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Directorate | Rōpū Whakahaere

Joanne Todd, Challenge Director

Joanne leads the Challenge Directorate team. She joined the Challenge from Fonterra Co-operative Ltd, where for over 20 years she held several nutrition and management roles with a focus on combining business development, science, regulatory and marketing activities, with an emphasis on Asian export markets. She has led and developed globally based cross-functional teams to deliver on a portfolio of projects, and has built consumer insight, clinical research and product development programmes that have delivered successful commercial outcomes increasing revenue for Fonterra’s consumer brands business. Her experience includes work across many areas including maternal, paediatric, immunity and mobility platforms, bringing vast experience in consumer led innovation, combined with commercial acumen and understanding of the global consumer goods market and international regulatory environments.


Professor Richard Mithen, Chief Scientist

Richard Mithen is a Professor of Human Nutrition at the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland and Chief Scientist for the New Zealand High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge. Following a PhD at the University of East Anglia and several years working in south central Africa on the conservation of wild crop relatives, Richard was a group leader at the John Innes Centre and Professor of Crop Science at the University of Nottingham prior to moving to the Institute of Food Research in 2003.  Richard has played a major role in the development of the Quadram Institute, a new institute on the Norwich Research Park that combines food and nutritional science with human microbiome research and clinical expertise. Richard’s major research interests are at the interface between crop and food science and human nutrition. Richard migrated to New Zealand in 2019. More information about his role within HVN can be watched here.

Simmon Hofstetter, PhD, Research Operations Manager

Simmon is the Research Operations Manager for the New Zealand High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge. He joined the HVN Challenge team from the Strategic Research and Development Programme of the Government of Alberta, Canada, where he worked with a team to deliver a multi-million-dollar research funding portfolio targeting issues in agriculture and livestock production. Simmon completed his PhD at the University of Alberta, combining a background in microbiology with expertise in food science and technology, before moving on to lead teams as a post-doctoral researcher in academia and as a research scientist in industry. His experience spans a broad range of applied research topics in areas of food and environmental microbiology, and safe food production. Simmon combines his experience as a researcher with project management principles to ensure cross-functional scientific projects and programmes achieve successful outcomes.

Eleanor Surtida, Operations Admistrator

Eleanor is an administrator with nearly a decade of experience and understanding of research environments in the tertiary education sector. She is committed to supporting science programmes which make a difference to people’s lives. She works across two National Science Challenges, High-Value Nutrition and A Better Start.



Kristine Scherp, Communications & Marketing Senior Advisor

Kristine brings a wealth of experience in communications, media relations, event management and stakeholder engagement to the Challenge. She has most recently been in contract roles for healthAlliance, which works across the four Auckland District Health Boards, and at Waste Management in a specialist internal communications role. Prior to that Kristine managed communications for the Health Research Council of New Zealand for over 10 years.

Science Leadership Team | Kaiarahi Pūtaiao

Dr Meika Foster, Edible Research founder

Dr Meika Foster is a nutritional biochemist with a background in law. She is the founding director of Edible Research Ltd, which provides translational research services in Food and Nutrition Science to Food Industry, Universities, and Government. She leads the implementation of Vision Mātauranga in HVN science and innovation programmes and is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Medicine, University of Otago and a New Zealand Registered Dietitian. She has been employed previously as a nutrition researcher in Australia and New Zealand and is well published in peer reviewed scientific journals. Her particular research interests include the role of plant-based dietary patterns in the prevention and management of chronic disease; and cultural and intellectual property law. Watch this to find out more information about Meika’s role within HVN.


Dr Olivier Gasser, Team leader at Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Wellington, New Zealand

Dr Gasser’s research interests lie in the bidirectional communication between the immune system and host metabolism, with a strong emphasis on the gut and its resident microbes. Dr Gasser’s position and research area will ensure the Malaghan Institute’s research efforts will be a key pillar of the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge. He brings much experience in evaluating novel mechanistic aspects of the human immune system that could provide immediate impact to the fields of immune health as it relates to cancer, inflammatory and infectious diseases. Watch Oli talk about his research.

