Healthier lamb served up from latest PGP

Rack of lamb from Alliance GroupLamb lower in saturated fat could soon be on the menu with the approval of the business case for a new Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme between meat processor Alliance Group Ltd, farmer shareholder group Headwaters New Zealand Ltd and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The new ‘Targeting New Wealth with High Health’ PGP programme is looking to reach existing and emerging markets with a new class of premium lamb products with improved health qualities – including lower levels of saturated fat and higher levels of polyunsaturated fat and healthy Omega-3 oils.

Murray Brown, Alliance GroupAlliance Group general manager marketing Murray Brown says the $25 million programme, which runs over seven years, taps into the increasing consumer demand for premium foods.

“There are significant markets domestically and overseas who are willing to pay a premium for high quality, healthy food – so it’s exciting to be able to develop our science and innovation towards commercial scale production to meet that consumer demand.”

The programme could see greater value extracted from carcases thanks to the development of a wide range of new ‘health focused’ product types including traditional meat products, manufactured food products and health supplements, says Brown.

“We will be looking at developing different product forms, such as baby food, petfood and health foods,” he says.

The benefits of the programme could extend to the wider lamb industry and Alliance sees real potential for all farmers to benefit with increased returns. New consumer products, production, processing and marketing techniques will be developed for application across the Alliance supply chain and extended to other industries.

Alliance has calculated that ‘Targeting New Wealth with High Health’ has the potential to generate $400 million in additional revenue to the primary sector over 25 years.

The programme builds on three years of scientific research into improved sheep genetics, forage techniques and farm practice, involving Alliance, Headwaters New Zealand Ltd – the group of farmer shareholders that is providing the livestock for the initial programme – and Beef + Lamb Genetics, which coordinated the programme.

Project manager Mike Tate explains that the research analysed over 200 family lines  and 20 different lamb finishing systems. It also identified promising farm systems in terms of on-farm efficiency and value to the consumer.

“In the science trials, we have achieved a 50 percent increase in Omega-3 and polyunsaturated fatty acids across the carcase, with a proportionate decrease in saturated and trans fats,” he says.

“Our challenge now is to validate the results and establish the systems that will allow us to produce these results on-farm and still maintain quality and differentiation. The processing challenge is to work with consumers to develop new health-focused red meat products from the whole carcase, which are packed to final consumer specification in New Zealand.”

Alliance Group food technologist Sonja Lindsay (left) with taste tester Aimee McCallum in the Alliance product development centre. Panellists score each sample of lamb for its aroma, flavour, texture and succulence and then use a nine point scale to give each sample an overall rating. The main aim is to test different product types and also act as a quality control mechanism to ensure the eating experience is consistent and meets consumer expectations, says Alliance.
Alliance Group food technologist Sonja Lindsay (left) with taste tester Aimee McCallum in the Alliance product development centre. Panellists score each sample of lamb for its aroma, flavour, texture and succulence and then use a nine point scale to give each sample an overall rating. The main aim is to test different product types and also act as a quality control mechanism to ensure the eating experience is consistent and meets consumer expectations, says Alliance.

Approval of the programme’s business case by MPI means that contract negotiations can now begin so the programme can formally start. According to Murray Brown, some product is already on hand as a result of initial scientific trials and this is being progressively market-tested in selected markets and channels. Establishing trials for on-farm production will be the next stage and forms the first part of the investment, says Brown, who anticipates a select ‘High Health’ programme to start within the next 18 months.

“We believe ‘Targeting New Wealth with High Health’ will have wider benefits for the primary industries as a whole and will strengthen New Zealand’s position globally as a supplier of high quality, value-added food products,” explains MPI deputy director-general Ben Dalton, who also notes the programme collaborates closely with Beef + Lamb Genetics to deliver new genetic improvement initiatives.

The business case was simultaneously approved for another meat PGP, Passion2Profit, involving a consortium of venison exporters – including Alliance and Silver Fern Farms – led by Deer Industry New Zealand in partnership with MPI. The $16 million programme aims to develop new markets for chilled venison and to help deer farmers to become more productive and profitable.

There are now six red meat sector PGP programmes in operation, with total investment from the meat industry and government of $356.7 million.

This article has appeared in Food NZ magazine (April/May 2015) and is reproduced here with permission.

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