Imagine a time where one of the joys of life – food – is lost. Pure Food Co co-founder Sam Bridgewater has witnessed that scenario…and still finds it hard to swallow.
People with swallowing difficulties are a far bigger problem than most of us realise. Often arising as a result of cancer, dementia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, stroke, dental issues or facial injuries, swallowing difficulties have a significant impact on health and emotional wellbeing.
Those affected can range from car crash victims to rugby players to children but many are older people, and often more vulnerable. Bridgewater says research last year showed nearly 47 per cent of those admitted to aged care or hospital were malnourished, and another 43 per cent were at risk of malnutrition, often caused by swallowing difficulties.
"The reason we got into this business was we discovered people were not receiving the nutrition they needed; it was affecting their quality of life, their enjoyment of meals and, most importantly, their health."
That's how the Pure Food Co began. Its growth into an enterprise poised to enter export markets and help people is a classic tale of Kiwi ingenuity and collaboration – with Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development (ATEED) assisting that growth and realising export potential.
It began with Bridgewater's stepfather who developed cancer of the jaw. He needed nutritious food to help battle the disease but Bridgewater watched as his inability to eat conventional food and his dislike of soft food alternatives saw his spirit sag and body decline.
"That's how we got started. We wanted not only to relieve the pain point for the person suffering the eating disorder but also those around them – my mum was suffering trying to care for him."
Bridgewater and co-founder Maia Royal devised a clever solution, fortifying fresh foods with high strength natural nutrition.
Meals are produced with individual components (like meat and vegetables) rather than one mash of pureed food. The look and taste are consistent with the colour and flavour of a normal meal. Plastic moulds shape the food, known as Texture Modified Food (TMF) into recognisable shapes – so a lamb chop puree is served in a lamb chop shape.
"We wanted to make food full of fresh flavours but also wanted to ensure our customers are getting more nutrition with every serve – so all our food is fortified with natural protein and energy," says Bridgewater.
"Eating is one of the joys of life and, in some cultures, there is an almost spiritual component to meals and eating together. There is a really clear link between nutrition and mental and physical wellness and we determined to put together food for people that was not only nutritious but which we would also eat ourselves or give to our grandparents."
Pure Food now offers 30 recipes. The meals include hickory pork slow cooked in a barbecue sauce or a creamy broccoli in a béchamel sauce, a roast pumpkin with a hint of cinnamon, or a high-protein yellow lentil curry.
Early on, the company engaged with ATEED's business team, receiving a Getting Started Grant for research and development available via the Regional Business Partner (RBP) Network programme and partner Callaghan Innovation. Further support from ATEED helped The Pure Food Co obtain further funding for a bigger project.
The company tested its products at the state-of-the-art FoodBowl facility (supported by ATEED & Callaghan Innovation) located near Auckland airport. The founders have also benefitted from working with business development experts to build their capability.
They are now contemplating exporting to Australia and Asia, as the challenge of malnutrition is not unique to New Zealand as populations quickly age.
Pam Ford, ATEED's General Manager Economic Development, says the Pure Food Co really did their homework and has "a very compelling investment proposition".
"They took time to understand the support available through the RBP network, a government-funded programme for which ATEED is the Auckland partner. We are able to help businesses access funding and experts to stimulate business growth and innovation."
"The team facilitated Callaghan Innovation project and student fellowship grants and several RPB Capability Vouchers for sales training and export support during their work with The Pure Food Co.
"We also put the business forward for Callaghan Innovation project and student fellowship grants," she says, "plus RPB Capability Vouchers for sales training and export support, connecting The Pure Food Co to the right resources to speed up growth."
*ATEED's one-on-one involvement with businesses is designed to help understand issues stifling growth, such as shortage of skills, investment and business capability. Economic intelligence, data and market analysis are gathered to speed up Auckland's shift towards an economy more founded on advanced industries and tradeable sectors.
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