Published: 19 SEP 2023

Alpha Group’s new Auckland fermentation plant is a state-of-the-art facility producing bioactive compounds for high-value export nutraceuticals.

Future-facing fermentation for Wiri

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Alpha Group has opened a 1500 sqm laboratory and fermentation facility in Wiri, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. The facility, which houses large-scale process equipment imported from China, will produce bioactive compounds via a newly patented fermentation process developed by Alpha Group in partnership with Callaghan Innovation.

Scientists will use the facility to cultivate the fungus Ganoderma lingzhi, a species native to East Asia, and extract the sought-after compounds from its mycelium (root-like structure). These compounds will be used in health supplements sold in the lucrative Chinese market.

This means that high yields of the extracts can now be produced in a fully enclosed laboratory system in under 10 days – a process that would normally take six months using wild-grown fungi.

What’s more, the new method provides a more consistent grade of bioactive ingredient, as required for use in health supplements, and paves the way for an entirely new local export industry built around the extraction of molecules for nutritional and wellness products.

Alpha Group Senior Business Advisor Mike Arand explains,

Ganoderma lingzhi cannot be grown in the wild in New Zealand and yet it is the main ingredient in many of our products. The new facility allows Alpha to produce the raw material in New Zealand without introducing the mushroom to the environment, with some supporting ingredients sourced through New Zealand suppliers.

Using this new patented technology in Aotearoa New Zealand will open the door to a multimillion-dollar export stream.


Professor Gao’s vision

Alpha’s patented technology has been developed over four years by Professor Yihuai Gao, Honorary Fellow at the Riddet Institute, Massey University, in partnership with scientists at Callaghan Innovation. Professor Gao is president of the New Zealand Institute of Natural Medicine Research, and is a world-renowned fungus scientist, medico-nutritionist and natural medicine scientist. His vision is to help people lead healthier lives by combining traditional Chinese medicine with Western science and bringing it into modern natural healthcare formats.

Professor Gao is also founder and chair of Alpha Group. Under his direction, Alpha researches and produces functional health products from plants, marine life, fruit and vegetables, and natural bio-resource raw materials, as well as fungi.

Professor Gao considers fermentation to be one of the most exciting areas in global food development. He says, "We now can rapidly grow food in a laboratory that has a uniform bioactivity level and nutritional profile and is not exposed to variation as a result of inclement weather conditions, soil or climate change. This technology will allow us to produce high-value functional food exports for the global market, expedite research and develop a wide range of other products derived from plants and mushrooms. These products could include plants or fungi that may be otherwise proscribed in New Zealand due to biosecurity barriers."


New Zealand’s clean green attraction

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New Zealand’s “clean green” image, strong regulatory system and reputation as a safe and trusted food producer, coupled with a growing international reputation for functional food and health supplements, made it an attractive location for Alpha Group’s production plant.

This, combined with the strategic support of Invest Auckland, has played a key role in getting the Wiri project off the ground. Says Arand,

Invest Auckland supported Alpha in its decision to invest in this plant in Auckland. The reality is that this plant could have been completed faster and cheaper in China, but Alpha’s preference is to make a New Zealand product.

Alpha draws on New Zealand’s wholesome image in its branding of a pure, pollution-free product. This ethos drives Alpha’s modern approach to production and is a central selling point in its highest-earning market: China’s large, growing middle class.


Targeting the middle class

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The market for Alpha Group’s supplements is worth tens of millions of dollars as China’s middle class ages and seeks natural health support for gut health, immune system, liver and kidney function, and other conditions.

There is particularly strong demand in this population sector for effective, high-tech, highly concentrated natural health products that contain no pollutants and cause no side effects.

Says Arand, "Sales of Alpha Group’s nutraceutical products have reached a significant scale in recent years, and the new fermentation technology is set to transform our business operations in that market."

In a strategic move designed to boost product sales of the Auckland-made product, Alpha Group flew in 270 salespeople from China to celebrate the official opening of the new laboratory and fermentation plant.

Our investment in bringing hundreds of salespeople to New Zealand to showcase both the new process and the local environment is designed to provide a long-term return for the brand and the country’s export earnings, Arand explains.

The group was one of the largest to arrive in the country, following the easing of travel restrictions from China and, as an added bonus, the group also boosted regional economies as they toured New Zealand during their stay. 


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