Dr Denise Conroy, Plant & Food Research, Auckland

Dr Denise Conroy is a Senior Scientist with the Consumer Team, Plant and Food Research, based at the Mt Albert campus. Denise is a Consumer Behaviourist, specialising in understanding the attitudes, emotions, values and cognitions that motivate people to consume specific products, brands or experiences, or to reject these offerings. As an interpretivist researcher Denise is a skilled methodologist, and is very experienced at leading complex teams, across different disciplines, and from diverse backgrounds, to reach a common goal. Much of Denise’s research is Asia focussed; current projects include an exploration of how organic labels on fresh fruit and vegetables are processed and interpreted in Vietnam; why organic is considered to be part of status expression in South Korea, as opposed to any reference to sustainability or the green movement, and, as PI of the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge, exploring how Chinese consumers construe the relationships between food and health. Watch Denise talk about the Consumer Insights programme here.

Professor Sally Poppitt, Director of the Human Nutrition Unit, University of Auckland

Sally Poppitt is the founding director of the Human Nutrition Unit at Auckland University. She is a member of the High Value Nutrition Science Leadership team, as principal investigator for the Metabolic Health programme – researching how food can help problems arising from obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Previously she held the Fonterra Chair in Human Nutrition within the dairy Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) between the New Zealand government and dairy company Fonterra, and is principal investigator at the Riddet Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) for Food and Nutrition leading the weight management platform. Originally from the Dunn Nutrition Unit at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, she has extensive experience in conducting nutrition intervention trials in both industrialised and rural economies. She publishes widely in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and acts as consultant to government advisory panels and the New Zealand food industry. Watch Sally talk about HVN’s Metabolic Priority Research Programme here.

Dr Nicole Roy, Professor at the University of Otago

Dr Nicole Roy is a Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago with research interests in nutrition and health, host-microbiome interactions, gastrointestinal physiology, and gut-brain communication. She is based in Palmerston North and leads the Digestive Health priority research programme for the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge. Nicole completed her PhD in Canada and the United States and postdoctoral studies in Scotland where she focused on how nutrition and food components can modify inter-organ nutrient partitioning and communication using tracer kinetics, animal models and in vitro models. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Riddet Institute and a Principal Investigator in the Riddet Institute Centre of Research Excellence. Watch Nicole talk about her research.

Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, Director of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, Massey University, Palmerston North

Harjinder Singh is a world renowned food scientist. In addition to leading the Food Science and Technology programme at Massey University he is also Director of the Riddet Institute and leads the Science of Food programme for High-Value Nutrition. His research has focused on food colloids, food ingredient functionality, functional foods and the food structure-nutrition interface. He has published more than 300 research papers and is the co-inventor of 12 patents which which have been the basis of several commercial innovations.His international standing has been recognised by national and international awards, including the Prime Minister’s Science Prize. He serves on several national and international commitees advising on food strategy, development and implementation. Watch Harjinder talk about Science of Food and it’s role with the HVN Challenge.

Professor Clare Wall, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland

Clare Wall heads the Nutrition Department at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland and is the principal investigator of the Infant Health programme. Her research interest is in the inter-relationships between the determinants of nutritional status and health outcomes of the paediatric population.

Board | Poari

ew Bob Major (Chair) 

Bob Major is one of New Zealand’s leading business leaders in the dairy industry and beyond. After graduating from Massey University with a MSc he held various senior positions within the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute, the New Zealand Dairy Board, and Fonterra Co-operative Group, in the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand. He has been a Director on several New Zealand industry-good organisations, Fonterra subsidiaries, and joint ventures in Europe and Asia. Mr Major is currently a Director of Sealord Group, Barker Fruit Processors Ltd, Westland Co-operative Dairy Company, and BioVittoria Limited. He is also a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) appointee on the International Development Advisory and Selection Panel.

Chris Downs

Dr Chris Downs joined the HVN Board in 2018. Chris is currently the General Manager, Crop & Food Science, Agri-Science Queensland at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Australia. He was previously the Research Director (Food) for the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Agriculture and Food. As a member of the CSIRO Agriculture and Food Executive, Chris led the delivery of science and innovation underpinning the development of healthy, safe and sustainable foods, food ingredients and beverages for Australia’s food industry and global consumers. Chris has previously held executive positions in Food Science Australia, CSIRO Food and Nutritional Sciences, CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences and at the New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research, where he has had responsibilities including; science leadership, organisational innovation strategy development, government investment portfolio leadership, business development and commercialisation. He has previously held directorships in companies involved in innovation and commercialisation in the seafood and biomaterials sectors. Chris is currently a Director of the Institute for Food Technologists (IFT) in the USA, and the Australian Institute for Food Science and Technology (AIFST).

