The recently signed strategic collaboration brings together a technology-driven flavor creation firm Blue Pacific with a world leading organization devoted to fruit science which has already gained recognition for breeding new commercial cultivars like the Zespri Gold Kiwifruit and the Enza Jazz apple.
The aim of the arrangement, which will run for an initial five years, is to develop the "next generation" of fruit flavors and natural fruit-based ingredients, according to Donald Wilkes, president and CEO of Blue Pacific.
"With the growth of superfruits and continued consumer interest in fruit derived antioxidants, we see the convergence of both traditional flavor and cutting edge fruit science evident through consumer sensory research developed by HortResearch," he said.
Both organizations will bring their intellectual property to the table, which Blue Pacific will also contribute its commercial know-how to actually take the resultant technologies to market, as well as undisclosed funding.
Dr Kieran Elborough, business leader-industrial biotech at HortResearch told to FoodNavigator-USA.com that the institute has already developed a means to use fruit enzymes to produce flavors that are exactly the same as that of the real fruit - not just the closest possible match.
When the enzymes are put into bacteria or yeast, the flavors are produced in exactly the same way as when beer is brewed: they are emitted into the air above the bacteria and are pulled off and condensed into a liquid flavor form.
HortResearch has already demonstrated this concept with several models, including apples.
HortResearch's advantage in the fruit arena is that it has a large collection of germplasm from fruits worldwide - as well as a database of genetic fruit material. It is planning to use this database to find out which genes are involved in producing the flavor enzymes.
"Once we understand what genes are involved, we can get or breeders to select the genes to get the best flavor," he said.
"The reason for doing this in the first place is to understand flavors at a genetic level," he said. "Producing flavors is an off-shoot of that."
In terms of applying this in a commercial environment, however, Elborough said HortResearch "needs industrial guidance to find out what the industry wants".
The institute typically works on the basis of developing a product or technology, then looking for a customer. This time, however, it has formed a commercial arrangement at an early stage, so the research can be directly applicable to food industry needs.
As for Blue Pacific's IP contribution, it is already using its trademarked flavor platform called Taste Nanology. Wilkes explained that this involves working with small flavor molecules, but this is not nanotechnology.
"The research we will gain from our relationship with HortResearch will help us better understand how the matrixes between aroma and taste are delivered by Mother Nature," he said. "We will be on the forefront of these converging sciences."
As for the geographical scope of fruit flavors to be commercialized as a result of the arrangement, the parties agree that there is international scope. Blue Pacific's main markets are the US and Asia, and the deal will also bring benefits to HortResearch's native New Zealand.