Category Archives: Business & Commercialization Solutions

Expanding the marketplace for ‘superfoods’ company

Due to its diverse ecosystem, Peru is home to myriad foods that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Typically, these powerhouse foods – now commonly called ‘superfoods’ for their nutrient-rich properties – are freeze-dried and ground into a powder as to not dilute their health benefits.

In expanding its own line of healthy products, which combines Peruvian superfoods with local Canadian-grown ingredients, Miski Organics needed marketing assistance to position it in the larger consumer goods marketplace.

“As our company is still quite small and we don’t have a marketing team in-house, we needed advice in the marketing aspect,” says Miski president Ricardo Irivarren.

Miski Organics, a family-owned Burlington, Ont. company, was interested in adding to its superfoods product line with products like a cookie mix, a pancake mix, a smoothie mix and a sacha inchi butter, all using foods from their Peruvian sources.

The Business & Commercialization team at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division was asked to look at competitors in the superfoods industry, provide recommendations on branding, and to compile a list of distributors on the West coast.

“This was particularly difficult as superfood ingredients are still not mainstream, and most consumers are typically familiar with just chia or quinoa,” says Andrea Lopez, research assistant with the Business & Commercialization team and a student with NC’s Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program.

However, thanks to her South American roots, Lopez was able to do specialized research in Spanish to discover companies that were making creative food products with Peruvian superfoods.

The Peru link has been the backbone of the company, says Irivarren, whose wife Mariella and her sister, Lia (both Peru natives) founded the company in 2015. Lia, who still lives in Peru, deals with farmers and producers at her end, and Mariella and Ricardo take care of packaging and selling in Canada.

“Having a presence in both countries has been a key factor,” says Irivarren.

The company is dedicated to the import and distribution of premium organic superfoods, with its product line of Andean grains and seeds, raw dried superfoods and raw cacao derivatives, both in bulk and packaged for retail.

“Our clients include health and wellness consumers, retailers, distributors, and food and beverage companies in Canada and the U.S.A.,” notes Irivarren.

While the company has recently worked with the research team at R&I’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre in developing more products to add to their line, they were also in search of expertise in both adding to their distribution, especially in Western Canada, and where to focus their marketing efforts.

“The report we received from Niagara College has been very useful and has given us a better picture of what we need to do and where we need to focus.”

In her research and analysis, Lopez developed a list of competitors who currently sell superfood products similar to those that Miski Organics intends to bring to the market. She also gave recommendations on branding and promotional strategies.

“This was my first project where I learned the importance of using influencers on social media to promote a company’s brand, and I found this very interesting,” she says.

It was all extremely valuable information for Miski Organics, says Irivarren.

“The report we received from Niagara College has been very useful and has given us a better picture of what we need to do and where we need to focus,” he says. “The staff is very knowledgeable and professional, and it’s been a pleasure working with the team.”

He says his team is currently in the process of preparing the strategy for implementation of the recommendations.

More recently, the company was granted a licence under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “We are proud to say that we are now ready to commercialize all across Canada and abroad,” notes Irivarren.

Miski Organics’ wide variety of superfood products are imported from the ecologically-diverse Peru, where foods are sustainably cultivated by local farmers.

Miski Organics currently has a network of mainly health food stores in the Burlington and GTA area, through Amazon.ca, Penguin Fresh and AllGoodShop. They also garner good sales online from their own website.

“We currently work with a well-established distributor, but it’s been a challenge for us to connect with larger distributors, so we’re working with a broker to introduce us,” adds Irivarren. “It  is our intention to expand operations across Canada and beyond.”

This project was carried out with funding support through the National Research Council’s (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

As for the name of the company, Miski means “sweet” or “honey” in Quechua, one of the official languages in Peru, which was spoken by the Incas and is still used by many people in the Andean regions of Peru, explains Irivarren.

“Our goal is to develop new value-added products that become healthier alternatives to conventional products that will offer a gluten-free, vegan, sulphite-free, allergen-free options,” adds Irivarren. “We will be introducing some new products soon, so stay tuned.”

This is just one example of commercialization strategies provided by the Business & Commercialization team, which offers a full suite of comprehensive solutions. To read more about the expertise available, visit the website.

Andrea Lopez: Branding her own story

While she has acquired education in business commerce, architecture and transportation engineering, Andrea Lopez has a newfound passion for marketing. More specifically, it’s the science of persuasion and influencing consumer behaviour that has her fascinated.

Understanding how the psychology of human decision-making and marketing coincide is now guiding her career path going forward. This after working since spring as a research assistant with the Business & Commercialization area of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division, during her studies in the Honours Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce and Global Development) program.

“Marketing brings out my creative side. I definitely find it interesting seeing how people behave in their purchasing decisions.”