Jim Metson

Professor Jim Metson is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Auckland. He is a physical chemist with research interests in materials science and particularly the science of surfaces. He received his PhD from Victoria University of Wellington before moving to the University of Western Ontario Canada initially as a post-doctoral fellow, then joining Surface Science Western. He returned to New Zealand in 1985 to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Auckland. He was a founding member of the MacDiarmid Institute for Materials Science and Nanotechnology and has worked extensively with international industry, particularly in aluminium reduction technology, gas dry-scrubbing, and alumina refining. He is a recognised international authority on industrial aluminas.

Paul Morgan

Paul Te Poa Karoro has served as chair of Kono NZ LLP since 2011, and as chair of Kono’s owner, Wakatu Incorporation, since 1986.   Paul’s career has been at the forefront of economic development for the Maori community for nearly 30 years, during this time he has had many directorships and roles with Government across agribusiness, science and business.   Paul served as chief executive of the Federation of Maori Authorities, representing the interests of Maori business, from 1996 to 2007. He was awarded a QSO for services to Maori business in the New Years’ Honours in 2010. Paul as Chair of Wakatu Inc. has lead the evolution of the whanau business Kono NZ LLP a fully integrated business which, markets seafood, wine, horticultural produce and fruit leather from its lands and aquaculture farms in Te Tau Ihu, top South Island.  Kono employs over 500 people with sales to 40 plus countries in the Kono brand. Paul in his capacity of Managing Director, Fomana Capital Ltd is currently involved with a range of other businesses and organisations spanning the nutraceutical, food ingredient, functional foods, cosmetics, aquaculture, food & beverage sectors and financial services.

Alison Watters

Dr Alison Watters was appointed to the HVN board in August 2019, and has over 20 years’ experience in governance roles spanning the commercial, educational, sporting and farming sectors. Alison is currently Deputy Board Chair for the state-owned enterprise AsureQuality Ltd, who are global experts in food assurance and is an elected Director for Livestock Improvement Corporation Ltd, a global genetics and agritech company. Alison has a scientific background in nutritional physiology having received a PhD from Massey University. Previously, Alison was the Director of Human Nutrition at Massey University involved in the development and management of academic teaching and research programmes centred around human health and well-being, and also a Technical Manager for Fonterra, during which time she was involved in commercialising food ingredient innovations internationally, specifically targeting human health.

Rodney Wong

Rodney Wong is a stalwart of the New Zealand food industry, with over twenty five years experience across the private and public sectors. With an initial background in production technology, he was CEO of Pacific Brands Foods for over 10 years – and more recently held senior roles with Noske Kaeser NZ Ltd, Conzept Engineering Solutions Ltd; WMC Technology; Lindsay International and Lowe Products Ltd. He is a former Chair of Crop and Food Research and led the merger to form Plant & Food Research before becoming Deputy Chair. Mr Wong is a member of the Massey University College of Business Advisory Board, and is also a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Directors; a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology; the Executive Chair of Speirs Nutritional LLP; Director of Scanpower Ltd ; the Chair of Manchester House Social Services LInc; and a Trustee of Central Energy Trust

Advisory Groups | Rōpū Kaitohutohu

Science Advisory Panel

High-Value Nutrition Science Advisory Advisory Panel members (from left) Professor Phillip Calder, Professor Nancy Krebs and Professor Sean Strain (Chair)

Professor Sean Strain (Chair)

Sean Strain is the Emeritus Professor, Human Nutrition, Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), Ulster University, Ireland. Sean Strain is internationally recognised for his micronutrient research – specifically in the areas of trace element nutrition, fatty acid metabolism and in B vitamin metabolism.

