The Covid-19 pandemic that has dominated the last 12 months has changed all our lives in many different ways, and we who are engaged in the High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge, Ko Ngā Kai Whai Painga, have faced the same uncertainty, fears and anxiety that the world has felt.
Soon after it hit, and once we had ensured that all our people were safe, we turned our thoughts to the ways in which the pandemic would impact the Challenge.
It was clear reasonably early on, and time has only underlined, that the key strategic underpinnings of HVN have been not only reinforced but increased in importance – there is a strong demand for food from New Zealand that can be delivered to the world for people to choose so that they can stay healthy and well. It is the Primary sector that is currently supporting New Zealand’s economic resilience, at a time, when tourism, normally a strong driver, is struggling with our borders closed.
MPI reports that for the year ending June 2020, primary sector exports were around $1.7billion or 4.5% higher than the previous year – while acknowledging that the dollar has impacted on this result, supply chain disruptions continue and some exporters such as those focussed on the Food Service sector- face a very uncertain market for the next couple of years.
In HVN, the target areas for our Priority Research Programmes: Metabolic Health, Infant Health, Digestive Health and particularly Immune Health continue to be of importance to consumers. Our study The impact of Covid-19 on Chinese consumer attitudes to health and diet as communicated in the October webinar by Dr Denise Conroy, Tracey Phelps and Ivy Gan showed increased purchasing of food with health benefits across consumer groups focussed on each of these conditions – and continued trust in New Zealand as a source of healthy foods (although interestingly, there was less trust in health claims made by marketers). This provides support not only for our existing programmes but also for the New Zealand foodbasket study – He rourou whai painga, currently in its early stages.
At an operational level, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on our planning. With our initial focus on the Chinese consumer, we had intended to perform some clinical trials in China, but that is now impossible. We are therefore working through other options and believe that we can do this work in New Zealand. The various lockdowns have also delayed our work, with access to our institutions, particularly the University of Auckland, restricted, and with the inability of international post-graduate students to enter New Zealand – although we are grateful that restrictions have been loosened for 250 students, some of whom will be engaged in HVN research.
So, like all of New Zealand, we have been impacted strongly by coronavirus, and while it has led to some delays, we are on track to deliver. We do not wish to see any more lockdowns, but have plans in place to manage through, should they occur. At the highest level, it is pleasing to see that the foresight in establishing the Challenge is being rewarded and that its purpose is more relevant than ever.
I wish you all a good, restful and rejuvenating holiday season, and look forward to a happy, successful 2021.
Chair, High-Value Nutrition Board