Lopez arrived at Niagara College with two diplomas from Mohawk College under her belt: Architectural Technician and Transportation Engineering Technology (she graduated both in 2012.)

At one point, she thought about becoming an architect because of a long-standing enchantment with historical buildings. “I’ve always loved architecture and buildings since I was young,” says the 32-year-old. “And because I also love history, I’ve always been interested in historic buildings.”

Finding it difficult to obtain a suitable job in her field, she made a choice to look more globally and enrolled in NC’s Business Administration program. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking home (her parents are from Central America), she also wanted to put her language skills to broader use.

“I really liked the fact that I could work anywhere around the world.”

In the meantime, and as she enters her fourth and final school year, Lopez is soaking in all the real-world experience she’s receiving in the R&I division: Working on projects with hard deadlines, interacting with industry partners and focusing on the fundamentals of marketing.

Her first applied research project when joining the division involved compiling extensive market research for Theo’s Eatery, an Italian and Greek-style casual dining restaurant in Orillia, Ontario. The family-owned restaurant was selling its popular house salad dressing to patrons, but looked to the experts at R&I to determine the viability of commercializing the product.

Lopez researched current consumer food trends, buying habits, social media activity, and conducted a competitive analysis. She and her team then identified potential consumer markets and researched distribution channels. She provided recommendations to the industry partner for promotional efforts and developed a sales kit for the restaurant.

“It was interesting because I had to come up with ideas for their branding story, as well as creative packaging,” says Lopez. “There was so much more back-end information that you’d never think of, and I had to learn all that first, in order to compile the information for the client.”

“Marketing brings out my creative side. I definitely find it interesting seeing how people behave in their purchasing decisions.”

She was also instrumental in developing market research for Ostrich Land Ontario, a Niagara-based company seeking to commercialize the sale of its ostrich oil in the beauty market. Through extensive research, Lopez helped identify the current market conditions of these industries and developed a list of wellness and skin trends. She also created promotional outreach ideas for the industry partner to use.

Lopez continues to work on varied marketing-related and consumer research projects for several companies as part of the Business & Commercialization team.

But it has been this deep dive into marketing and the psychology of buying habits that have her looking to take a more specialized approach to her business career. Once she graduates this spring, Lopez says she plans to look for a position in marketing in the Toronto area. She also has her sights set on obtaining a Master’s degree in Marketing, down the road.

“Being involved with Research & Innovation has opened up my mind to having a greater role in marketing.”

She also credits her experiences with R&I to improving a number of skills she says she needed to cultivate.

“I’ve been able to strengthen my writing and also I’m better at public speaking; I’m a little more relaxed now after interacting with the clients,” she says. “I have learned many new things and skills I obviously will use once I graduate.”

For now, and in her spare time, she unwinds at home in Hamilton by watching Netflix, working out and spending time with her dog, a terrier mix named Maya. She’s also adding to her bucket list of things she wants to accomplish and places she wants to travel; that love of architecture remains.

“I definitely want to visit Italy and the beautiful cathedrals and historic buildings there.”

 

To learn more about the work of the Business & Commercialization Solutions division, visit the web page.

Connecting more farmers to vital field data

The AETIC team is connecting SoilOptix data outputs via Application Programming Interfaces (API) to other popular agricultural software platforms, such as Climate FieldView and John Deere Operations Centre.

Collaborating with agriculture technology innovators SoilOptix, researchers at Niagara College’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) are providing key application programming expertise that will help farmers better access critical information about their soil so they can optimize their harvest yields.

SoilOptix has become a leader in digital soil mapping, a recent technology that offers accurate soil profiling maps to growers so they can understand and utilize their land more efficiently. The Tavistock, Ont. company uses a combination of non-contact geological sensors and strategic physical soil samples and then runs this measurement data through proprietary algorithms to provide farmers with detailed levels of soil properties, such as: information on nutrients like pH, potassium, calcium, clay and sand content, plant available water, and more.

“It is the equivalent of an MRI for your soil, used to capture a deeper understanding of the variability in the fertility and textural-based properties of the soil,” says Ryan Eyre, Data Team Lead for SoilOptix.

The manual processing of the spatial soil information into these high-definition maps was formerly a major undertaking that proved time consuming. The AETIC research team was initially brought on board to transform the sluggish system into a new interactive and innovative web software pipeline with an improved streamlined system.

“The new data processing system developed by Niagara College has reduced processing times on fields by approximately 50% while reducing the analyst learning curve significantly.”

 – Ryan Eyre, Data Team Lead, SoilOptix

“The new data processing system developed by Niagara College has reduced processing times on fields by approximately 50% while reducing the analyst learning curve significantly,” says Eyre.

