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Superfood Going Global

The New Zealand Superfood Going Global

Mighty Mussel Magic

Aroma is a Christchurch company turning green-lipped mussels – and other natural ingredients – into health supplements that are exported around the world.

Director Ben Winters says their mission has changed since the company was established in 1961, not long after his grandfather R.J Winters arrived in New Zealand from Rotterdam, Netherlands.

How has the company evolved since it was founded?

In Rotterdam, my grandfather had experience distilling oils for the perfume industry. Aroma started out producing flavourings and essences for the soft drink industry. That’s where the name came from.

In the last 30-40 years we've been focusing on manufacturing premium nutraceuticals – health foods for both humans and animals. We now sustainably grow and extract our natural ingredients and export in bulk to world-leading nutraceutical companies all over the world.

What’s so special about green-lipped mussel?

The species that we are harvesting (Perna canaliculus) are only found in New Zealand waters. Green-lipped mussels are known as a superfood. They basically contain every trace mineral, including proteins, omegas and lipids. We extract the mussel meat out of the shell, then freeze dry it – turning it into a powder form. It's a very concentrated form and makes a potent natural dietary supplement.

How do you extract the nutrients from the mussels – what’s the process there?

We have a few different processes, and the technology is constantly evolving, allowing us to unlock every trace of potential. We have what is known as a supercritical fluid extraction plant, which is used to extract mussel oil. Basically, we're using high pressure to saturate the mussel powder with carbon dioxide, and at certain temperatures the lipids will fall out of the powder. That gives us a nice bright orangey mussel oil which can be taken in very small doses as a potent joint supplement.

We also use a technology called flash drying – it’s a very high-speed process that can dry frozen mussel meat within five minutes. It goes in frozen and then comes out the other end as a dry powder.

Aroma is now also extracting nutrients from Dahlia flowers. What can you tell us about that?

A few years ago, we were approached by Otago University to commercialise and do some more research on a botanical extract that was from the Dahlia flower. We've cultivated a unique species that contains a lot of active compounds. It lowers blood glucose naturally, so will be aimed at people who have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

We're just getting our first orders out in 2024, which is exciting, and there's a lot of international interest.

So, research and development is a big part of your business?

R&D is critical to our future growth. Our connection with researchers at Otago University has opened up a whole new range of products. We can test individual compounds either from marine or botanic species and we can identify what could be the next cognitive health or anti-inflammatory compound.

How do you balance care for the environment with your business priorities?

Adhering to strict national environmental standards for marine aquaculture, is of utmost importance to us. We rely heavily on the health of the marine environment and are very conscious about being responsible environmental stewards.

What's the demand globally for this product?

We’re exporting to over 40 countries, and it’s constantly increasing. Our products go to the USA, Europe, Australia, Japan and South Korea. We are also seeing increasing demand from China and India, especially in the area of pet supplements.

What are the benefits to being a global business based in Christchurch?

We've got Banks Peninsula right on our doorstep, which has a chunk of our mussel farming operation, so it's very close to our factory. We can jump on a boat and within 30 minutes we’re pulling up mussels to show international clients. And then 10 minutes later, we're putting these beautiful mussels in a pot and eating straight from the sea. It doesn't get much better than that.

What's your advice to other businesses considering bringing themselves into Christchurch?

Christchurch is a growing business hub. There’s a strong business ecosystem here, and plenty of support from local government. There's also a lot of regeneration going on with beautiful new buildings going up. In terms of lifestyle, everything's so close – you’ve got ski fields within 90 minutes and beaches within 20 minutes. It's a very attractive place to be starting up.