A few years ago, could we ever have imagined consumers would be reshaping the food industry as much as they are today?

The future of food and drink is changing faster than it ever has before.

People are far more aware of their health and wellness as well as having a growing awareness of their eco-responsibility.

They want their food to be responsibly-packaged, yet they still want easily accessible and convenient foods.

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Consumers want to know the real story behind their food. They want to know where their food and drink came from, and with this change, Hawke's Bay has exciting opportunities ahead.

I had the pleasure of attending the Future Foods Conference held in Hawke's Bay for local and national food and beverage innovators and entrepreneurs.

This was an absolutely fantastic event organised by Business Hawke's Bay. It was a chance for Hawke's Bay and New Zealand producers to hear more about alternative food sources and understand what the shape of the global food industry might look like in the future.

The likes of cricket flour, no-meat mince, chicken-less chicken made from peas, hemp oil salad dressing and edible insects are closer to our supermarket and the world's supermarket shelves than you might have first thought!

Coming from a family of four generations of bakers who began Warren's Bakery in Havelock North in the 1800s, my ancestors would be astounded at where the food industry is heading. Hawke's Bay has an exciting opportunity to tap into this bourgeoning sector.

We have been growing great food innovators in Hastings for almost a century.

Heinz Watties began feeding the nation's families by making jams from wasting fruit in 1934. It's now a global food processor operating out of the heart of Hastings.

We have a robust primary produce and food sector that encourages research and development and creative ideas. We have developed new apple varieties, world-class sheep breeding genetic research and designed and manufactured automated-robotic technologies.

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Look at the innovation of Rockit Apples in Havelock North. Who would have thought we would be eating apples a third of the size of a normal apple to supply a growing number of consumers who want convenient healthy snacks.

Look at the innovation at Apple Press, now making delicious juices from the blending of different apple varieties. They are using unwanted apples, rejected by the appearance side of the industry but hugely valuable to juice consumers. Consumers can trace the juice they are drinking back to where that fruit was grown.

The changing needs of consumers worldwide means our ability to adapt and be innovative provides an endless string of opportunities to supply new foods to the global food market.

By bringing together like-minded organisations at events like the Future Foods Conference or under a Hawke's Bay Food Innovation Hub, we can share knowledge and create new food and beverage products that will bring overseas income into our region and with it jobs and community wellbeing.

We need to unlock this market potential to produce alternative food sources in Hawke's Bay that the world wants.

By understanding what food will look like in the future, our region is well positioned to lead the country in food innovation. We should stand on the shoulders of our innovative Hastings' forefathers.

From the foundations they have laid, we will continue to build on their great work.