New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra is to help pioneer a new system that aims to deliver fast, nutritious snacks, tailored to individuals' dietary needs and taste preferences, all at the touch of a button.

Hailed by Fonterra as the convenience food of the future, the new project, which will see Fonterra teaming up with researchers at Massey University's Riddet Centre, aims to pioneer a novel food delivery system called POSIFoods or "point-of-sale individualised foods".

The four-year project will combine advanced nutrition science, innovative food processing and formulation processes with state-of-the-art vending technology.

"While being able to dial up food in the way you want sounds the stuff of science fiction, this heralds the next era in food technology. Consumers will be able to receive a healthy, nutritious snack with a specified nutritional benefit and the convenience of instant vending," said Fonterra's director of marketing and innovation, Bob Major.

Foods would be formulated to meet common dietary and health needs, and to deliver a range of supplementary nutrients that could include vitamin C, minerals such as calcium and iron, antioxidants or omega-3.

"There is increasing consumer demand for foods that not only taste great, but are nutritious and actually improve health and well-being. This development will enable customers to choose a snack that meets particular health needs such as low fat for calorie management, low cholesterol for heart health, high calcium for osteoporosis, or low in sugars for diabetics," Major added.

Major claims POSIFoods has the potential to open up new markets and export opportunities for value-added, dairy-based consumer foods. The highly advanced technology will also provide longer-term commercial opportunities for Fonterra.

The four-year research project, funded by Fonterra and German chemical group BASF, aims to develop working prototypes to prove that the technology concept is feasible in commercial applications.