Te Wahi Ao, a subsidiary of kiwifruit company Te Awanui Global Pak have partnered up with Waikato-based biotech company Ligar to start harvesting high-value bio-actives for nutraceuticals from Te Awanui’s kiwifruit and avocado waste streams.
Bioactive molecules are the molecules extracted from organic matter for specific purposes, whether for flavours, aromas or medicinal compounds, and are often found in the skin of fruit.
Ligar has developed polymers capable of detecting specific molecules for extraction and have scaled up the production of the polymers in a form that is easy to use and capable of removing targeted molecules cost effectively.
The process is capable of reducing toxic residues in extracts, targeting high-value extracts and dealing in large volumes of liquid.
Ligar chief executive Nigel Slaughter says globally there have typically been only a few bioactive molecules extracted, and their technology has enabled a broader range with nutraceutical properties to be extracted, developed and commercialised.
One example is the bioactive products included in Nootropic brain drinks, marketed as an alternative to coffee for stimulating brain activity.
Hemp-CBD bioactive extracts are also becoming more accepted among consumers for their health benefits.
“People are wanting to manage their wellness, rather than their sickness,” Slaughter said.
The businesses aim to construct a refinery in Bay of Plenty capable of extracting the bioactive molecules from kiwifruit and avocado waste streams with supply buoyed by Seeka, which Te Awanui has a significant stake in.
Hops are also another crop with a significant waste stream, with 40% of hop material going to waste in the brewing process.
The company has already started identifying several valuable molecules within kiwifruit suitable for extraction and commercialisation.
Slaughter said Ligar was also wanting to start a “bio-prospecting” pipeline, building up a portfolio of new molecules to investigate.
“We already have the ability to extract valuable molecules from hemp and kava, and we’re in the discovery phase looking at bioactive molecules in kiwifruit and avocado.”
Te Awanui Huka Pak chief executive Te Horipo Karaitiana said the bioactive venture is an ideal opportunity to kickstart a new iwi-led export sector.
“Rather than wait to be the last in the line to the food trough, we are encouraging Māori to be first in line, as we did when we went into kiwifruit.
“Hopefully we can be at the front of it not just commercially, but in making sure that our values as Māori are imprinted into how we make this new industry,” Karaitiana said.
He was also optimistic the technology could provide iwi with the opportunity to extract bioactives from uniquely New Zealand flora, alongside the horticultural crops iwi grow.