Innovating across the oceans

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This article was first published on Exportertoday.co.nz

While the US-China trade war wages on, New Zealand products remain in hot demand in the Chinese consumer market. This is evidenced by social media influencer Viya’s efforts in New Zealand couple of week ago, where over $30million worth of New Zealand products were sold to Chinese consumers in just eight hours.

However, despite the mind-boggling figures that often arise when dealing with China, one wonders whether New Zealand companies really understand the opportunities available here.

New Zealand’s clean and green image amongst Chinese consumers has provided New Zealand companies with a significant advantage in the Chinese market, especially in relation to food and beverage products. However, as Chinese consumers become increasingly sophisticated – something which is happening at remarkable pace – it is becoming more important for New Zealand businesses to keep up with the demands of increasingly discerning consumers. This requires that New Zealand companies devise new high-quality products that are innovative, backed by science, and which stand out from the ordinary.

Fortunately, Kiwis are natural-born innovators. We have intellectual property which we can sell or license in this space – assuming we bother to take the steps necessary to own and control it. And so long as our brains keep working, innovative products should be a resource that will never run out.

However, while we may be clever, New Zealand innovators historically have been less than impressive at leveraging their innovation to generate profit from international markets. We currently rank only 65th out of 141 countries for ‘Knowledge diffusion’ on the Global Innovation Index.

Help is at hand. The capital investment coming out of China, and the access to the world’s fastest growing market which Chinese investors offer, provides a ready solution. While the Chinese Government is putting the brakes on the flow of outbound capital (especially for land investment), it still actively encourages Chinese business people to invest in innovation, technology and the food and beverage sectors – no matter where they are located.

The capital, know how and market access that Chinese investors and business people offer, is improving our poor commercialisation of innovation. This help comes from investment, but increasingly the solution to commercialisation is coming from New Zealand companies that can tap into the resources of Chinese business people who are making New Zealand their home.

Fortunately, Kiwis are natural-born innovators. We have intellectual property which we can sell or license in this space – assuming we bother to take the steps necessary to own and control it. And so long as our brains keep working, innovative products should be a resource that will never run out.

A case on point – Oceanfit Limited is a New Zealand company which is seizing the opportunities of kiwi resources and innovation on offer. Over the last two and a half years, relying on local innovation, Oceanfit has developed and promoted natural therapies which draw from New Zealand’s unique aquaculture and agriculture resources, backed by sound local market and scientific research and its ownership of the intellectual property which it developed.

Oceanfit’s first product line, a concentrated Greenshell Mussel extract-based nutritional food supplement, is ready to be launched in New Zealand next week through Unichem, with the view to expand via several channels into the Asia Pacific markets. The product range which blends traditional Maori natural therapies and traditional Chinese natural therapies, is uniquely of New Zealand, yet it is readily understood and appreciated by both Australasian and Asian consumers.

Ceri Wells, the founding Partner of New Zealand’s leading intellectual property law and commercialising firm – James & Wells – has advised Oceanfit on its various IP strategies from the outset of this project. The firm’s Asia Team and Food & Beverage Team have long been aware of the opportunities that can come from working together to marry innovative Kiwi companies with Chinese commercialisation skills.

According to Wells, “Oceanfit is a great example of what can happen when kiwi innovation meets global investment, business nous and market access”

Oceanfit is committed to continuing its collaborations with New Zealand universities and research institutes in order to advance R&D for further products that relate to sports and exercise health to provide better health solutions for New Zealand and the Asia Pacific markets alike. In order to deliver on this, it has signed strategic research co-operation agreements with both AUT and Massey.

Oceanfit’s innovative products have even piqued the interest of Olympic Gold Medalist Hamish Carter, who is a strong supporter of Oceanfit’s scientifically tested and proven natural products.

“Being a professional athlete, it is essential to look after your body during and after competition. It’s awesome to see an innovative New Zealand company like Oceanfit using science and research to unlock the secrets of the ocean to deliver unique health solutions with natural ingredients to provide joint health and fitness”.

It is important for New Zealand innovators to appreciate that there are great opportunities for local companies looking to commercialise Kiwi innovation and take it to the lucrative Asian markets.

Companies such as Oceanfit offer a model for the commercialisation of kiwi innovation and an open door to New Zealand innovators wanting to work with, or partner up with, local companies that know how to turn innovation into money.