Agribusiness Report: Accelerating agri trends providing opportunities for NZ

Agribusiness was the shining star for the New Zealand economy last year. Its status as an essential industry meant it was able to continue during lockdowns and provide food to an uncertain world.

But a year on, the world remains turbulent. While we can expect to see markets slowly return to a resemblance of normality as the vaccine rollout continues and lockdown restrictions are reduced, global megatrends impacting the agriculture industry will continue to shape the future of agribusiness.

Need for a cohesive national strategy on sustainability

Covid-19 brought a discussion around sustainable and safe food systems to the fore, with the boosted emphasis on climate change, carbon offsetting and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) credentials all having an impact on the behaviour of consumers.
They are looking for sustainable business models that consider all aspects of the production process — including the impact on natural resources.

Some developments on this were made last month, with the Climate Change Commission releasing its final report: Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa. It lays out a roadmap for New Zealand to meet its greenhouse gas reduction obligations by 2050, and calls for immediate action by government, local government, individuals and businesses.

For agriculture, the Commission says New Zealand needs to reduce its livestock numbers by 13.6 per cent by 2030. It predicts that while New Zealand will still produce roughly the same amount of milk and meat, it will do so with fewer animals, and expects some farms to convert from livestock agriculture to horticulture.

It says low-methane sheep will play an important role (and help cut methane 10 per cent by 2030), along with a reduction in the use of fertiliser, and new technologies will need to come on board, such as vaccines that can help reduce emissions from livestock.

Transparency into provenance and supply chains

As part of making more conscious sustainable choices, consumers in some of our major trading markets are demanding detail and transparency on provenance and supply chains of food, to make informed decisions about what they eat. In some cases, this detail is sought down to individual farms and farmers.

A discussion paper on the future of food and the primary sector by University of Auckland thinktank Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, headed by Sir Peter Gluckman, notes that this trend is one New Zealand can approach with some confidence. We have high social and environmental values, and our primary sector produces quality, safe animal protein with a low carbon footprint relative to our competitors.

But while we have a favourable global profile, Koi Tū says that in order to sustain it for our high-value agricultural exports we must develop a cohesive national strategy that is connected to quality assurance:

“Our national product branding needs to be refreshed and not just seen as a slogan. It needs to be linked to measurable progress on key indicators of value to consumers. These are likely to be origin and environmentally linked.”

The new coal?

Although it may seem extreme, the growing awareness from consumers of the environmental impact of the food they eat means that some are predicting beef to become “the new coal”.

Alternative protein has reached a tipping point where it is becoming mainstream, with plant-based options such as Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger increasingly common on restaurant menus and in supermarkets. Last year around 13 million metric tonnes of alternative proteins were consumed globally — including those from plant-based ingredients, cultured meat products, and alternative sources such as insects. This represents around 2 per cent of the animal protein market.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) believes by 2035 — when alternative proteins reach full parity in taste, texture, and price with conventional animal proteins — 11 per cent of all the meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy eaten around the globe is very likely to be alternative.

This could save as much carbon dioxide equivalent as Japan emits in a year, conserve enough water to supply London for 40 years, and promote biodiversity and food security.

In late 2020, Singapore gave the world’s first regulatory approval for meat that doesn’t come from slaughtered animals. Eat Just’s chicken meat is grown from animal muscle cells in a lab, and the company says this “breakthrough for the global food industry” is one it expects other countries to follow.

New Zealand innovators are working to meet this growing demand for alternative protein. Auckland-based Sunfed Meats recently launched its Bull Free Beef product made from vegetables and cocoa butter, alongside its range of other plant protein “meat analogues” including Chicken Free Chicken and Boar Free Bacon.

FoodHQ, which represents NZ’s food innovation organisations, said in a recent report that emerging proteins are a diversification opportunity that could complement New Zealand’s traditional animal-based protein sectors.

“While our dairy products, meat, wine, apples and kiwifruit will underpin NZ’s food exports for many years to come, we must explore the opportunities to continue adding diversity to our food product offering in order to meet global demand,” says FoodHQ chief executive Abby Thompson.

Tech to boost productivity and reduce emissions

Sensors, robotics, big data and artificial intelligence are other technologies shaping the future of food production and farming.

They all contribute to what is known as precision agriculture, which was already becoming mainstream before the pandemic, but has in the past year demonstrated its importance in creating resilient farming systems.

A local example that integrates several of the above-mentioned technologies is Halter — a company developing a smart collar for fence-free animal management. Last month, Halter secured $32 million in a Series B round led by Australian VC firm Blackbird Ventures (supported by current shareholders including Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck).

The collars, loaded with Bluetooth, GPS and solar panels, allows farmers to virtually herd their stock from anywhere by using an app on their smartphone. Sound and vibration help direct cows, and the collar can also monitor the wellbeing of the animals by detecting unusual movement which might indicate if it is lame or on heat.

The technology works well with NZ’s farming system, as well as other regions that put an emphasis on free-range, pasture-based farming such as Europe and South America.

As new technologies like Halter emerge and farms become better connected to digital infrastructure, the use of precision agriculture and other technologies in agriculture will dramatically accelerate.

These technologies will play a critical role in helping the industry operate with more resilience, increase food security, boost productivity and reduce emissions in farming systems. All of these are integral aspects of the megatrends shaping a sector that is so important to New Zealand’s economy now and into the future.

Agribusiness Report: Why care is a consideration, according to NZTE

New Zealand has relied on tourism as a way of keeping us alive in the hearts and minds of global consumers.

Research released by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) in April revealed that the five major challenges New Zealand exporters are grappling with are: building brand awareness, finding the right partners and channels, dealing with strong overseas competition, understanding how destination markets differed from New Zealand markets and each other, and determining the right export pricing strategy and product-related costs to remain competitive and profitable.

All these challenges have been heightened during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly brand awareness and developing the right business connections, given there is no international travel.

NZTE’s “Made with Care” campaign aims to help lessen these barriers. Launched in October 2020, the campaign has been designed to grow awareness, preference and demand for New Zealand food and beverage products in key markets offshore, and share New Zealand’s commitment to being a trusted, sustainable global food source. It provides New Zealand food and beverage exporters access to a suite of free, ready-made marketing assets to use in their own sales and marketing efforts.

