Teagasc research helps launch 90 new food products

 

The creation of more than 90 new Irish food products over the past five years has resulted from sustained investment in innovation by Teagasc, the State's food research agency, according to its director, Dr Liam Downey.

New technology put in place at Teagasc's research facility in Moorepark, Co Cork, had been crucial to the products coming on the market, he said.

The new product range included "nutritional proteins" being used in athletes' drinks, convenience food ingredients, new cheeses and blends of microbes to enhance cheese flavour.

A joint Teagasc-UCC team has also developed a natural anti-microbial agent with the capacity to inhibit disease-causing organisms. This is now being adapted for use as a food safety agent and for prevention of mastitis in dairy cows.

Speaking at an open day to highlight Moorepark's success, the opening of new facilities there and presentation of innovation awards to the Irish food industry, Dr Downey said linking public research with industry had "provided scientific depth to the food industry's own capabilities", and made Irish food companies highly competitive even against better resourced international competitors.

He added: "To date, 100 food companies have utilised the facilities of Moorepark Technology and together with food scientists at the adjoining Dairy Products Research Centre, it has contributed to the development of over 90 new food products."

Changing lifestyles and demand for consumer foods including "complete meals for consumption at home" will drive rapid expansion of the food sector, but Ireland needs to embrace greater innovation by investing in in-company and public research, said Mr John Malone, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture and Food.

As well as the desire for convenience and as affluence increases, there is likely to be demand for innovation and variety tied into continuing attention to food safety and quality, he said. As consumer health consciousness increases, there will be "a need to demonstrate the application of the highest possible food safety and quality standards through verifiable traceability and assurance schemes".

Teagasc would continue to assist Irish food companies develop the necessary scientific capacity to improve competitiveness and to foster innovation, said Mr Ned O'Keeffe, Minister of State at the Department.

The Co Cork-based company, Carbery Food Ingredients, of Ballineen, has won the overall award in the inaugural Teagasc food technology innovation awards. In a joint project with Moorepark Technology and the Dublin-based company Flavouring Systems, it has developed a natural food flavouring ingredient from yeast. "Carbelac YE" is a flavour enhancer, predicted to replace the synthetic chemical monosodium glutamate in a broad range of convenience foods. Golden Vale plc won the consumer foods category for its Cheese Strings, a peelable natural string cheese for children which has captured 36 per cent of the cheese snacks market in Ireland and the UK. The winner in the ingredients category was Quest International for its natural colouring product, Vegex National Carotene Powder, which is being used in soft drinks and a variety of food products throughout the world.

After the opening of new research and pilot plant facilities costing £500,000, Teagasc director of operations Dr Liam Donnelly said Moorepark now had one of the best-equipped pilot plant units in the world to facilitate scale-up to commercial production.

It provides companies with technological and product development services which the firms in most cases, because of their relatively small size, cannot afford. "These will further facilitate the development of innovative food products and ingredients."

Dr Donnelly warned, however, that Irish food companies' spending on research and development did not compare favourably with their international competitors.