The Omega Lamb Project, producing a new kind of premium New Zealand lamb, has won a prestigious innovation award, it was announced in Auckland last Thursday night.
The project, which has developed Te Mana Lamb, won the Innovation in Food and Beverage category at the 2017 New Zealand Innovation Awards, which recognises innovation among New Zealand individuals and businesses. It was also highly commended in the Innovation in Research Excellence category and a finalist in the Export Innovator of the Year section of the awards.
Te Mana Lamb has been developed to have higher levels of polyunsaturated (good) fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which results in an entirely new lamb taste experience with outstanding succulence, tenderness and flavour.
Omega Lamb Project (OLP) leader and meat processor Alliance Group is now targeting it at premium markets. It is already on the menu of a limited number of exclusive Hong Kong and New Zealand restaurants, where the co-operative says it is already commanding a significant premium. It’s also available in the award-winning home delivery food service My Food Bag’s My Gourmet Bag range here in New Zealand.
Peter Russell, Alliance Group general manager marketing, says the win is a rewarding validation for the project.
“This is an innovative product resulting from transformational thinking about the end-product, and driven by the vision, commitment and collective expertise of farmers, science and business, supported by Government.
“We see it as a reaffirmation of New Zealand as the home of the world’s best lamb. It is also attracting a whole new generation of foodies and entirely new consumer segments and markets that previously weren’t interested in lamb.”
OLP, a Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme involving a collaboration between Alliance, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and a group of innovative farmers known as Headwaters, is the culmination of a decade’s research and development.
A second PGP, an aquaculture project called SPATnz, was also announced as the winner of the Innovation in Agribusiness & Environment category for its work on breeding Greenshell™ mussels in captivity at commercial scale, at the event at the ANZ Viaduct Event Centre in Auckland on Thursday 19 October at ANZ Viaduct Event Centre, Auckland.
For Justine Gilliland, MPI’s director investment programmes, the two wins are testament to the substantial investment in innovation by the programme partners.
“The Innovation Awards are fitting recognition of the significant amount of time, expertise, effort and money invested into SPATnz and The Omega Lamb Project to date,” she says.
“We’re very proud of The Omega Lamb Project and SPATnz’s achievements to date and excited at what they will mean for our red meat and seafood industries in the future.
“These programmes are developing value-added products for consumers, delivering returns for our seafood and red meat industries, helping to lift environmental knowledge, practices and tools, and could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to New Zealand’s economy.”
PGP is MPI’s flagship investment programme. It invests in large innovation programmes that progress opportunities or tackle challenges facing New Zealand’s primary industries. It currently involves around $759 million of committed investment and more than 60 companies. PGP programmes are independently estimated to add $6.4 billion to New Zealand’s GDP from 2025.
Among the outcomes from the OLP, which started in July 2015 and involves joint industry-government funding of $25 million, are the breeding of a selection of New Zealand white-faced sheep breeds specifically for the project. Over 15,000 lambs have reached the required criteria for omega-3, intramuscular and polyunsaturated fats. All are tagged, individually recorded and traced to ensure they have the right genetics, feeding, management and welfare. The project has also demonstrated a ‘sweet spot’ for improved carcase quality and ewe condition, without unwanted characteristics such as excess fat under lamb skin.
In the markets, research has targeted consumers in Western markets and New Zealand to identify and understand them and the best routes to target. This will be expanded to include ‘new wealth’ in markets such as China, India and Brazil.
Product ideas are being tested and multiple taste panels have been completed to date.
There will be more to come from this project.