The campaign is part of a wider “Messages from NZ” country brand campaign — a New Zealand Inc effort to raise our international profile in key markets across trade, education and tourism with international consumers, buyers, and investors to help rebuild our economy.

To establish the Made with Care campaign, NZTE joined forces with Tourism New Zealand, Ministry for Primary Industries, Education New Zealand, and New Zealand Story, building on the positive sentiment felt toward New Zealand and raising the international profile of the New Zealand brand across priority markets.

NZTE’s lead for food and beverage, Craig Armstrong, says the openness of all organisations to work differently has been the key to the campaign’s success.

“We have borrowed a lot of tourism people for the last 15 months to make this work — it’s been fantastic,” he says. “It really became a partnership to say: ‘Well, how can we promote New Zealand products, as opposed to promoting New Zealand as a destination?'”.

Armstrong says businesses were telling NZTE the biggest issue for them was not being able to be in market to talk to buyers and consumers.

“What we realised was that we could use this budget to talk to shoppers and buyers at a time when New Zealand businesses could not get there and do it themselves.”

The Made with Care campaign includes paid media, social campaigns, and a suite of creative assets including templates, logos, stories, videos, and vignettes that businesses can use as part of their own marketing.

Since its launch, over 340 companies have been involved in the Made with Care campaign — by using the free marketing assets made available, or by participating in promotions managed by NZTE in Australia, China, East Asia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and North America.

NZTE says because of the campaign, preference and appeal measures for New Zealand food and beverage are trending slightly upwards. As an example, after a short burst of promotional activity in the UK, spontaneous awareness of New Zealand as a country that produces premium quality food and beverage increased 5 per cent, with 57 per cent of research respondents stating they have either bought or are considering buying food and drink from New Zealand because of seeing the campaign.

In North America, awareness of New Zealand food and beverage increased by 10-14.5 per cent across seafood, wine, meat, and honey.

Armstrong says he has been surprised by the results and the cut through the campaign has had with consumers internationally.

“When you reflect back on it, we managed to get what can be at times a very competitive industry to work together and agree on something.”

Underpinning the Made with Care sentiment, and what distinguishes New Zealand food and beverage products from others, is the principle of Taiao — the interconnectedness of our people and the natural world.

The values of Kaitiakitanga (guardians, caring for people, place and planet, now and for future generations), Manaakitanga (caring for others and showing hospitality, kindness, generosity, support and respect) and Ingenuity (challenging the status quo with original and bold solutions) are also woven throughout the campaign messaging.

This interconnectedness of people and the natural world, and the desire for sustainable, safe and innovative products are all aspects of the megatrends that are currently shaping the industry, and Armstrong says the desire for these attributes have all been accelerated due to the pandemic.

“What Covid has done is really bring forward consumers’ changing preferences by years — whether that is five years, six years, 10 years… I’m not quite sure,” he says. “But what we are seeing now is a need or a preference from consumers that is playing into New Zealand’s hands. We are a very ethical producer of food, treat our people well, treat our animals well, and generally treat our land well.

“We have got to be able to tell that story and be able to capitalise on what most advanced and developing economies now care about.”

He says telling that story is critical, and that most of the growth from exporters is not hampered because we are not in the right markets or don’t have the right product, but rather because people don’t spend any money on marketing and telling their story.

“Look at the results we are getting through the Made with Care campaign,” he says. “Those kinds of numbers should give you an indication that if you invest in marketing and look at it as an investment, rather than a cost, you will get a return out of it.”

Insights into key purchase drivers from 14,000 international shoppers

NZTE partnered with global research and insights company Kantar to identify key purchase drivers, supported by insights into behavioural and emotive needs of the primary household shoppers in Australia, China, Singapore, Japan, United States of America and the United Kingdom.

With Kantar, NZTE conducted an online survey with household shoppers in January/February 2021 to examine what’s driving purchases within eight different F&B categories and 29 sub-categories, including meat, fruit and vegetables, dairy, seafood, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, sweet snacks and vitamins, minerals and supplements/mānuka honey.

“We learned that eight attributes drive consumer purchases: tasty, affordable, trusted brand, safe product, healthy, fresh, ethical and on-trend,” says NZTE’s Craig Armstrong.

“Those may sound obvious, but we must understand our consumers rather than base what we do off assumptions. Plus, there is a huge amount of depth and data behind these insights.”

Armstrong says the research found five key paths that companies could take to capture a premium: ethical, on-trend, health, safe product and trusted brand. However, he says these vary depending on the market and category, so how businesses construct and communicate their offer needs to be tailored.

“For example, China is influenced by health and safety; Japan by health, taste and freshness; Singapore contains a broader spread of drivers; while Western markets are more driven by affordability, taste and trusted brand.

“However, affordability and taste do not pull in a premium whereas there is real potential for ethical and on-trend purchases to do so, particularly in the US.”

Locking in brand sustainability

David Babich, chief executive of Babich Wines says they have seen a 4 per cent lift in website traffic over the time Made with Care has been running.

“While not double-digit growth, it is off good base traffic and in an environment where the investment (hence competitiveness) in this area has been intense due to the global constraint on face-to-face.

“As an exporter you have to make an investment in travel and visiting customers. While people understand the reasons why we can’t visit, the time that you can get away with not doing that is fundamentally finite.

“We are going to hit two years without visiting our customers, and meanwhile other competitors are either domiciled in the market or have face-to-face market access because of their own infrastructure — especially the large players.

“We have four people in the US, three in China, one in the UK, so we are not without representation in our key markets, but we don’t have an enormous team to continue to push our message relentlessly. A lot of other NZ companies are in that situation.

“Since we can’t put a billboard in Times Square, social media has worked particularly well for us to market to the world and get our brand messaging out.

“What has resonated for us in the Made with Care Campaign is that one of our brand platforms is sustainability.

“We lock right into that.”

Agribusiness Report: Plant & Food working to increase fish production

Open ocean aquaculture

Plant & Food Research, a Crown Research Institute, is working on ways to increase fish production through open ocean aquaculture.

Global demand for seafood continues to grow, but if production remains static, supply will fall massively short of demand. Managed sustainably, mobile oceanic fish farms off New Zealand’s coastline may soon provide a means to supply nutrition and sustenance to the world.

