical analysis that combines data from multiple studies) from 2012 concluded vegetarians had a 29% lower risk of early death from heart disease and an 18% lower risk for cancer.

It’s important to keep in mind that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, has classified the consumption of processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans.

So what does it all mean?

While we can’t say for certain if being a vegetarian helps you live longer, we do know having a well-planned, balanced diet with sufficient fruit and vegetables is certainly good for you.

We also know sufficient physical activity, moderating alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco smoking are key factors in living longer. And the growing body of evidence shows vegetarians are more likely to have these healthy habits.

The Conversation

Melody Ding, Senior Research Fellow of Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scientists have unlocked the secret of making tomatoes taste of something again

If you shop in a supermarket you may well have asked why the fruit and veg you buy there is so tasteless, especially if you’ve also tried homegrown alternatives. Traditional breeds of tomatoes usually grown in gardens, known as heirloom tomatoes, for example, are often small and strangely shaped and coloured but renowned for their delicious taste. Those in the supermarkets, meanwhile, are often pumped up in size but somewhat insipid to eat.

This is because plants used by most tomato farms have gone through an intensive artificial selection process to breed fruit that are big, red and round – but at the expense of taste. Now a 20-strong international research team have identified the chemical compounds responsible for the rich flavour of heirloom tomatoes and the genes that produce them. This information could provide a way for farmers to grow tomatoes that taste of something again.

The unique flavour of a tomato is determined by specific airborne molecules called volatiles, which emanate from flavour chemicals in the fruit. By asking a panel of consumers to rate over a hundred varieties of tomato, the researchers identified 13 volatiles that play an important role in producing the most appealing flavours. They also found that these molecules were significantly reduced in modern tomato varieties compared to the heirloom ones. And they found that bigger tomatoes tended to have less sugar, another reason why large supermarket fruits often fail to inspire.

Tomatoes originally hail from the Andean region of South America and belong to the Solanaceae family, making them relatively close relations of potatoes and peppers. The original, ancestral tomato was very small, more like a pea, showing just how much human intervention has swollen the fruit. We don’t know how long they have been grown for human consumption but they had reached an advanced stage of domestication by the 15th century when they were taken to Europe.

Before the 20th century, tomato varieties were commonly developed in families and small communities (which explains the name “heirloom”). With the industrialisation of farming, the serious business of tomato breeding began with intensive selection for fruit size and shelf life.

Some more recent effort has been put into improving the flavour of tomatoes through breeding. But the new research appears to indicate that this has ultimately been unsuccessful and that earlier breeding efforts have doomed modern commercial varieties to mediocrity.

Family heirlooms.
Shutterstock

The new paper, published in Science, emphasises what seems to be a constant conflict between the food industry’s desire for profit and what the public actually want. The researchers tactfully excuse the way tomatoes have been bred for size and shelf-life at the expense of taste as being down to breeders’ inability to analyse the fruit’s chemical composition and find the right volatiles.

But many people will find this hard to swallow. After all, the new research itself used the most ancient volatile analysis system there is: the human taster. It wouldn’t have taken much for farmers to incorporate taste trials into their breeding programmes.

Because modern farmed tomatoes have only lost their flavour in the last hundred years or so and varieties are still available that produce the tasty volatiles, it should be possible to reinsert the crucial taste genes back into commercial varieties. This could be done by genetic modification or conventional breeding. Just as we are seeing a resurgence in organic and artisan growing, it would be great to see a new generation of tomato breeders interested in returning flavour to the fruit using wild and heirloom varieties, while maintaining other commercially desirable traits.

There is significant public opposition to the idea of genetically modifying foods by inserting genes into a plant’s DNA in the lab. But the idea of reinserting lost genes may be more palatable to the public than introducing completely new ones. Either way, it shows how perverse the food industry’s methods are that we may need to use one of the world’s most advanced technologies to give an inherently delicious food some flavour.

The Conversation

Colin Tosh, Lecturer in Ecology, Evolution and Computational Biology, Newcastle University; Niall Conboy, PhD candidate, Newcastle University, and Thomas McDaniel, PhD candidate, Newcastle University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Food security: we throw away a third of the food we grow – here’s what to do about waste

In the UK, roughly a third of the food grown in the field never actually makes into anybody’s mouth. For every three pigs raised on a farm, the equivalent of one will ultimately be sent to landfill. A third of all apples, perfectly good for consumption, will somehow be discarded. The message is simple: we waste food, and we waste a lot of it.

