Preksha Shah, our Research & Development and Technical Manager, is responsible for the research and development of our products. This includes new product development, quality control and all food safety aspects of the business.
We caught up with Preksha recently at the building site of our world class Innovation Hub. This will be the new home for the team at Amazonia, Australia’s leading health and wellness brand, and it is here that some of their most exciting work will take place. We asked Preksha about her life, work and the role of sustainability in the development of products at Amazonia.
We can see from the tour of your new facility that many amazing things lie ahead for you. What do you feel is the most exciting part of your role?
I’ve been in this field for over 12 years now and have come from a quality control, quality assurance, new product development, research and development background. I enjoy all aspects of my role, however, my true passion lies with research and new product development – that unrelenting quest for the next industry breakthrough is something that really drives me.
Tell us more about Amazonia’s new product development process – we can see the world class design that’s gone into your new facility to enable you to innovate. What comes first in this process – the product or consumer demand?
I come from a nutritional and food background and I’m also a very health-conscious person. I love developing new products and looking for gaps in the market. I am constantly thinking about our consumers and striving to develop products that provide solutions to their problems.
What is your own personal approach to health and wellness, how do you incorporate self-care into your daily life?
Physical and mental health is a very important part of my overall health and wellbeing. I’m not doing heavy exercise or weightlifting in right now, but I try to make sure I walk at least 10,000-15,000 steps per day. Prioritising mental health is also very important to me, so I practise yoga with a sun salutation every day and I meditate on the weekends. This really helps me keep stress at bay and ensures I’m calm and focused throughout the week.
In terms of diet, I’m always mindful of what I eat. I try to have small portions, four to five times every day, rather than just having two meals and eating too much at one time. I ensure that each portion includes enough vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. I research where my ingredients come from and check if they are wholefood and organic.
It's so amazing to know that you live and breathe the values of the company – self-care, wellness and putting your health first. How do you put this into practice when looking after your own family?
I ensure that my husband also eats very healthy food. And when my parents visit once every six months, I convince them to also eat well, even though they may not always like it! I have started cheat days for them – but just one or two days a week, that’s all.
You mentioned your parents are from India, what part of India are you from and did you study there?
We are from the west part of India. I was taught how to live a healthy lifestyle by my grandparents from a young age, so it hasn’t been hard for me to prioritise both physical and mental fitness in my daily life.
I studied my bachelor’s degree in Delhi Science and Technology in India and then I went on to complete my Master of Food Science and Technology at the University of Queensland.
We know this is like trying to choose your favourite colour…but we’ll ask anyway. What’s your favourite Amazonia product?
My favourite Amazonia product is Raw Wholefood Extracts Vitamin C+. This is the product I was taking even before I started working here. I have been taking it for four years now. I also really love the Raw Protein Collagen Plus.
We briefly touched on new product development earlier. What’s the process from conception to the product being available on shelves ready for people to buy?
The new product development process generally involves coming up with an idea then discussing it with the team. Before we start any work, we do a lot of research. We research consumer trends, consumer eating habits, market gaps and market analysis just to find out how we can support them. And based on all the research data, we develop the product.
So, it's not waking up one morning and thinking ‘oh this could be cool'? There's a lot of thought and research that goes into everything that's developed.
Yes absolutely. Most importantly, we start the process with the research and there are many steps involved in that. We ensure our ingredients are sourced, grown and produced sustainably, organically, and ethically. This is just a snapshot, there are many things that take place during the first steps.
How long does it take from inception to delivery?
It depends which products we are developing and which market we’re targeting, whether it is purely for the Australian market, or if we’re also planning to launch it internationally.
The complexity of the ingredients, complexity of the supply chain and type of nutritional and health claims for each product are all heavily researched. Depending on the product category and product type, it generally takes within eight to twelve months from the idea to launching the product in the market.
Tell us more about the consumer testing that takes place in this initial research phase.
We interview consumers in the first phase of the research so we can understand why they're taking this product and what they consider when purchasing a product.
We then create the draft formulation and hire our external sensory panel from the consumer side. We then do a lot of tasting with consumers and collect feedback and suggestions from them. We review internally and then tweak the formulation based on the feedback we received from consumers.
What products are in production for the future, are you able to share any of your plans?
There are so many exciting upcoming new projects in the Amazonia R&D pipeline, however they are still under wraps and unfortunately, I’m unable to share right now. I can’t wait for the day that we can let our amazing customers know what we have been working on especially for them.
Where do you see the wellness industry going into the future and what do you foresee as the big trends emerging in this domain?
There is no doubt that the global health and wellness market is continuously increasing. As for the current vegan trend, I can see that vegan products and organic, clean products are the way of the future.
People want a clean product that has come from a natural food source and doesn’t include food additives. There’s also a good market for the weight loss category, muscle growth, digestion and immunity.
We have found that post-COVID, people are giving much more attention to their gut health and we’re working hard in this domain. Our research is at the forefront of these industry trends as we aim to be true innovators in this space
We are fascinated by the vegetarian diet that many people follow in India. Do you collaborate with your colleagues in India to produce some of the products that you’re working on at Amazonia?
In my state, over 80% of people are vegetarian. They always follow India’s historical vegetarian diet; however, we are now seeing that people want to change.
We have a great deal of collaboration in India with the research institutes and universities and they help to grow some different options of vegan products like pea protein, hemp protein and some other options.
When I was living in India over seven years ago, we relied heavily on lentils and peas and hemp was really at the forefront.
I was working in the ice cream industry at that time, and we had dairy products, but there was a huge demand for vegan ice cream. I worked hard to find alternative protein sources and supplementation that comes from vegan products and plant-based products.
There are a lot of options for traditional dairy products, however they have allergens in them. I’m always working out how to use ingredients which eliminate allergens yet provide maximum health benefits.
Do you see yourself in the products you are developing?
Absolutely! When I develop a product, I think like a consumer, and I merge this thought process with current industry trends.
I'm very passionate about changing my eating habits and making any modifications in my day-to-day life to put my health first. I’m always trying new things and researching what is currently available in the market in the vegan range.
Is gut health as essential to our daily lives as we're being told?
Yes, it is absolutely vital for optimal health and wellbeing. Immunity and gut health represent your overall health, so it's very important to take care of them.
Amazonia’s Raw Probiotics Biotic Ferment has both probiotic and prebiotic fibre in it to support digestion and overall gut health. We’re currently working on some exciting new products to expand our gut health range.
Is this one of the products you would recommend to help us all survive the cooler weather?
Yes absolutely – Biotic Ferment is essential in terms of supporting your immunity and gut health. If you combine this with the our Raw Wholefood Extracts Vitamin C+ that I mentioned earlier, it will certainly help protect you through the winter months.
How important is sustainability in your role?
We have a sustainable checklist in place when we source each ingredient and when we source our packaging materials. It’s wonderful that we have this quality control in place.
We really care about nourishing people, but while we’re doing this we're also thinking about how we can reduce the load on the environment.
Our goal is to get as close possible to a 100% sustainable production process over the coming months.
We’re so curious and excited about your new R&D facility. Can you give us a hint about any special ingredients that you will be using when you move in later this year?
We have conducted extensive research into consumer interest in herbs and spices post COVID. People are really interested in the anti-inflammatory and anti-microbiological effect of these herbs and spices. We’re fascinated by this and are investigating further – watch this space!