Our people


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 the Professor of Human Nutrition at the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland and Chief Scientist for the New Zealand High Value Nutrition National 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.

Nick Kearns, Operations Manager

Nick joined the Challenge from Auckland UniServices Limited where he has been leading the research and consulting contracts function in the field of medical and health sciences. Nick brings a deep understanding of the research management environment to the Challenge and is a member of the University of Auckland’s research service leaders community of practice and the University Research Offices of NZ (URONZ) contracts working group that aims to increase collaboration and streamline contracting arrangements across New Zealand universities, Crown Research Institutes and Government Funding Agencies. Nick has also worked extensively with the UniServices and University Kaiārahi network on the University’s response to Ko Aotearoa Tēnei (Wai 262) and Vision Mātauranga. Nick is completing his MBA at the University of Auckland.

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, Senior Communications & Marketing 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. Kristine works across two of the National Science Challenges – High-Value Nutrition and A Better Start.

Science Leadership Team

Dr Meika Foster, Edible Research founder

Dr 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 programs 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.


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. 

Dr Denise Conroy, Plant & Food Research, Auckland

Dr Denise M Conroy is a Senior Scientist with the Consumer Team, 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.

Sally Poppitt, Professor of Human Nutrition, University of Auckland

Sally Poppitt is the founding director of the Human Nutrition Unit at Auckland University and  holds the Fonterra Chair in Human Nutrition. She is also part 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. Sally’s research has focused on the prevention and treatment of conditions arising from poor nutrition including overweight and obesity, metabolic dysregulation and diabetic and cardiovascular risk. She has extensive experience in conducting nutrition intervention trials in both developed and developing countries. She has published widely in peer-reviewed scientific journals and acted as consultant to the government advisory panels and the New Zealand food industry.

Dr Nicole Roy, Principal Scientist and Science Team Leader at AgResearch, Palmerston North

Nicole Roy is a Principal Scientist and the Science Team Leader of the Food Nutrition and Health Programme for AgResearch. She is based in Palmerston North and also leads the Digestive Health programme for High-Value Nutrition. She completed her PhD in Canada and the United States and post doctoral studies in Scotland where she focused on how nutrition and food components can modifu inter-organ nutrtient partitioning and communication using tracer kinetics, animal models and in vitro models. For AgResearch Nicole led complex stidues of amino acids metabolism in key tissues in lactating ruminants and in growing lambs affected by internal parasites. She is also an Adjunct Professor and Senior Lecturer at the Riddet Institute.

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 a co-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.

Assoc 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.


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 with the NZ Dairy Research Institute, the NZ 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 and 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 MFAT appointee on the International Development Advisory and Selection Panel.

Chris Downs

Dr Chris Downs joined the HVN Board in 2018.  Chris is currently 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 leads 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

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.

Dr Kevin Marshall Director cDNAk (Chair)

Kevin Marshall, a biotechnologist and chemical engineer, has had a distinguished career in a range of industries including dairy, fruit, meat and seafood. He brings with him a wealth of expertise, from previous roles as managing director of ViaLactia Biosciences Ltd, Group Director R&D of the New Zealand Dairy Board and Chief Executive of the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute (now Fonterra Research Centre). He is chair of the Riddet CoRE, the NZ Food Safety Science and Research Centre, and Food Industry Enabling Technologies.

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.

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.

Craig Armstrong, Director, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise 

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.

Ronnie Butt, New Business Development Manager, Comvita 
Ronnie Butt has been with Comvita since 2006 and has championed Comvita’s premium brand positioning in Asia. He brings his understanding of the Asian consumer market and knowledge of building business strategies to target exports to Asia. Ronnie has over 20 years experience in retail operations, e-commerce, product management, marketing and business development across the food, healthcare & energy sector.
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.