Innovation in Canada’s food industry is a reality, but we could be doing more
I think most people realize that innovation and competitiveness are closely linked. So are we innovative? Well, most studies that have been done globally would say we’re not. I’ve seen studies that rank us in the mid-teens as far as innovation in the agri-food sector. But hold on, maybe we aren’t delivering what we could be, but don’t we have the resources to deliver more? I would definitely say we do. A recent consulting project I’ve been working on is trying to highlight the innovations that are coming from the Canadian research and development resources in the food sector and bring them to the attention of food companies that are in need of those innovations.
There are many small to medium-size companies in Canada focused on the ingredient and processing technology sectors in particular. There are many creative new processing technologies that I could point to, and the variety of new ingredient technologies, especially focused on nutritional improvements and generally creating healthier foods that may help to offset the rising cost of health care as we boomers hit the “mature years.” Generally, these are companies focused on innovation and whose business is dependent on being innovative and selling its innovation, but we don’t hear about them like we should because they are SMEs and don’t have the dollars to market in a highly observable way.
Then go back up the “Innovation Value Chain” to the basic researchers in universities and research institutes. What comes to mind as far as universities? Well, and I can’t list them all, but in my mind I immediately think of schools like the University of Guelph, McMaster, the University of Waterloo’s Agri-Food for Healthy Aging, the University of Ottawa’s Health Sciences, Laval’s Institute for Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods, and the University of Manitoba’s Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, to name just a few (and apologies to the many others I haven’t mentioned).
And then there are all the technology centres created to assist in the application and commercialization of the basic research done at the universities (and some of the universities basically do that as well). There are organizations like the Guelph Food Technology Centre, POS BioSciences, and the Canadian International Grains Institute. There are also several focused on the marine sector such as the Marine Institute at Memorial University and the Canadian Institute of Fisheries Technology at Dalhousie, to name two. FOODTECH Canada is a formal network of 12 commercialization centres across Canada with the focus on facilitating the interaction of those centres in the area of innovation in the food sector.
There are several other organizations that focus on bringing together and sharing the knowledge on innovation in the sector, including the Advanced Food and Materials Network, the Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre in Guelph, Ont., and Ag-West Bio in Saskatoon, Sask. And I know I’ve missed others.
Some of the sector associations such as Pulse Canada and the Flax Council of Canada, to name just two, are also major contributors to building their sectors through innovation and the marketing of it.
So, in my mind, innovation is a reality in the Canadian food sector. Now if we just had a Canadian food strategy with innovation as one of the key strategies, and the will to collaborate and co-ordinate these resources and build our sector on them, could we be globally recognized as one of the most innovative food sectors in the world? There is no doubt of that in my mind. Come on team, let’s do it!
Gary Fread is president of Fread & Associates Ltd., consultants to the food industry. He has spent 25 years in management positions in the food processing industry, with a background in sales, logistics, purchasing and technical areas. He has worked with Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup and Morrison Lamothe, and is the past president and CEO of the Guelph Food Technology Centre. He is active in many food industry associations and organizations, serving on the boards of several. Contact him at [email protected]