Key Themes and Takeouts from New Zealand AgriFood Week 2019

Harnessing and using data to better understand consumers, being able to pivot as a new business, and ensuring younger generations are at the decision-making table and listened to, were key discussion themes during this year’s New Zealand AgriFood Week, which has just finished in Manawatu.

New Zealand AgriFood Week is the only week dedicated to celebrating, showcasing and driving a future-focused conversation around food – how it’s grown, developed, packaged, marketed, sold and consumed around the world, and the role data and research can play to drive efficiencies and change.

Throughout the week there were more than 15 events, workshops and competitions in Manawatu that attendees could pick and choose from, including Central Districts Field Days. All were centered around agriculture, food and technology, with discussions on the future of food and food security taking place against a back drop of very real global challenges including climate change, increased urbanisation, resource shortages and access to the right talent and skills.

Speakers and presenters were industry leaders from a diverse range of sectors, backgrounds, ages and experience, with an aim to explore the future of food from multiple angles and different generations.

“There were fascinating insights and robust discussions throughout the week,” said Central Economic Development Agencies Chief Executive Linda Stewart.

A key highlight from New Zealand AgriFood Week’s keynote speaker,  Rob Ward of the UK-based The Grocery Accelerator, was that New Zealand food and beverage brands are held in high regard among European and British consumers and our brands need to take better advantage of that.

“New Zealand is incredibly good at what it does, but not enough people know about it,” Ward said.

“The country is sitting on a goldmine of provenance, you need to get those stories across to the rest of the world.”

With his experience in running accelerator programmes, he believes new food and beverage brands need to observe how the tech sector operates and mimic how they build successful brands, quickly.

“Having access to quality data and interpreting that data allows brands to fail quickly and affordably and then pivot. They may only need to change one small element to their brand to ensure sales and success.”

Other themes robustly discussed throughout the week included whether New Zealand needs a food strategy. Those open to the idea suggested clarity and definition of roles and responsibilities across business, science and research, would be needed as a first step. Those against the idea warned of New Zealand losing its uniqueness and appetite to try new things, citing if there was a strategy and an idea fell outside of it, would it still be trialled?

“It’s these opposing points of views and bringing everyone in to one discussion that is of the most value during the week. It’s now what we do with these fresh perspectives, insights and new connections that’s of real importance and value,” said Stewart.

The Central Economic Development Agency manages the strategic direction and delivery of the week, with expert support from key industry organisations including ASB, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, AgMARDT, Fonterra, FoodHQ and Massey University, to name a few.

The purpose of CEDA leading the delivery of the week is threefold for Manawatu’s economic development: raising the national and global profile of Manawatu’s expertise and capabilities in food research and production, agriculture sector development and strengthening the talent pipeline into the primary industries by raising awareness of the career opportunities in the sector.

It is the fourth year that ASB has been the main sponsor of New Zealand AgriFood Week and ASB General Manager of Rural Banking Richard Hegan said like with other sectors, disruption is the new reality. Simply producing more and more isn’t the way of the future, and that’s why supporting events such as New Zealand AgriFood Week is important.

“It is a vital opportunity to talk with primary industry leaders, future leaders, producers and consumers, about how to evolve even further and deliver the next phase of value for agriculture,” said Hegan.

“The sustainable production of high-quality food that balances the needs and expectations of consumers, our communities and stakeholders is at a critical stage. To stay at the forefront, we need to get our story right so consumers, no matter where in the world they call home, insist on our produce in their stores because they see more value and authenticity in our produce. Getting more for what we produce – not simply producing more.”

New Zealand AgriFood Week’s point of difference is that it isn’t just a conference with speaker after speaker, we design events and workshops that people can pick and choose from that allows them to grow skills, capabilities, connections and different ways of thinking.

“Change can be uncomfortable, and it does not happen quickly, but allowing time, energy and resources to invest in exploring new and improved ways of doing something or connecting with new people, is the most valuable point of all,” said Stewart.