Suzy Black, Open Ocean Aquaculture Direction leader at Plant & Food Research, says the research programme is taking a unique approach by looking at the idea from the point of view of fish. “We are asking ‘what do they need to be at their best?’ This means understanding fish needs and behaviour and incorporating that into the design.

Black says the team is taking the knowledge it already has about near-shore aquaculture and making it more sustainable for the ocean.

“Our approach is a bit different from what you see overseas where ocean aquaculture systems are mostly enormous structures built to withstand harsh ocean conditions.
“We are taking a mobile approach and trying to work with the environment, rather than against it,” says Black.

The mobile prototype is still in development, and it is too early to know what it might look like. But Black says the aim is to move the systems around the ocean autonomously so fish can experience the temperatures, currents and water quality to ensure they are in the best environment year-round.

“If this takes off, there is so much opportunity for Aotearoa,” she says. “This has the potential to create a whole new sector with new technologies, new industries and regional jobs”.

The open ocean aquaculture work is being done by scientists at Plant & Food Research in collaboration with science organisations overseas and in New Zealand, including Cawthron Institute and the Universities of Auckland and Otago. The programme is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Plant & Food Research’s internal Growing Futures investment.

Extracting protein from pasture

Generations of New Zealand farmers have excelled at growing pasture for livestock. The leaves of these crops are rare examples of plant proteins with a full complement of essential amino acids — the building blocks of proteins that humans need to keep their bodies functioning.

In response to the increasing population of people looking for plant-based protein, Plant & Food Research is looking into different ways to harness the goodness of plants.

“It’s important for Aotearoa New Zealand’s economic future that the food industry develops new plant-based food options for consumers, creating a wider portfolio of products and reducing our reliance on animals for both our own diets and for export,” says Dr Jocelyn Eason, GM Science Food Innovation at Plant & Food Research.

“The challenge in being so far from our major markets is that our export products need to be of high value, compared to alternatives. We can’t produce commodity plant protein ingredients, like pea or soy protein ingredients, for export as our competitors operate at scales we cannot achieve.

“We need something extra, something we can market as uniquely Kiwi, such as ingredients from plants that offer more or capitalise on our reputation for innovative sustainably-grown foods.”

Eason says by incorporating these crops into rotational farming practices, we could create a food protein ingredient with the unique characteristics needed for the New Zealand food industry and with positive sustainability credentials.

Proteins from plants could be used as foundation ingredients in a range of different manufactured foods, such as protein-fortified beverages, nutrition bars or healthy foods for seniors. They could also be used to create new vegan-friendly meat alternatives, providing the full range of essential amino acids in one product.

A side-benefit of extracting protein from plants traditionally used in animal feed is reducing the amount of protein in the diet of stock. The by-products of the isolation process still have nutritional benefits for animals but, by removing some of the protein — the compounds responsible for the nitrogen expelled in urine — the amount of nitrogen leaching into soils and waterways is reduced, improving the impact of animal farming on the environment and enhancing New Zealand’s clean green reputation.

High value marine molecules

Cyber Physical Seafood Systems (Cyber-Marine) is a research programme led by Plant & Food Research that is looking at extracting high-value molecules from seafood during processing. The idea is to create automated multi-operation flexible factories, monitored by artificial intelligence (AI) sensor systems. These factories will analyse seafood as it enters the factory and determine the best way to process it to achieve 100 per cent utilisation and maximise the value for all harvested wild and aquaculture seafood.

By making use of all raw material, this will allow the industry to achieve growth targets without increasing catch volume from wild-capture fisheries, as well as maximise value from increasing aquaculture. It is envisioned that once established for the seafood industry, the technology could be adapted for any bio-industrial process.

In addition to its role as a food source, seafood contains a range of marine molecules with special properties. They range from big structural proteins for biomedical scaffolds, through to anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and blood pressure-lowering or anti-aging peptides.

“Many of these molecules can be found in marine by-products and by-catch, so by extracting them for new products our seafood industry can grow without affecting seafood availability or needing more fish to be caught,” says Dr Susan Marshall, leader of the Cyber-Marine programme.

“It also ensures that we can use all of the biomass grown through aquaculture, not just focus on the food portion. The challenge is how to efficiently extract everything from really diverse marine organisms that contain different types and combinations of the molecules, whilst not destroying one component to recover another.”

● Case studies supplied by NZ Plant and Food Research

Tapping into the Multinational Opportunity (Callaghan Innovation)

Originally published on Callaghan Innovation’s Healthtech Activator website

Tim McCready from BioPacific Partners spoke with healthtech multinationals about changes in the industry and why they are interested in NZ innovation

The healthtech sector is broad, and big corporations in pharma, consumer health and medtech all have slightly different attitudes toward accessing external innovation – but they all share an increased reliance on external innovation to supplement and bolster their pipeline.

Multinational corporations can bring with them strong investment, a powerful workforce, and access to global markets for local New Zealand (NZ) innovators. But regardless of whether a partnership or investment happens or not, there are always insights to be gained from them. Even a 15-minute conversation can reveal insights that might help reshape a product to be more suitable or better accepted by the market, or perhaps adapt a business model to one that had not previously been considered.

Most of these multinationals are not embedded within the Australasian region. They might have sales and marketing teams here, but there are few business development personnel. While it can be a challenge identifying and reaching relevant decision-makers within the confusing hierarchies of multinationals, there are many reasons why it can be a worthwhile activity.

Strong desire to access good innovation

“Innovation does not have a boundary. There is no border limit, wherever there is good science, we go for it,” I was told by a business development executive at a healthtech multinational. It helps that generally these companies are positive about NZ innovation – thanks to our well-regarded education and science, robust regulatory environment, and diverse population.

“If something is making headway there, there’s a whole lot of hurdles it has overcome and it makes me think I can pick it up and run with it elsewhere,” they said.

For the pharmaceutical industry, the cost of research and development for new drugs, the high risk of failure, and the significant exposure many have due to the expiry of blockbuster drug patents means they increasingly look to external innovations for their product pipelines. If the technology fits a gap in the company’s pipeline they will be interested – and are largely ambivalent about the stage of development.