Professor Phillip Calder

Philip Calder is the Professor of Nutritional Immunology, Human Development & Health, Academic Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, UK.  Phillip Calder is a New Zealander who is Professor of Nutritional Immunology at the University of Southampton. His research is broad but focuses on the nutritional modulation of immunity, inflammation and cardiometabolic disease risk.  Professor Calder trained at Massey University, the University of Auckland and Oxford University. He has over 500 scientific publications and is listed by Thomson Reuters as a Highly Cited Researcher.

Professor Nancy Krebs

Nancy Krebs is Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, and the Vice Chair of Academic Affairs at the University. Her research interest is in zinc and trace mineral nutrition, defining dietary requirements and evaluating the metabolic regulation and adaptation to different intakes and physiologic states and treatment of adolescent obesity.

Industry Advisory Panel

High-Value Nutriton Industry Advisory Panel (from left) Gerard Hickey, Sarita Males, Richard Jones, Kevin Marshall, Craig Armstrong, Jeremy Hill, Ronnie Butt.

Craig Armstrong, Director, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (Chair)
Craig Armstrong is Director (Customers) at New Zealand Trade & Enterprise. He has global executive and Board experience with Lion Nathan, Cadbury Schweppes, Hunterskil Howard, CPLG, National Foods and HJ Heinz. He is also trying to make a success of growing and commercialising edible oils from tree crops.

Victor Goldsmith
Victor Goldsmith is of Ngāti Porou descent having been born and raised in Gisborne. He has over 30 years of experience is Māori   governance and management through farming, forestry, fishing and honey interests. Victor is the Chief Executive Officer of Te Runanganui o Te Aupouri, former General Manager of the Ngāti Porou Miere Limited Partnership and former National Operations Manager for ApiMed Medical Honey Limited. Victor is also an independent director for Ngāti Pahauwera Commercial Development Limited, Director of Ngāti Porou Whanui Forests, Director of Ngāti Porou Forest Limited, Chairman of the Audit & Risk committee for Ngāti Porou Forests, Chairman of Awatere B Trust, a sheep & beef, honey and forestry business on the East Coast, a member of the Taumata (Māori Council) for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade and Chair of the Māori Advisory Group for Te Uru Rakau/Forestry New Zealand.

Gerard Hickey, Managing Director, Firstlight Foods 
Gerard Hickey has over 10 years of experience as Managing Director and Co-Owner of Firstlight Foods Ltd and brings his knowledge and skills in business strategy and innovation, consumer preferences,  marketing and sales, value chain structures, and product development. He has a background in the New Zealand animal agricultural sector with a focus on promoting the provenance of premium grass-fed beef and lamb and developing sustainable pasture to plate processes.

Dr Jeremy Hill, Chief Science & Technology Officer, Fonterra
Jeremy Hill has held senior research and development leadership roles throughout the dairy supply chain including General Manager of Research and Development at the Livestock Improvement Corporation, Deputy Chief Executive of the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute, Fonterra General Manager of Manufacturing Innovation, and Fonterra General Manager of Research and Technical Operations.

Sarita Males, Chief Technology Officer, Douglas Nutrition
Sarita has a Bachelor of Technology (Bio-Technology and Bio-Process Engineering) from Massey University and post graduate qualifications in Dairy Science and Technology, and Business Administration (Finance). Her previous career experience includes roles with The Foodbowl and Food Innovation Network,  New Zealand Dairy Board, New Zealand Dairy Ingredients, wheat producer Manildra Group (London and New South Wales), Ogilvy Interactive Worldwide (London), Terralink International Ltd and the Hyperfactory.

Jennifer Yee Collinson, Nutrition & Regulatory Affairs Manager, Frucor Suntory
Jennifer is a food scientist and New Zealand registered dietitian. An industry consultant and nutrition & regulatory affairs manager for Frucor Suntory, her roles have encompassed public health, product development, nutrition communications, nutrition and health claims regulatory compliance and research partnerships with Crown research agencies and universities. Professional activities have included the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation council, the Health Star Rating advisory group; and currently the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council health & technical working group, and the Australian Beverages Council public affairs and technical & regulatory affairs committees. She is past chair of the New Zealand Fruit & Vegetable Alliance working group and past president of Food Writers New Zealand. In her spare time she is a sourdough maker, an avid culinary tourist and loves walking.