Exports play a major role in New Zealand's economy, largely because it is an island nation. Food and beverages exports are valued at NZ$15bn per annum - double the figure for 1990 and now accounting for half of all exports for the country. The new plan, kicked off today by economic development minister Trevor Mallard, aims to secure the sector's future in new and existing markets, taking existing expertise into new areas and ensuring it can remain competitive by being ahead of the innovation curve. The initiative comprises six projects, the most significant in terms of investment being $19m in additional funding for in-market assistance, to help food and drink companies develop new markets. There is also a focus on improving new product development to help test and develop innovative products, and the development of a Food and Beverage Research Roadmap. An audit and mentoring programme aims to increase the business capacity of exporters, and there is to be a focus on raising productivity and sustainability in pastoral industries. New Zealand's domestic industries are a strong base for innovation. For example, its dairy commodities industry is the basis for development of high value dairy products. The country has also found ways of tapping by-products core industries and natural resources to provide value-added ingredients, particularly for nutrition and functional foods. For instance, Keratec has build a business around extracting keratin for nutritional and cosmetic uses from sheep's wool - a by-product of the farming industry. The Grape Seed Extract Company derives its antioxidant ingredient from the marc (the left over parts of the fruit after the juice) generated by the New Zealand wine industry. Mallard also drew attention to the importance of partnerships. "What is… clear is the strong need for the private sector to think about partnering and collaboration - working with each other and also alongside government agencies and research institutions to help drive growth for food and beverage exports." New Zealand has nine government supported crown research institutes with which companies can partner over R&D. These include HortResearch (a specialist fruit science company and New Zealand's largest horticulture and food research organization), AgResearch, and Crop & Food Research. The new initiative is not the first time that New Zealand has focused attention on food and beverage exports. It builds on a report published last year by the 17-person strong Food and Beverage Taskforce called Smart Food, Cool Beverage. The taskforce aims to enabled continued growth for the sector at a rate of five per cent per year. Combined with a move towards higher-value products, it has identified significant opportunities from high-growth Asian markets.