But for medical technologies this is slightly different. For traditional medical devices, multinationals will often prefer to wait until a technology has regulatory approval and can demonstrate strong sales. This is because some of the most challenging aspects of bringing a device to market are the registration of the device, and the considerable work required to convince physicians and surgeons that an innovation is worth considering (and often retraining for) over existing alternatives. Multinationals prefer to see a technology that is proven to mitigate these risks.

Digital innovation

There has been a rapid shift in digital innovation in healthtech, and the development of technologies for a consumer market, including mobile phone sensors, smartwatches, fitness trackers, apps and the use of big data for diagnostics and treatment. This is causing huge concern in the medtech and consumer health industries about where future revenues will come from.

I was told by a business development executive in a medtech multinational: “I joke that I’m glad I am closer to the end of my career than the beginning because I’m not wired to think this way. My gut feel used to be pretty good, but I don’t have that for the future… I think it is incredibly naïve to think that technology and digital won’t fundamentally change the sector.”

The onset of digital giants entering the healthtech space has made traditional medtech multinationals nervous. They are hesitant to enter the consumer market since the big players – the likes of Amazon, Samsung, Apple, Google and Huawei – could quickly wipe out the market share of new technologies that begin to gain traction.

A business development director joked with me that “One day I will need a new hip. I’ll go onto Amazon, where there will be a base one, and then ones with extra features… I’ll select my hip, pick my doctor, choose a hospital – after checking their reviews – and take my basket to the checkout. Somebody is going to figure that out.”

Making the connection

Before the pandemic, these big players were reluctant to travel the 12 to 24 hours required to visit NZ and saw the significant time zone difference as a barrier.  This meant that costly visits to the big conferences – the likes of the BIO Convention or The MedTech Conference – were the only places to sit down for 15 minutes with the relevant people in these companies.

But over the past year these interactions have moved online, and with it so has a growing acceptance from large corporations that new technologies can be discovered using digital platforms – no matter where in the world they might come from.

Capital Markets report: Three business leaders on the Government's wealthy investor proposals (NZ Herald)

Capital Markets report: Three business leaders on the Government’s wealthy investor proposals (NZ Herald)

Anna Kominik

Wisk’s Asia-Pacific regional director Anna Kominik leads a multinational team bringing the world’s first all-electric, self-flying air taxi to market.

On the government’s recent announcement about changes to immigration policy she says anything that supports greater investment in New Zealand is useful.

“But we need to do more to amplify New Zealand’s capability and capacity to scale businesses,” she says.

Kominik says we also need people, like current and former chief technical officers and chief operating officers — those people not just with the funds, but also the skills and experience in growing companies and taking them global.

“We need to be really ambitious for the start-ups that have been nurtured over the past decade and who are ready and wanting to take on the world.”

While the announcement came with little detail, Kominik says rather than letting in random high net worth individuals, we must identify the gaps in the New Zealand companies that are scaling fast and/or who need the capital most acutely along with the ability to have the biggest impact both economically and socially.

“This is the perfect time to be focused on building high-value jobs,” she says. “But our Covid advantage won’t last for long and we need to seize it more aggressively.”

Kominik says we need an overarching strategy for how we are planning to grow our trending industries, including digital, creative, gaming, medtech, food and aerospace.

“These are industries that are growing quickly in New Zealand and have the potential to deliver high quality returns — both socially and economically.

“It would be good to see how this scheme was feeding into supporting these sectors and companies to scale up and become even more ambitious.”

At the Auckland’s Future, Now Summit held earlier this month, Kominik told attendees that she is aware of companies with amazing technologies that would love to come to New Zealand right now.

“They want to do due diligence, they want to come through the border.”

She says New Zealand has the opportunity to define what our vision is and attract companies that support it to come and locate themselves here.

“These are billion-dollar companies already that are going to create high-value jobs,” she says. “We could take any kid who likes an engine, and we could turn them into an electric aircraft maintenance engineer — it’s a very, very high-value job right now.”

Early last year, the NZ Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Wisk to support a world-first passenger transport trial of its air taxi.

At the time of the announcement, Kominik said: “New Zealand’s focus on decarbonising its economy as part of the electric transport evolution directly aligns with Wisk’s mission to deliver safe, everyday flight for everyone through effective, accessible and sustainable urban air mobility solutions.”

Caroline Rainsford

Country Director for Google New Zealand, Caroline Rainsford, is pleased to see the Government’s announcement to support targeted, high-quality investment in New Zealand.

“This will lead us in a positive direction toward bringing skills and new technology here,” she says.

Rainsford says the targeted investment, coupled with the investment of $44 million to support small businesses through the extension of the Digital Boost Training Programme announced in the Budget — which Google has pledged to support — is critical to ensure the benefits of the growing digital economy are shared widely and equitably.

The Government says the programme will provide up to 60,000 small businesses with digital skills training to aid in “the transition to future ways of working”.

Speaking at the Auckland’s Future, Now Summit earlier this month, Rainsford said she has always believed in the role of digital transformation to support Auckland’s economy — but more so now than ever, and what is important is the uptake of skills.

“We can have all this technology and we can invest in ICT infrastructure in New Zealand, but if we don’t have the digital skills and capability, we can’t realise the benefit of it.”

She says whilst we are not doing a bad job in Auckland of embracing some of these, there is so much more opportunity.

“Every day I get first-hand experience of seeing businesses in New Zealand that over the last year have grappled with the impacts of Covid,” she says.

“I have seen companies embracing technology to reach customers digitally online both here in New Zealand and overseas. I have seen people using AI to really sort out the impacts on supply chain during Covid — but we need to do so much more.”

A report commissioned by Google New Zealand that was released last month calculates that if leveraged fully in the economy, digital technologies could create an annual economic value of $46.6 billion by 2030.

“To put this in perspective, this is equivalent to about 14 per cent of New Zealand’s GDP, or the combined GDP supported by Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay,” it says.

To fully capture the digital economy, the report has identified three main pillars of action the country could take.

This includes supporting the adoption of technologies in key industries, digitally upskilling the current workforce and future talent, as well as promoting digital export opportunities.

Across these areas, Google says it has made significant contributions in advancing New Zealand’s digital transformation journey.

