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.


Gilbert Wong  Senior Adviser, Communications

Gilbert has held senior roles in the communications and media sectors. He led communications for the Auckland DHB and the Human Rights Commission. Gilbert also held senior writer and editor roles for the New Zealand Herald and Metro magazine and has edited business and corporate publications here and in Hong Kong.

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.


Bob Major Chair Independent Director

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.

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.

Jocelyn Eason

Dr Jocelyn Eason is one of New Zealand’s leading food researchers and General Manager Science Food Innovation at Plant & Food Research. She has a PhD in Plant Physiology from Otago University and an MBA from Massey University, and is a member of the Institute of Directors. Dr Eason has 23 years’ experience as practising researcher and in her current role manages 130 scientists , focusing primarily on human responses to food, the influence of food on human nutrition and wellness, and the production of nutritionally-rich foods. She is also a member of Plant & Food Research’s Investment Committee, which is responsible for prioritising the CRI’s $43million of core funding.

Andrew Kelly 

Dr Andrew Kelly is Executive Director of Bio Pacific Partners and dedicated to helping world-class innovations to address major unmet needs. After completing a Bachelor of Veterinary Science in the late 1970’s he moved to life science research and development in Australia and Canada, completing his Masters and PhD. He went on to lead the Pastoral & Veterinary Institute in Hamilton Australia; the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture in Rutherglen Australia, and later the Invermay Research Centre in Dunedin. In the early 2000’s he led the product-development for AgResearch, before co-founding BioPacificVentures in 2005, the first specialist venture fund focused on food agriculture and health in Australasia. Andrew serves on Ausbiotech’s National Committee on Agricultural, Industrial & Environmental Biotechnology ,the Investment Committee of New Zealand’s national network of R&D providers, KiwiNet; the National Advisory Board of NZBIO; and numerous other institutional, University and Government advisory roles.

Jane Lancaster 

Jane Lancaster has been active in research and innovation in New Zealand and internationally for 30 years specialising in commercial innovation in food, natural products and biotechnology. Jane has expertise in the regulatory systems for both new product development and exporting. She has consulted with Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) reviewing and designing product certification systems for NZ export industries. She has worked with many of New Zealand’s leading companies in their business development, including ZESPRI International. Her education was at Canterbury University (B.Sc. Hons 1st class) and she is a professional member and certified practicing agriculturalist (CPAg) with New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science and professional member of New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology. Jane is a director of AsureQuality and a FSANZ Board member. She was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2006.

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.

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. Dr 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

Jolon Dyer

Dr Jolon Dyer is the Science Group Leader of Food & Bio-based Products at AgResearch. He specialises in the application of protein chemistry and proteomics to protein-based foods and materials, including dairy, meat, wool, skin and hair. Jolon has significant expertise in the development of redox proteomics approaches to understanding and controlling protein modification and damage within these substrates. He has achieved significant national and international recognition, including the AWI Award for Scientific Achievement and AWI-DWI Excellence in Wool Science Personal Award (2005), NZIAHS Significant Science Achievement Award (2008) and American Society of Photobiology New Investigator Award (2010).


Richard Blaikie

Professor Blaikie is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research & Enterprise, and Professor in Physics at the University of Otago. He received his B.Sc. (Hons) degree from the University of Otago, New Zealand in 1988 and his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Cambridge, U.K., in 1992. For one year, he was a visiting scientist at the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory investigating single-electron transport effects in semiconductor nanostructures. He returned to New Zealand in 1993 to take up a position in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Canterbury, prior to moving to his current role at Otago.As Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Blaikie oversees all of the research and commercialisation activities of the University.


Advisory Groups

Science Advisory Panel

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.

Dr Yung Poon

Yung Poon holds a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Cambridge and a MBA from Heriot-Watt University in the UK. Based in Sinapore, Yung Poon has more than 20 years experience of product development and operational experience in the healthcare, biotech and clean energy sectors. In the healthcare sector he has launched over 50 pharmaceutical and healthcare products in Asia for a range of businesses. He consults with trade and export agencies in the UK, Australia and New Zealand on biotechnology, nutraceuticals and smart foods.

Industry Advisory Group

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.

Richard Te Hurinui Jones (Ngati Maniapoto, Te Arawa), Chief Ideas Officer, Poutama Trust  

Richard Te Hurinui Jones has been with Poutama since 1995. In a happy coincidence, Poutama is a family name several generations back in Richard’s whakapapa which gives his present position an extra resonance for him. He has focused Poutama on consolidating and growing Maori businesses, driving the development of the Maori tourism, food and beverage sectors, initiating collective and cooperative activity amongst Maori primary sector businesses and taking Maori businesses international. Richard is an owner of Taha Beverages.

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