Tasmania has a history of innovation: Australia’s first scientific society, the Van Dieman’s Land Scientific Society, was founded here in 1829, the country’s first art exhibition was held in Hobart in 1837 and the notepad was invented in Launceston by JA Birchall in 1902.
The state’s agricultural businesses have continued this innovative streak, such as consultant Tom Lewis, who is working on three collaborative projects that could see Tasmania taking an event stronger lead on innovation.
As RDS Partners director, FermenTasmania executive director and Centre for Food Innovation consultant, Mr Lewis is at the forefront of food innovation in the state.
The Centre for Food Innovation is working on a Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilisation project which will help Tasmanian food businesses extend their product shelf life.
“It’s a bit like canning but much better quality. We have a great opportunity to collaborate and cooperate and come up with new products,” Mr Lewis said.
FermenTasmania and a food industry clustering project also are keeping Mr Lewis occupied, with involvement from industry, the government and university a factor in all three projects.
“It’s the triple helix of entities that has the environment that will help create and foster innovation,” Mr Lewis said.
The recent Launceston Chamber of Commerce awards had a high proportion of agribusiness winners, including Moore’s Hill Estate, TasFoods, Rural Youth and Australian Honey Products.
TasFoods has built a suite of businesses with different approaches to market, for example, Robur Farm Dairy introduced spreadable chevre goat cheese, Shima Wasabi encourages chefs to use more than the root and Nichols Poultry created its ethical free range product to meet consumer expectations.
TasFoods managing director Jane Bennett said the business embraced innovation, but it came with obstacles.
“The challenge with being innovative is you can do something that’s different, but you have to work with the channels to market to get consumers on board to help drive the change,” Ms Bennett said.
“There is reluctance to take on something that’s different and risk it going out of date before it sells,” she said.
With this in mind, TasFoods has invested in market stalls, open days and opportunities where new food products can be put in front of an eager audience.
“We’re fortunate in Tasmania because we get more support from people buying local food. Tasmania is known for cooperation and how food producers work together,” Ms Bennett said.