Research, Innovation Investments Advance Food and Beverage Processing

Dave Shambrock, Jim Carr and Larry McIntosh.

Funding for a new Canadian Food Innovators Network announced last summer marks the latest step in efforts to boost collaboration, innovation and commercialization in Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing sector.

The network, funded through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada through its Strategic Innovation Fund, will be delivered by the Winnipeg-based Canadian Food Innovators – Innovateurs Canadiens en alimentation (CFI-ICA).

In 2018, the Agri-Food Economic Strategy Table Report identified the need for the creation of a Canada Agri-Food Innovation Centre to meet consumers’ evolving desire for innovative products and to advance industry development, demonstration and adoption.

And in 2017, CFI-ICA undertook an extensive cross-country consultation with food and beverage manufacturing sector stakeholders about needs and opportunities in the sector. Overwhelmingly, participants identified the need for a national food and beverage manufacturing innovation network that can provide resources, connections to innovation experts and research centres, and support for activities often not covered through existing innovation and commercialization infrastructure and programming.

“This new network is a direct response to that need; it’s one of the tools our sector needs to help Canada meet its global agri-food export goals and allow our food and beverage processing businesses to grow and prosper,” says CFI-ICA Executive Director Dave Shambrock.

“Agriculture and food has been identified as one of the biggest drivers of growth for the Canadian economy and this funding is an important part of helping food and beverage manufacturers in Western Canada and across the country respond to growing demands around the world for new and innovative food products and technologies,” he adds.

Canada’s food processing sector came together in 2013 to found CFI-ICA as a way to access both innovation funding and become more connected with the available capacity and resources at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research centres and Canadian universities and food technology centres.

CFI-ICA then successfully delivered the first-ever Canadian food processing research cluster, which was funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and wrapped up in March 2018. That success was one of the reasons the organization is now delivering the second food processing research cluster that will run through until 2023.

Nine projects from across Canada were part of the first cluster, addressing themes of quality enhancement, value-adding, food safety and advancing health and wellness.

InfraReady Products (1998) Ltd., of Saskatoon, for example, led a project to identify the quantity and quality of anthocyanins – antioxidants that can help fight common ailments like inflammation, diabetes and cancer – found in new food products made with purple wheat varieties. The company is a specialty processor of cereals, pulses and oilseeds that specializes in flaking, milling, granulating, sprouting and custom-blending grains for food manufacturers in Canada and abroad.

University of Alberta’s Dr. Thava Vasanthan teamed up with an Alberta company on development of a cost-effective processing technology for production of a dry, concentrated form of beta glucan for use in food processing applications. Beta glucan is found in the cell wall of barley and oats and has approved health claims for heart health in Canada, the U.S., and Europe.

The current research cluster, which was announced by federal minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau last summer, includes 10 activities focused on themes ranging from food safety and clean label interventions to new functionalities, health benefits and applications for oat, wheat and barley crops.

Manitoba, for example, is home to a project involving Richardson Milling Ltd. and the Manitoba Food Development Centre. They are working with Dr. Rotimi Aluko from the University of Manitoba to develop a process for producing high protein oat powders and products that could be scaled up commercially and used in development of new food products.

Work is currently underway between CFI-ICA and the federal government to finalize the establishment of the new Canadian Food Innovators’ Network. Information will be made available at canadianfoodinnovators.ca as it becomes available.

“The potential and the demand provide unprecedented opportunities – it’s an exciting time to be in the agri-food sector and in food and beverage processing in particular,” says Shambrock.