This includes supporting the development of digital skills through programmes like the Google Certification Programme, Digital Fluency Intensive for teachers, and its partnership with Spark to run workshops to support New Zealand businesses in using digital tools by delivering digital skills training for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at no cost.

Rob Fyfe

The Government has foreshadowed opening the door to some 200 foreign investors through a reset of its immigration settings.

The announcement, made earlier this month by Tourism Minister Stuart Nash, was described by the government as a “once-in-a-generation reset” of the immigration system.

As part of the announcement, Nash — standing in for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi — said new border exemptions would allow those representing high-value international investment interests to come to New Zealand over the next 12 months to conduct due diligence and transact the sort of deals that will play an important role in supporting New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

“We want targeted, high-quality investment that establishes frontier firms, brings skills and technology to New Zealand,” he said.

“We have also created border exceptions for the Innovative Partnerships Programme and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s Investor Programme to enable representatives from global companies to come to New Zealand to conduct on-the-ground negotiations with companies that they wish to invest in.”

In making the announcement, Nash said the investment through these programmes will create highly-skilled jobs, enable the valuable transfer of knowledge and technology, and increase international connectivity for New Zealand firms as they allow us to position ourselves globally.

Rob Fyfe, who has been working as business liaison for the government, says he has been highlighting this opportunity since July last year, and the announcement took longer to arrive than he had hoped for.

“In the intervening period, some of the comparative advantage that existed in the back half of 2020 that was motivating interest in New Zealand as a significant destination for investment has probably dissipated,” he says.

That said, he says the opportunity is still significant and New Zealand continues to be an attractive destination for international investment.

“In principle I am encouraged by the announcement.

“As to whether 200 is enough — I have got no idea — a heck of a lot could be achieved by allowing 200 pre-qualified, validated investors into the country.

“I would hope if we exhaust that quota, because there is so much demand and opportunity, the Government would extend the quota.”

There is still little detail so far in the announcement, but Fyfe says it is important we move at speed to get the pipeline flowing.

He says we should be prioritising investment that stimulates either demand or supply of high value jobs in the economy and/or investment in technologies and capabilities that will enhance our global competitiveness and the advancement of our green economy and sustainability ambitions.

Competition, IP, and confidentiality issues mean that officials will need to be the decision-making authority to determine which investment interests are allowed to proceed, but Fyfe hopes they will consult with business leaders and academics to identify areas of focus and opportunities.

But he notes that any international investment needs to be supported by domestic investment in education and skills, and skilled migration to ensure we can provide the workforce to support inbound investment and the relocation of high-value businesses to New Zealand.

Green Building: Interview with Minister James Shaw (NZ Herald)

Green Building: Interview with Minister James Shaw (NZ Herald)

“When the Climate Change Commission released its draft advice in January 1, I said that I had never felt more confident that a climate-friendly, prosperous future for New Zealand was within reach,” says James Shaw. “But that will only possible if we take action to cut emissions right across the economy — including buildings.

“Right now, our homes and buildings are currently responsible for around 20 per cent of New Zealand’s carbon footprint.

“Emissions from the construction sector have increased by two thirds over the past decade. If we continue on this path and don’t change the way we build, the risk is that we lock in higher emissions for decades to come. That will only make it harder to meet our emission reduction targets and take us further away from fulfilling our commitment to future generations that we will pass on a cleaner, more stable, and less polluted planet.

“So what we need to be doing is rethinking the way we design, build and use our homes and workplaces so they have a positive impact on our climate and natural environment.

“Our Government has made a great start on this. For example, we are making sure all new Kāinga Ora public homes are energy efficient.

“We have also launched the Building for Climate Change programme to improve how we build while reducing carbon emissions.

“As my colleague the Minister for Building and Construction, Poto Williams, said in her piece for this business report, the change “envisaged by the programme is significant.” But it’s not only climate outcomes: the programme will also improve the energy efficiency of housing, meaning lower electricity bills, warmer, drier and better ventilated homes, and improved health outcomes for New Zealanders.”

The Herald asked Shaw, What is your vision for new builds?

Shaw: I think most people around the country want to know that their homes, and the places they work and spend time in at the weekends are part of the solution to climate change. Put simply, that’s my vision. I want people all over Aotearoa living, going to work, or socialising with friends in highly energy-efficient buildings powered by clean energy.

Changing the way we build to be more climate-friendly will be a huge part of this, but the truth is, most of the buildings that will be in place in 2050 — the date by which Aotearoa will need to be net-zero carbon — have already been built. So we also need to be thinking about how we reduce emissions from existing buildings.

In their draft advice the Climate Change Commission said that we need to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, alongside decarbonising the energy used for heating, hot water and cooking.

Once the Commission’s final advice is released at the end of May we will start work on an Emissions Reduction Plan setting out how we intend to meet our targets. That plan will need to cover every part of the economy — including, but not limited to, new and existing buildings.

Herald: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the industry to transform the built environment?

Shaw: I might not be the best person to explain the challenges of cutting emissions from buildings. What I’d most like is for the industry to share those challenges with us so that we can look at possible solutions.

I would imagine though that one of the main challenges is integrating low-carbon design principles right from the start. In other words, getting the engineering, technology, and design experts around the table right from the start.

Building emissions are primarily due to heating, cooling, and lighting, though the embodied emissions in materials are also significant. Decisions about all of these aspects of a building tend to be made fairly early in the process. If they could be made from the point of view of thinking about what can be done to reduce emissions, then that would make a huge difference. The Building and Climate Change Programme that I mentioned earlier will help with this, as it does set targets for new buildings to reduce embodied and operational emissions.

Herald: Building companies, real estate firms and others in the industry have urged the Government to speed up action on fulfilling its pledge on environmental standards in government buildings. Why are you not moving faster?

Shaw: The first thing to say is that I welcome the fact the building and construction sector want us to speed up action. It’s a positive sign of the part the sector sees itself playing in helping to meet our climate change targets.

There is no question that Aotearoa New Zealand’s future is low carbon. How quickly we get there will, of course, depend a great deal on the decisions we take over the next few years. And so if the sector does want us to move more quickly, I would encourage them to keep demanding more of us,

particularly as we start to think about what goes in the Emissions Reduction Plan. I would also encourage the sector to share their journey with New Zealanders more broadly so that everyone can see just how important this sector is to the future of Aotearoa New Zealand.

