Fuelling dairy cows on high-end rations created from food waste has put Auckland's EcoStock in the running for a million-dollar business prize.
EcoStock is one of five finalists in the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge who will find out if their pitch for growth funding has hit the mark in the Dragon's Den-style competition on Thursday.
EcoStock takes around 150 tonnes a day of food waste normally destined for the landfill and turns it into nutritionally balanced stock food to be fed alongside maize, silage, molasses and other supplementary feed.
Chief executive Andrew Fisher says it's the "unsexiest" business in New Zealand.
In the six years since he bought the business Fisher has increased the staff from two to 36, runs 13 trucks and picks up anything from vegetables to chocolate bars from 70 food companies.
Even the most efficient food producer will have up to a 5 per cent food waste rate, said Fisher. This included incorrect recipes, machinery malfunctions, damaged packaging or expired stock.
Food waste is then processed under the watchful eye of the Ministry for Primary Industries and two nutritionists into stock food for a select group of farmers.
Any spoiled products are composted.
"You look at a pallet of boxed products; traditionally that would have gone to landfill and may have cost the client $200 to take that pallet.
"We'll take that pallet, we'll probably buy it off them and the cardboard will be recycled, the plastic will be recycled, the wooden pallet will be recycled, the food inside it is recovered.
"You're probably looking at maybe 1 per cent goes to landfill, but then that is a big change in the whole dynamics."
Fisher said the Entrepreneurs' Challenge could help boost business growth on several fronts. Funding would be directed towards a flagship site for the company in Auckland that could be replicated around New Zealand and Australia.
He has offered up part of the site as a research facility for the University of Auckland to help speed up the commercialisation of science-and-engineering-based technology around food production, packaging and recycling.
"If we can bring some technologies through us, front the university to some of our food manufacturers, you're going to see a huge growth in some of our high value, value-added food exporting that New Zealand is all about."
Fisher is also keen to connect with New Zealand's business big hitters to get a behind-the-scenes look at how successful large enterprises function.