Ken Kirkpatrick is a stalwart of the New Zealand food (particularly dairy) industry and has a long and exceptional record of service in scientific, technical, marketing and managerial roles.
Ken was dux of Gore High School where he excelled in scientific, language and cultural subjects. He graduated from Canterbury University BE (Chem Eng) (Hons) in 1963 and, with the help of a NZ Dairy Research Institute (NZDRI) scholarship, completed his PhD in the electrochemistry of aluminium under the supervision of Prof Tom Hagyard.
Ken was one of a number of graduates employed in the 1960s by NZDRI as the NZ dairy industry tackled the challenge of the loss of its key market resulting from the entry of the United Kingdom into what is now the EU. One of the means of meeting this challenge was to dramatically increase the investment in research and development and associated capability.
Following his appointment in 1967 as a research officer, later Head, of the Whey Products Section of NZDRI, Ken was soon leading a team which developed the unit operation of ultrafiltration for the manufacture of whey protein concentrate, then known as Solac™. This was one of his many pioneering roles. Ken said of this project in his J C Andrews Address in 1995, “Undaunted by the fact that we were developing a new process for a new product in new markets, creating a new technology in fact, we pressed on. The level of personal commitment by industry decision makers in this high risk venture was bold, (indeed in retrospect almost breathtaking), even though those of us at the coal face sometimes felt it was too little and too slow in coming”. The fruits of that project are now worth over a $1b per year in exports from the NZ dairy industry.
In 1972 Ken was appointed to the new role of market development of NZ Milk Products, a US-based NZ Dairy Board (NZDB) subsidiary. Here he established a formidable reputation in promoting the development of food applications in the USA using NZ milk protein ingredients. He was a prolific writer of reports on the US food and nutrition scene as feedback to the NZ dairy production and research facilities. He contributed to the growth of significant new markets for tailored protein ingredients.
After five years in Chicago Ken established the quality assurance function of NZDB in Wellington and formed a section with relevant skills and expertise.
He became Technical Manager, NZDB, in 1979, responsible for the co-ordination of all technical functions, including the recruitment and mentoring of technical staff for deployment through out the NZDB network. This mentoring of new graduates into the industry was one of Ken’s enduring passions.
By 1982 Ken was General Manager of the NZDB Protein Division, responsible for all aspects of the procurement, supply and overall global strategy for casein products, with sales of approximately $400m in 1991.
At the same time he became the first Chief Executive of the Whey Products Corporation, a...