But that’s not all. The sector can also go further themselves. As I have said, the low carbon direction we are heading in is clear. And so, there is much the sector can do to generate new ideas, set industry ambition, and establish New Zealand’s building and construction sector as a global leader.

The Government does have a role to play in this and can lead by example.

As part of the recent commitment we made to require the public sector to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, a new energy efficiency rating standard is being applied to government offices. Work is also under way on reducing embodied carbon in Government buildings and I have been leading an initiative to transition schools and hospitals up and down the country to clean energy. By making these changes we can harness the power of government procurement to lead by example and create opportunities for new skills and technologies to emerge.

Herald: Finally, what role do you hope the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan will have in decarbonising buildings?

Shaw: The building and construction sector can, and should, play a key role in helping create a low carbon future for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Draft advice from the Independent Climate Change Commission says the same. In their report they identified some of the opportunities in this area, particularly around energy efficiency and construction materials.

Action to reduce emissions from all buildings will form a key part of the Emissions Reduction Plan which will be published later this year, after the Commission publishes its final advice.

Getting the Emission Reduction Plan right will be crucial. It is going to determine the direction of climate change policy for at least the next 15 years, so I would encourage the building and construction sector to input to that process.

China Business Summit 2021: Mark Tanner with Tim McCready (video)

Can the team of five million now apply its mind to the economy it wants to become in the future?

Tim McCready

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman told attendees at this morning’s ‘Kickstarting the New Zealand Economy’ session from the Trans-Tasman Business Circle that we won’t go back to ‘business as usual’ following the pandemic:

“New Zealand needs to grow its R&D strategy, which is still designed for the 1980s and not for the 21st century.” He said our two biggest industries – tourism and agriculture – won’t be the same in the future due to the impact of Covid, along with climate change and other factors.

The panel, moderated by Fran O’Sullivan, all had a part to play in New Zealand’s success over the past year: former PM Helen Clark, Sir Peter Gluckman, and Rob Fyfe. They suggested there is a risk that New Zealand’s success in responding to the pandemic could very easily become an Achilles heel for the next phase of the recovery. “That safety can deal complacency and result in us being slow to move,” said Rob Fyfe. “That is a risk and a real challenge to move the mindset of the population to look to the future and will need a different risk profile.”

Engaging New Zealanders in a conversation about the future will be an important part of this, said former Prime Minister Helen Clark, in a similar way that New Zealanders pulled together to eliminate Covid and keep it out.

“Can the team of five million now apply its mind to that? This is what needs to happen now – engage New Zealanders in this conversation with as much as can be put on the table on what the scenarios are and confront the future.”

Said Gluckman: “We need to get beyond New Zealand’s traditional ‘she’ll be right’ approach – where we live off traditional sectors – to the point where we start to live more off our brains and innovation skills. That needs a fundamental shift.

It is the tenth anniversary of Sir Paul Callaghan’s keynote address at ‘StrategyNZ: Mapping our future’, where he challenged New Zealanders to think about the type of country we might like New Zealand to become. From today’s session, it is clear that more than ever there is a strong desire to rise to that challenge and ensure New Zealand has its say in planning for the economy it wants to become in the future.

Project Auckland: Construction bosses upbeat about the state of the industry (NZ Herald)

Project Auckland: Construction bosses upbeat about the state of the industry (NZ Herald)

When surveyed in September for the Herald’s Mood of the Boardroom, the country’s leading construction and infrastructure companies said they were scrambling to reset their businesses in the new world created by Covid-19.

There was huge uncertainty in project pipelines, with works significantly down due to the cancellation of jobs. CEOs told the Herald that the priority over the next six months would be to ensure specialist skills could be secured despite the border restriction constraints, and re-setting a “forward cost base within an uncertain demand profile”.

Six months on, CEOs are upbeat about the state of the industry, noting it has recovered well following the initial lockdown last March.

This is critical to Auckland’s future where the lion’s share of the infrastructure and construction build is taking place.

Peter Reidy, Fletcher Construction chief executive and co-chair of the Construction Sector Accord says it is was pleasing to see how well the industry adapted to Covid-19 protocols, noting that Fletcher’s biggest projects continued throughout Covid-19 alert level 3 and essential workers adapted to new ways of working safely in level 4.

“That speaks volumes to the emphasis we are all putting on safety in the workplace,” he says. But he raises concerns with local council infrastructure investment, with pressure on rates and a decline in developer contributions and local council investment returns pointing to big gaps in infrastructure capital investment to meet expected demand.

Reidy says it is pleasing to see that the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, is now also the Infrastructure Minister: “We look forward to continued investment to plug New Zealand’s considerable infrastructure deficit,” he says.

Downer chief executive Steve Killeen says the remarkable recovery from what could have been an 80s-style recession speaks to the resilience of the sector and the actions taken by the Government to ensure workload, liquidity and confidence remained intact. He says it was particularly reassuring that Downer’s clients — public and private — maintained dialogue about their project intentions and opted for simple, effective procurement mechanisms.

“I’m pleased to say the commercial building market recovered quicker than expected and we have now secured wins in education, health and defence that will see our revenues recover in the FY22 financial year.” However, he notes that the past year of uncertainty has reinforced the tendency of the sector and its client base to think short term, slowing down the focus and investment needed to resolve intergenerational issues that stand to negatively impact both the sector and the quality of life in the communities it serves.

Beca CEO Greg Lowe says that large infrastructure projects have started to build up momentum again following the Government’s commitment to the New Zealand Upgrade Programme, the investment in “shovel-ready projects”, and some urgent work needed around water supply and water treatment.

However, he says many private sector projects — particularly the vertical construction market (construction of high rise commercial and residential buildings, as compared to horizontal construction which relates to infrastructure and related construction) — have slowed right down.

“This is an area where small contractors and tradespeople are employed,” says Lowe. “However, more hospital and university projects are helping to fill this gap, and vertical projects driven by local councils are also helping to keep contract work and employment up.”

Fulton Hogan managing director Cos Bruyn says though he is seeing signs of improvement in the private sector now, it will still be some time before activity matches the level that existed pre-Covid. He says that short-term the workload is a good, but describes the medium- to long-term outlook as “murky”.