Food waste is a global problem, but in the developed world, where our farming and manufacturing practices are efficient, the food waste that occurs at these early stages is largely unavoidable (meat bones, egg shells, banana peel and the like).

Conversely, in UK homes – where 7m of the 13m tonnes of food waste comes from each year – 77% of waste is either avoidable (at some point, it has been perfectly good food) or possibly avoidable (food that some people eat, but others don’t, such as potato skins and meat fat). This is akin to throwing away one shopping bag in five as you leave the supermarket – with an annual cost to a family of four of more than £740.

Clearly, not all food waste is equal. The cost and environmental impact of a kilo of beef is much higher than that of a kilo of potatoes, as would be expected. And so with short shelf-life food categories. Fresh produce, bakery, meats and dairy top the most wasted list – and have the largest energy, CO2, and water footprints – and so should be the main focus for reducing waste.

Blame game

It seems too easy to say that it is the responsibility of consumers to reduce these ridiculous levels of waste. And it is too easy. A couple of years ago, Professor Tim Lang wrote here about food waste being a symptom of a much bigger problem, explaining that the relative low cost of food almost forces a consumer society to buy more food than it can eat. It is arguably the economic powerhouses (in this case, the food giants) that drive this through brand advertising, store layouts and clever pricing strategies. So the question is now: isn’t it the food providers’ responsibility to reduce food waste?

So much waste, but whose fault is it?
Dora Zett

Well, the answer is that both providers and consumers have a part to play. For the consumers, the argument for this is easy: wasting less food equals saving more money, and you feel good for doing less harm to the environment. For the providers (manufacturers and retailers), the drive is less clear: selling less food equals less profit.

Cooking up a solution

So how can food providers help consumers reduce food waste, but still remain profitable? There are a few options, but some of them are not easy to swallow. The price of food seems a pretty obvious place to start. Consumers currently spend around 11% of their income on food and drink. Five decades ago, the proportion was three times higher, so naturally people wasted less. In sub-Saharan Africa, where consumers spend half of their income on food, it would be difficult to envisage high levels of waste. But increasing the price of food such that consumers “value” it more is likely to be very unpopular – and such a move would fly in the face of the modern food industry and its apparently eternal price wars.

Looking at the statistics, it appears that a large proportion of food waste is due to products with short shelf-lives not being used in time. Consequently, there is potential for improvements in food processing or packaging and storage to increase the useable life of such products and reduce the potential for spoilage before use.

But given that leading supermarkets demand 90% of product life at the point of store entry, and goods already have extended lifetimes due to already excessive packaging and protective atmospheres, significant increases in shelf-life are unlikely.

A brave move might be to abolish “use-by” and “best-before” dates (we didn’t have them before the 1970s), but this would open up a legislative can of worms. Until somebody invents a device that can reliably tell whether a leg of lamb has gone off, I suspect these dates are likely to stay.

Time to shelve the use-by dates?
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You could just make sure you eat the food before it goes bad, but the nation’s already bulging waistline might struggle with this extra consumption. Food waste via overconsumption is yet another issue.

Delivering efficiencies

Perhaps the greatest improvement would be to completely change the food provision market. Consumers are like micro-manufacturers: they buy stock (ingredients) and use processes (cook) to meet a demand (their family’s hunger). But unlike manufacturers, consumers aren’t very good at managing their inventory, using their processes efficiently or predicting demand accurately. This leads to food waste.

There is therefore an argument for food providers to help consumers meet their families’ needs by selling meals, not food. It’s not inconceivable to imagine in the future people planning meals and then ordering them off the internet for home delivery – it might build better relationships between providers and consumers, too. Even if consumers pay more for food which is delivered when wanted and actually gets eaten, it would be more convenient and could well end up being cheaper overall.

Whichever approaches materialise to successfully reduce food waste, one thing is certain: there needs to be a collaborative, mutually beneficial approach for both providers and consumers. Only with this market-level change can we expect the amount of food we throw away to diminish.

The Conversation

Elliot Woolley, Lecturer in Sustainable Manufacturing, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.