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Scientists at Plant & Food Research are using their expertise in horticulture to explore the production of fruit without a tree, vine, or bush – instead using lab-grown plant cells. Initial trials have included working with cells from blueberries, apples, cherries, feijoas, peaches, nectarines and grapes.

Lab grown fruit - scientists aim to break new ground with cellular horticulture research
Lab grown fruit (Photo: Plant & Food Research)

Cellular horticulture, agriculture and aquaculture, the production of plant, meat and seafood products in vitro, is at the cutting edge of food technology worldwide. By growing food from cells in the laboratory there are opportunities to use fewer resources and improve the environmental impact of food production.

Food by Design programme leader, Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Ben Schon says there’s a great deal of interest and development in controlled environment and cellular food production systems, with more than 80 companies worldwide looking to commercialise lab-grown meat and seafood.

“Cellular horticulture currently has a smaller profile than cellular agriculture and aquaculture, but we believe this is a really exciting area of science where we can utilise our expertise in plant biology and food science to explore what could become a significant food production system in the future.”

Ben Schon says the team is now 18 months into the five-year long Food by Design programme, which is funded through Plant & Food Research’s internal Growing Futures™ investment of the MBIE Strategic Science Investment Fund. The research has also gained support from New Zealand company Sprout Agritech, having recently being accepted into their accelerator program designed for agrifoodtech start-ups.

Dr Schon says initial trials have used cells harvested from blueberries, apples, cherries, feijoas, peaches, nectarines and grapes. Much like lab grown meats, the challenge is to create an end product that is nutritious and has a taste, texture and appearance that consumers are familiar with.

“In order to grow a piece of food that is desirable to eat, we will need more than just a collection of cells. So we are also investigating approaches that are likely to deliver a fresh food eating experience.”

“The aim isn’t to try and completely replicate a piece of fruit that’s grown in the traditional way, but rather create a new food with equally appealing properties.”

As well as exploring the viability of cellular horticulture as a future tool for food production, Dr Schon says the research also aims to provide better understanding of fruit cell behavior – these insights could help breed better fruit varieties that would also benefit the traditional growing methods being used by New Zealand’s horticultural sector.

This cellular horticulture research fits within Plant & Food Research’s Hua Ki Te Ao – Horticulture Goes Urban Growing Futures™ Direction, which is focused on developing new plants and growing systems that will bring food production closer to urban consumers.

“Globally, we are seeing rapid growth in both the vertical farming, controlled environment growing as well as cell-cultured meat spaces. It’s possible that cell-cultured plant foods could be a solution to urban population growth, with requirements for secure and safe food supply chains close to these urbanised markets,” says direction co-leader Dr Samantha Baldwin.

SIG joins AIM-Progress to collaborate for positive impact through responsible sourcing

SIG announced it is the first in the beverage carton industry to become a member of AIM-Progress, a global forum of leading fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturers and common suppliers, assembled to enable and promote responsible sourcing practices and sustainable supply chains.

Collaborating for positive impact

Responsible sourcing has been a key pillar of SIG’s net positive ambition to go Way Beyond Good for society and the environment since the outset. This commitment is closely aligned with AIM-Progress’ focus on collaborating for positive impact through responsible sourcing, making membership a natural fit.

The goal of AIM-Progress is to positively impact people’s lives and ensure respect for human rights, while delivering value to its members and their supply chains. A priority is to build members’ and suppliers’ capability to adopt and implement the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.

As the first beverage carton provider to join the organisation, SIG has an excellent opportunity to build strong partnerships with other members. The aim is to work together to co-create solutions and share best practices that can positively impact people’s lives and ensure human rights are respected through the supply chain.

Helping customers meet demand for responsible sourcing

FMCG brands are seeing increasing demand from consumers, investors and other stakeholders to demonstrate that they meet high ethical, environmental, labour and human rights standards – not only in their own operations, but throughout their products’ supply chain.

SIG’s solutions enable customers to clearly demonstrate that their packaging comes from responsible sources. The company has led the industry in the development and adoption of certifications for responsible sourcing for over a decade.

SIG is the only aseptic carton provider to offer packs with all three main materials certified as responsibly sourced – FSCTM-certified liquid packaging board, ASI-certified aluminium foil and ISCC PLUS-certified polymers. All three of these certifications include stringent requirements on human rights as well as other social and environmental criteria. SIG has also made a strong commitment to human rights in its business and supply chain as a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact.

About AIM-Progress
AIM-Progress is a forum of leading Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) manufacturers and common suppliers, assembled to enable and promote responsible sourcing practices and sustainable supply chains. It is a global initiative supported and sponsored by AIM – the European Brands Association.

For the 8th consequtive year already, the AIM took place from 9th-11th April 2018 at Dubai World Trade Center and is considered to be the leading interntaional direct investors meeting. More then 100 influencial and innovative experts participated at the conference to learn and discuss about the trends and innvocation of direct investments as a tool to guarantuee longterm competitiveness. The Conference was initiated and established by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Economics to secure and promote innovative and direct investments longterm.

Claudia Lauener and Frank Hofer, nomenees and representatives of swiss-based Frutco AG, were proudly handed over the AIM Runner-up Investment Award 2018 for the best direct investment in Latinamerica, supported by nicaraguan ambassador Mohamed Lashtar.

The 20 Million Dollar project CHIMACO AG (farms) and Frutco de Las Americas SA (processing) has become an epicenter of sustainability for trainings, education and farming in regards of Maracuya. CHIMACO stands for Chinandega Maracuya Company and employs more then 100 people.

Frutco AG and CHIMACO currently produce on 200 hectares of farmland. As soon as the processing plant of Frutco de Las Americas SA, a joint-venture of Swiss based CT Finance AG and Nicaragua based Grupo Coen will be ready for production, additional independent producers for Maracuya, Guava and Bananas will join the project with a production plan of more then 1.500 hectares, ready to produce purees, concenrates and juices. Grupo Coen will dedicate 2.000 hectares of extra land to the project. In addition to that, enough land can be added for portential future projects.