By HVN’s Chief Scientist, Professor Richard Mithen

As the second five-year phase of the High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge draws to a close, it is timely to look back at the research projects that HVN supported through our contestable programme during this time, and to consider the scientific, economic and social impact of these projects, and indeed of the wider HVN programme.

Over the last five years, HVN supported 47 projects, of which 9 were scholarships to predominantly Māori scientists; 16 were ‘development grants’ of up to $50K from HVN complemented by in-kind support from Food and Beverage (F&B) companies; and 22 were larger research projects involving a partnership between academic scientists in universities and/or Crown Research Institutes and those within the commercial sector. In these projects, several of which cost more than $1 million, the participating company provided ‘in-kind’ support and a financial contribution to the project, typically 10% of the total costs.

In addition, HVN were pleased to develop a partnership with the Pūhoro STEMM Academy to enable Māori undergraduates to work within many of the HVN-supported research projects to gain valuable experience and help develop their careers. Through these different types of projects, HVN successfully worked with companies from across the F&B sector, from small start-ups to New Zealand-based multinational companies and provided training to Masters and PhD scientists including an emerging generation of Māori scientists.

As with most science-based projects quantifying ‘impact’ is challenging. It is relatively easy to assess ‘what we know now that we did not know before.’

Three examples:

  • In the Tūhauora Kawakawa project, in collaboration with Wakatu Incorporation and Chia Sisters, we have gained a comprehensive understanding of the chemical content of kawakawa leaves, how many of these compounds are metabolised and excreted by humans after drinking a kawakawa-based beverage; and have an indication that the beverage may have beneficial health effects.[1]
  • HVN-supported projects with Sanford Ltd on Greenshell Mussels (GSM)[2] told us that regular consumption of a GSM powder can alleviate symptoms and improve functionality in osteoarthritis and reduce the rate of cartilage degradation.[3]
  • A project on kiwifruit, with Zespri International, informed us that consuming kiwifruit can lead to a better night’s sleep and this may be related to changes in serotonin metabolism.[4]

The HVN expectation is that these science outcomes will help the companies that supported these projects to be better able to market their products to consumers in New Zealand and elsewhere, contribute to economic sustainability with the F&B sector, and for consumers to be more confident in the products that they are purchasing.

For the above three examples:

  • Providing the evidence that kawakawa is safe to consume will ease regulatory hurdles with being able to market kawakawa-based products in overseas markets.
  • The health benefits of GSM may lead to formal health claims not only by FSANZ but also by other agencies such as FDA in the USA and EFSA in the EU.
  • For consumers to know that eating a kiwifruit may help their sleep pattern may increase sales, especially as it is understood more fully how a good night’s sleep can maintain and promote health. These kiwifruit research outcomes may also contribute to an extensive series of health claims based upon additional HVN-supported research on kiwifruit consumption and metabolic and digestive health.[5]

These types of impacts may take many years to realise and will require significantly more investment by the commercial partners.

A further important impact of the HVN programme will be the demonstration of the constructive engagement that HVN-supported academic scientists had with their commercial counterparts, and in turn how personnel in the commercial companies (scientists, technologists, marketeers, CEOs etc) entirely recognised the importance of the need of academic scientists to publish the outcomes of the research project regardless of whether the data revealed a positive health benefit of the food product under investigation or not.

This respectful engagement is contrary to that often suggested by certain prominent organisations and high-profile science journals that consider the objectivity and integrity of an academic scientist to be compromised if they are working on a research project partly or wholly financed by a commercial F&B company. This unfortunate view has inhibited many excellent scientists from engaging with the commercial food sector, to the detriment of all parties. Maybe the HVN programme can provide an example of constructive engagement and set a benchmark of how these joint programmes can be facilitated and managed.

The greatest impact of the HVN programme may however be in the training it provided to the many PhD and Masters students within the contestable projects and the Priority Research Programmes. The research undertaken as a research student and the links that are forged with peers and colleagues are immensely influential for their entire career.

Many of the HVN student whanaū will develop their careers in New Zealand in the academic and industry sector as research scientists but will also use their expertise in other career paths – in government ministries and policy units, schools and the charitable and voluntary sector. Some undoubtably will pursue their careers overseas, which will help forge the international science links that a small country like New Zealand requires.

How interesting it would be to follow the many varied and exciting paths that these young scientists will follow… and to assess the longer-term impact of the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.         


[1] Jayaprakash R et al. (2024). Human Metabolism and Excretion of Kawakawa (Piper excelsum) Leaf Chemicals. Mol Nutr Food Res.68(6):e2300583. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.202300583.
Jayaprakash R et al. (2022) Exploring the Chemical Space of Kawakawa Leaf (Piper excelsum). Nutrients. 5;14(23):5168. doi: 10.3390/nu14235168.
Ramzan F et al. (2022) Acute Effects of Kawakawa (Piper excelsum) Intake on Postprandial Glycemic and Insulinaemic Response in a Healthy Population. Nutrients. 14(8):1638. doi: 10.3390/nu14081638.


 [3] Slade CA et al. (2024) The Effects of Greenshell Mussel Powder (Brand-Named PERNAULTRA) on Physical Performance and Subjective Pain, Symptoms, and Function Measures in Knee Osteoarthritis: A 6-Mo Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Curr Dev Nutr. 8(4):102148. doi: 10.1016/j.cdnut.2024.102148.
Abshirini M et al. (2022) Effects of Greenshell™ mussel intervention on biomarkers of cartilage metabolism, inflammatory markers and joint symptoms in overweight/obese postmenopausal women: A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled trial. Front Med 9:1063336. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2022.1063336.

[4] Kanon AP et al (2023) Acute effects of fresh versus dried Hayward green kiwifruit on sleep quality, mood, and sleep-related urinary metabolites in healthy young men with good and poor sleep quality. Front Nutr. 2023 Mar 14;10:1079609. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2023.1079609

[5] Monro J et al (2022) Metabolic and Blood Pressure Effects of Consuming Two Kiwifruit Daily for 7 Weeks: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2022 Jun 28;14(13):2678. doi: 10.3390/nu14132678.
Bayer SB (2022) Two Gold Kiwifruit Daily for Effective Treatment of Constipation in Adults-A Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2022 Oct 6;14(19):4146. doi: 10.3390/nu14194146.