Over the past few months, I have been watching with interest, some of the hysterical headlines forecasting the imminent demise of New Zealand’s agricultural sector. Beef patties and dairy herds are apparently going to be replaced by burgers made from plants and ‘milk’ made from a lab-induced combination of casein and whey.

I totally get the case for the development of a synthetic meat and dairy sector. And that’s what it is. A sector. It provides an opportunity for consumers who are vegan, vegetarian or lactose intolerant to taste something like the real thing. As a consumer segment, the potential $ numbers are significant. I would personally like to see more research and development being conducted in New Zealand around the synthetic opportunity.

And more research is needed. I ate the Impossible Burger in the photograph above during the recent Silicon Valley AgTech Immersion Program. I gave it an 8 out of 10. However, compared to one of Jacqui’s homemade beef patties, the Impossible Burger still has a way to go. I’ve yet to try out the claims of Perfect Day with their ‘cow-free’ milk. Production is not expected until later this year. For now, the recipe is still being developed in the company’s Berkeley-based laboratory.

In New Zealand, we have developed a reputation for producing premium meat and dairy. Our main challenge is to ensure we move away from a commodity-based pricing model to one that targets the world’s richest consumers. There is nothing elitist about that. The French, Dutch and Italians have been doing this for years. By focusing on the high value end of the market, generating more $’s from each litre of milk or kilo of beef produced will have far more impact on our industry.

And a final word on the synthetic space. It’s incredibly important that people know just how developed it is. Perfect Day, perhaps the best promoted player in the synthetic milk space, employs less than 20 people. I have exchanged emails with co-founder, Ryan Pandya, before. I am keen for Ryan to travel to New Zealand to talk more about the Perfect Day story. It’s a story that New Zealand dairy needs to hear and a consumer segment we need to better understand.

In early 2016, the company raised approximately US$ 4M. It’s looking for more. Its major investor is Hong Kong-based, Horizon Ventures. Interestingly, they also invested into Impossible Foods and that other well-known synthetic food player, Hampton Creek. To develop scale of production however, Perfect Day will require significant more investment. Question. Does this provide the New Zealand dairy industry with an opportunity to take a stake in the emerging synthetic milk sector? Just asking.

Thinking outside the box and embracing potentially disruptive technologies might just be the way to go.