He puts this down to the challenges of getting work consented being as problematic as ever, the legislative reform being considered by the Government including RMA, and the implementation of National Environmental Standard for Freshwater 2020 — which he says is a big issue for the Auckland region and has the potential to sterilise new residential and commercial development land and quarry reserves.

The industry’s leading chief executives were asked about the biggest challenges they are now facing:

Peter Reidy, Fletcher Construction

The technical skills capacity shortage, particularly in core, frontline project delivery roles is a major challenge.

We are starting to see the real impact of border closures on labour and skilled technical capability. There is competition for these skills domestically and labour costs are increasing in the infrastructure and commercial construction sector.

There is a lot of time and effort going into apprenticeship and graduate programmes in the industry, which is great to see, but you just can’t train in a short space of time for roles which require very specialist skills or international experience.

As an industry we need a much greater focus on inclusion and diversity in our workforce. The number of women attracted to and entering construction is still far too low and we have to do something about that. It’s great to see a real focus on apprenticeships and graduates and what we can do there but ensuring our workplaces are genuinely inclusive for everyone — culture, gender, age and sexuality — is still a priority.

Plenty of challenges today.

The challenge for tomorrow is attracting the new skills needed for the future of the industry, including a more digitally-enabled construction eco-system.

Steve Killeen, Downer

I guess my biggest personal challenge is facing the reality that I may finish my career in a sector that is no better, and in some cases worse, than when I started in the 80s. A sector typified by a lack of sufficient skilled resource, failure to adopt technology, mixed quality and efficiency and very alpha male in the way it goes about business.

I’m still committed to making a difference and have given a lot of thought to the root cause of the sector’s challenges – I believe there are three nuts we need to crack:

• How do we provide confidence in the pipeline of work and ultimately level the workload?
• How do we get the best creative, technical and practical minds around our immediate and future social and economic infrastructure needs?
• How do we focus on long term cost-efficiency rather than price?

Covid and the restrictions it imposes could well be described as the greatest current challenge to the construction industry. However, it is my view that it purely magnifies immediate issues and reduces our focus on the long-term challenges in the sector.

Cos Bruyn, Fulton Hogan

Availability of skilled labour is of growing concern and this is being felt now in the Auckland market. This is a big issue in Australia presently with high demand in a number of states given the strong infrastructure build materialising now. NZ will be targeted as a labour resource pool adding to the challenge.

There is a distinct lack of major project work in the South Island and this will have long term ramifications in retaining resources and key skills.

Overall, the sector along with the rest of NZ will have to contend with the ongoing uncertainty the Covid response brings; recent decisions to lock down have been made with little notice and reduce our ability to plan or mitigate the impacts. This is impacting on the mental wellbeing of our staff and all New Zealanders.

We are also starting to see significant cost increases in imported materials and availability. We have yet to see the worst of this.

Bitumen is a high-volume and high-cost input in the roading sector. Production of domestic bitumen at the Marsden Point Refinery has closed, so the NZ market is 100 per cent reliant on imported bitumen. This may lead to supply chain resilience issues and cost increases.

Greg Lowe, Beca

Predicting start times for design work on large projects is an ongoing challenge. Across many sectors there is a long delay from being advised of bidding success, to then getting contracts in place and work starting. This can leave people intended for projects sitting “on the bench” for longer than needed.

With low unemployment and a need to bring more resources into the sector to ensure projects get to construction as early as possible, staff capability growth is key. We focus heavily on graduate recruitment, staff development and attracting Kiwis back to New Zealand, but longer term this won’t be enough. We will need more skilled labour from offshore to augment staff development here.

Border restrictions are still a challenge with high demand on managed isolation and quarantine. We have three main challenges — getting overseas Kiwis we have recruited a confirmed place in MIQ, getting critical workers needed for projects who are not Kiwis through MIQ, and getting a plan in place for our people who are needed on site on our overseas projects.

Overseas sites have considerable restrictions in place and it’s tough work, meaning people want to know they can get home for a break. This is important because this is export services revenue for NZ — we do work here on overseasprojects, then need to send Kiwis overseas to the site for implementation. This generates export revenue, which is currently on hold. We need a way to book people into MIQ say six months out so our staff have the confidence to go on overseas assignments.

Deloitte Top 200: Beca wins Sustainable Business Leadership award (NZ Herald)

Deloitte Top 200: Beca wins Sustainable Business Leadership award (NZ Herald)

Beca is motivated by its purpose to “make everyday better” and a values-driven culture to deliver transformational solutions with its clients and rise to the challenge of sustainability.

Beca is one of Asia-Pacific’s largest independent advisory, design and engineering consultancies. It has over 3300 employees in 21 offices around the world, and has delivered projects in more than 70 countries. It says the most positive impact it can have on the planet is to work with its clients, its people and its communities to help deliver transformational solutions and succeed in a sustainable way.

The Deloitte Top 200 judges commended Beca for putting sustainability at the centre of its operations; even recognising sustainability’s importance 10 years ago when it wasn’t mainstream. The judges said it is clear that Beca recognises how crucial building resilience to climate change is to its business, and this is one of the key reasons the firm has been chosen as winner of the Sustainable Business Leadership award.

“Sustainability requires both mid-term foresight and a critical assessment of its current practices,” says Top 200 judge Ross George who is managing director of Direct Capital. “Beca balances these two elements and has the ability to encourage clients to do so in their projects as well.”

The award highlights businesses that are working towards the creation of long-term environmental, social and economic value. The judging criteria covers governance, long-term perspective, integration of ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) considerations and projects to support sustainable development.

In Beca’s most recent sustainability review, Chair David Carter and CEO Greg Lowe say: “The global challenges facing our world present numerous opportunities for Beca and our clients to mitigate risks, adapt, evolve, innovate, and thereby make everyday better for future generations.”

Beca was one of 60 founding signatories to the New Zealand Climate Leaders Coalition that commited to voluntary action on climate change.

