4 October 2023
Circular economy is a big buzz word at the moment, encapsulating a new way of doing business where we design our waste and reuse resources wherever possible. The horticulture industry has already recognised the huge opportunity to make value-add products from existing waste streams to give growers a little extra money in their pocket and avoid sending so much almost-good produce to animal feed. That means taking the wonky potatoes or the bruised apples as a valued resource to develop new consumer products. For example, Zespri has their biospife, a spoon/knife made with kiwifruit residues and OnionsNZ have their research into alternative uses for onion skins. Just this week, there was an article about a New Zealand food entrepreneur marketing the health benefits of blackcurrants for athletes in performance drink supplements.
Unfortunately, recent research by MBIE seems to have missed the mark on identifying these great opportunities. In an analysis of dozens of products for value-add potential, they elevated nutraceuticals (products made from food sources with health benefits) to the top priority tier but excluded onions, citrus, blueberries, cherries, apples, avocadoes, kiwifruit, and potatoes from further research. They seem to have missed the connection that fruits and vegetables are the high-nutrition food sources that can be developed into nutraceuticals.
One barrier noted by the consultants on the research was the lack of scale for waste for horticultural crops. That seems unlikely given that even a small product like blackcurrants has nutraceutical applications. Many growers pay to truck food loss to farms with livestock, so a value-add product would be attractive as soon as it saves them money.
Horticultural products already take fewer greenhouse gas emissions to produce compared to other food sources, and our industry has available waste streams that are otherwise going to animal feed or compost. The future of the circular economy lies in eliminating waste streams, and fruits and vegetables have the healthy components to make high value new products. What better sector to invest in than one that’s health benefits are already well known and that’s already good for the planet? More research and entrepreneurship is needed in this space to elevate the humble discarded fruit or veg to health supplement superstar, while saving resources and supporting low emissions industry.