Opinion: Looking to Generation Z for the future of food

By Sarah Perriam 

OPINION: The rural sector is rapidly changing.

Consumer demand and global trends means New Zealand farmers need to embrace innovation to be able to compete and thrive in this new and exciting environment.

The next generation is vital for success.

In farming we call it 'genetic gain' - the idea of improving performance in future offspring and it's a concept which can be applied to many farming families.

Take the example of a Kiwi sheep farmer (we'll call him Brian) who convinces his son (Adam, who lives in Auckland) to come home to the family sheep and beef farm.

While Brian's focus is on wool and lamb prices ($2kgs and $6kgs respectively) Adam and his generation, have embraced a new - and more lucrative - way of adding value to farming.

In Adam's case, working with a skincare company selling an anti-aging serum.

The serum made from Sheep placenta sells for $400 a bottle or $13,000/kg.

It's this new approach to creating high value food and primary sector products that will be the focus of this year's New Zealand AgriFood Week (11-17th March 2019).

Held in the mighty Manawatu, the week will host a series of thought-provoking events.

Further to chairing the discussion of one of the headline events, ASB Perspective 2025, featuring a panel of some of the country's most influential, female thought leaders, I am also looking forward to the event, AgResearch Future Feeders.

The Millennials and Generation Z speaking at AgResearch Future Feeders are the generation who are tasked with the challenge to feed the world while saving the planet.  They are providing New Zealand's approach to how we farm, produce new products and market them to different countries around the globe.

Case study one: Food is more than a raw commodity.

Cameron Bignell, 26, studied a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Accounting. He watched as his friends took on corporate jobs, but he craved the outdoor lifestyle of home in Marlborough on the family cherry orchard.

With the fear of the rise of corporate cherry orchards, he says he is fortunate to have innovative and open-minded parents to launch 'Eden Orchards' 100 percent cherry juice which is a food product that is renowned for being a 'natural source of melatonin to help you sleep.'

Their waste cherries not fit for export are now worth $12/kg, and as juice can be sold all year round.

"Don't rush your growth, listen to your customers through farmers markets and don't be afraid of outside capital to grow your business for your family's future generations," says Cameron.

Case study two: They understand your consumer because they are the same age

Cameron Ravenswood, 20, is finishing his Masters in Agribusiness and Food Marketing. He watched as his parents were winding up for retirement off their Wairarapa sheep farm, Fernglen Farm, and saw it as a lost opportunity for him and his siblings.

His family have since launched Performance Protein flavoured sheep milk as a 'ready-to-drink' product marketed as 'performance protein which will increase the speed of muscle recovery for athletes and active people, better on the tummy with A2 and lower impact on the environment'.

Sheep milk commands $18/kg milk solids in comparison to $6/kgms for dairy, and Fernglen Farm's milk is sold in selected New World supermarkets.

"I don't think Mum and Dad would have anticipated being persuaded by the three of us [children] to make such a change in their lives. We had to become a part of the change that is needed to help secure the future of an industry New Zealand relies so heavily on," he says.

"We want to create products which have been produced the right way, focusing on health and sustainability."

Case study three: They don't not need to be from a farming background.

Rebecca Jackson, 22, has recently joined ASB as part of their graduate programme following a Bachelor of Management Studies (Accounting and Agribusiness). The closest she had come to the primary industries growing up was with a handful of goats on her family's lifestyle block while attending St. Cuthbert's College in Auckland.

She has become bewildered by the that fact that 95 per cent of research is on producing 'more food' when a third of what we produce is lost in the process before it even gets to the consumer.

"Generation Z wants to help shift traditional mindsets and encourage collaboration," she says.

"People coming at a problem from diverse backgrounds is what encourages innovation. Our generation choose to work at organisations that value our opinions and utilise our new perspective to bring about change," says Rebecca.

I am excited about the future of the rural sector. A future which embraces the best of our farming history, and the fresh new perspectives of the next generation.

Sarah Perriam will be chairing the ASB Perspective 2025 event at New Zealand AgriFood Week, March 11th-17th.

An audio stream of the event will be available on the Rural Exchange channel on the ROVA app from 7am on Thursday 14th March. And via Facebook.com/nzagrifoodweek