The firm set a carbon target, committing to reducing its emissions 32 per cent by 2030 from a 2018 baseline — consistent with the need to keep planetary heating below two degrees. It has adopted an absolute emissions reduction approach, to include those emissions Beca has direct control over, as well as indirect emissions from its full supply chain. This includes building energy efficiency, its global supply chains, the vehicle fleet, business travel and even how its employees get to and from work.

Initiatives introduced by Beca include recommending its staff to use public transport to visit clients, reducing the number of vehicles it has and replacing them with more fuel-efficient models. Its Hamilton office even has a worm farm on-site, which converts food scraps from the kitchen to bottled fertiliser.

Beca has made a strategic response to the critical challenges New Zealand’s most populous city faces. Beca says it wants to help Auckland grow sustainably, and is working with clients including Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Watercare, Panuku and NZ Transport Agency to deliver sustainable solutions to the challenges the city faces.

One example is New Zealand’s largest wastewater project, the Central Interceptor. It is an integral part of Watercare’s long-term wastewater strategy for the region. The 13km tunnel is expected to decrease wastewater overflow by approximately 80 per cent.

Beca says an important focus for the Central Interceptor is maximising opportunities for long-term sustainable outcomes. Its services include the integration of sustainability requirements into all project areas to support the eventual delivery of an ‘Excellent’ rating under the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Tool. One key requirement of this is to complete a carbon footprint baseline for the project, from which carbon reduction initiatives from the design and construction phases will be measured.

Beca’s sustainability team recently put together a think piece on how New Zealand’s post-Covid recovery and rebuild opportunities could support decarbonising New Zealand and contribute to a future of sustainable prosperity.

The think piece says, “The scale of investment we are making and the legacy of this for future generations, means it is critical that we take this opportunity to significantly accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy. By taking this approach, our recovery will support a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable society.”

It identified eight key transitions that would best enable New Zealand to rapidly shift to a low-emission economy, while simultaneously creating jobs, addressing many of New Zealand’s critical challenges and moving to a prosperous, circular and equitable economy. These include transport, electricity, agriculture and forestry and social infrastructure.

The judging panel commended Beca for not only encouraging sustainability and climate change within its own organisation, but for working alongside its clients and communities to continually challenge and improve sustainable outcomes.

Finalist: Kathmandu

Kathmandu Holdings is a global outdoor, lifestyle and sports company. As a group, it owns outdoor adventure brand Kathmandu, North American hand-made footwear wholesaler Oboz and Rip Curl surfwear.

This year, the group launched its first combined sustainability report. Inside, Kathmandu chair David Kirk and CEO Xavier Simonet say despite the impacts of Covid-19, all three brands have made significant strides in sustainability this year.

“Covid-19 threw many challenges to our brands, but each of them have found ways to learn from these challenges and make the most of the opportunity to rethink the way we operate,” they say.

The Top 200 judges commended Kathmandu for boldly making sustainability commitments and note the firm has begun putting actions in place to embed sustainability right throughout the organisation. This is one of the key reasons it was chosen as a finalist for the Sustainable Business Leadership award.

Last year, Kathmandu Holdings’ original brand and namesake Kathmandu became the largest Australasian retailer to achieve B Corp certification — the stringent certification process as part of the Certified B Corporations movement.

B Corps implement the Global Reporting Initiative, an independent standards organisation that helps businesses, governments and others understand and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights, governance and social wellbeing. Kathmandu will need to re-certify every three years to maintain the status.

In its 2020 Sustainability report, Kathmandu says that being a B Corp comes with a lot of responsibility, but acknowledges that without that responsibility right at the top, it can be easy to overlook.

By 2025 it aims to become a leading Global B Corp and integrate circular economy principles within its business.

Back in 2014 Kathmandu also became the first Australasian company to join the internationally renowned Fair Labor Organisation as part of a commitment to enhance its social compliance programme and use ethical suppliers.

“These accreditations confirm Kathmandu’s commitment to balancing human, environmental, transparency, and profit considerations,” says judge Ross George.

Across its other brands, other advances from Kathmandu Holdings this year include Oboz launching its first range of footwear containing recycled materials and algae boom insoles and Rip Curl celebrating its 20th anniversary of its planet day.

Inside this year’s sustainability report, Kirk and Simonet say that Kathmandu Holding’s brands will be able to leverage their strengths to work together for an even greater positive impact.

Finalist: Vector

Vector is New Zealand’s largest distributor of electricity and gas.

It owns and operates networks which span the Auckland region.

Vector says its approach to sustainability is to deliver innovative, long-term solutions for its shareholders, customers, partners and suppliers to build shared resilience, reduce its carbon footprint and help regenerate the environment.

It has been taking an active leadership role in how it decarbonises and electrifies transport while maintaining the reliability and affordability of energy.

Energy systems in New Zealand and globally are under pressure to respond to the uptake of new consumer energy technology, electrification of transport, demands for decarbonisation, increased consumption of renewable energy and energy poverty.

The judges say Vector’s business is centred in the middle of a digital and technological revolution and that this puts it in a great position to look at a cleaner energy future.

“Vector is not frightened of facing disruption during a time where decarbonisation is accelerating and its customers are increasingly aware of this,” says judge Ross George.

While some energy companies are taking a “wait and see” approach, Vector has introduced its “Symphony” strategy to address this disruption and create a new energy future.

Vector says this strategy enables it to drive better environmental, social and economic business outcomes such as energy affordability, decarbonisation and the circular economy, aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Vector is an active participant in the Aotearoa Circle, Sustainable Finance Forum, Sustainable Business Council and Climate Leaders’ Coalition.

In the past year it has reduced its carbon footprint by 23.6 per cent.

Earlier this year, Vector’s renewable energy business Vector PowerSmart worked alongside Watercare to deliver New Zealands’s first floating solar array on the Rosedale wastewater treatment pond.

The array was opened in October and features more than 2700 solar panels and 4000 floating pontoons.

It will generate 1486MWh per year — the equivalent of 200 average New Zealand homes and enough electricity to power a quarter of the energy plant — with zero emissions.

The Battery Industry Group (BIG) is another sustainability initiative led by Vector.

Launched last year, BIG is a cross-industry collaboration to design reuse and recycling solutions for large batteries, commonly found in electric vehicles or in stationary energy storage.

BIG now has more than 140 organisations and individuals as members across energy, waste, transport and battery industries.