During the second phase, the AETIC research team has focused on the accessibility of the data to the farmers and consultants. This includes data visualization and data export/transfer to the end user’s platform of choice by creating a service provider portal and customer portal as the first access point for clients.

“They can visualize their data from this portal and then choose how they would like to export/move their data,” Eyre explains. “The platform provides export options to CSV or shapefile (common spatial data format).”

The AETIC team is currently involved with connecting SoilOptix data outputs via Application Programming Interfaces (API) to other agricultural software platforms.

An API is a way for applications to share data and functionality with each other. In the case of SoilOptix, APIs are used to connect SoilOptix data with various web platforms that growers use to store and manipulate their field data, such as amendment application subscriptions.

These web platforms include popular agriculture software such as Climate FieldView and John Deere Operations Centre. This will allow SoilOptix to further its business by providing such services to a significant market of clients working with farm data.

“I have been very pleased with the system Niagara College has developed for SoilOptix,” adds Eyre. “They have implemented a powerful tool to streamline SoilOptix’s data processing into a unified application, saving time and increasing production capacity.”

This project was possible with funding from Ontario’s Centres of Excellence (OCE) through their College Strategic Sector/Cluster/Technology Platform Program (CSSCTP).

For more information about AETIC projects click HERE.

JOB OPPORTUNITY: Marketing Research Assistant position available with our Research & Innovation team

Marketing Research Assistant

The Marketing Research Assistant will work on a number of applied research projects assisting small and medium sized businesses to solve real-world problems relating to operations management, sales, and marketing. The successful candidate will work individually and as part of a team to complete project deliverables. Some duties and responsibilities include development of marketing strategies, including advertising campaigns, content marketing and product positioning.

Click HERE to see the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Friday, October 18th, 2019 at 12pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter and class schedule to researchjobs@niagaracollege.ca and reference job posting ‘BC2019-01’ in the subject line.

We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

Providing market research expertise

When your house salad dressing is so popular that restaurant patrons ask to buy a bottle, you just may have a hit on your hands. And for one family-owned restaurant, they recently looked to the experts at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation to find out if they had a winner.  

Theo’s Eatery, an Italian and Greek-style casual dining restaurant in Orillia, Ont., wanted to discover if their crowd-pleasing Greek and Caesar dressings had the potential for commercialization.

“Our salads became very popular over the years in the restaurant to the point where customers were asking to buy the dressings, so we began to sell them over the counter,” says owner John Tselikis, who, along with his father, started Theo’s 26 years ago.

The family recipes for these distinctive dressings have been passed down three generations, he says.

“The reason the Caesar dressing is so unique is because of its flavour profile and its colour. Even though it has a mayo base like many other Caesar dressings, it has many more ingredients. The Greek dressing has a zing that is very authentic and home-made in flavour.”

Being in the restaurant business for more than 40 years, Tselikis knew that prior to launching the product to a broader market, he needed to conduct market research in order to assess the viability of the endeavour. However, he did not have the in-house resources for an extensive study.

“The professional and in-depth research the team provided us boosted our confidence to proceed with our venture.”  –  John Tselikis, owner, Theo’s Eatery

“Even though we know our products are successful at the local level, we retained the services of Niagara College to give us insight on the current market trends in order to determine if our venture had the potential of being viable, and if so, to help us establish a marketing strategy,” he explains.

The Research & Innovation team, consisting of students and staff, went to work on a market research feasibility study in order to understand the market and determine whether commercializing the dressing was a good move, says Paula Reile, Project Manager for the Business & Commercialization area.

“The team researched current consumer food trends, buying habits, social media activity, and conducted a competitive analysis,” explains Reile. “We then identified potential consumer markets and researched potential distributions channels for the two salad dressings.”

The group also provided recommendations for branding and promotional efforts and developed a sales kit to be used for business-to-business or business-to-consumer meetings.

“Working with the research team was an outstanding experience,” says Tselikis. “From the beginning, we felt the team had the ability to provide us with the expertise we needed to pursue our endeavour. The professional and in-depth research the team provided us boosted our confidence to proceed with our venture.”

The project was funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) through its College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.  

But the relationship with Niagara College hasn’t ended there. Theo’s Eatery is now working with R&I’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre on a food science project. The process involves a food safety assessment; product scale-up (formula optimization and recommendations); identification of potential co-packers; packaging and shelf-life recommendations; and regulatory/labeling claims.

“We look forward to having a lasting business relationship with the College,” adds Tselikis.

Where are they now?: Gwen Kitiwano

 

Gwen Kitiwano graduated from the Bachelor of Administration (BBA), International Commerce & Global Development program in 2017. She spent two years working on Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team, first as a Research Associate and then as Research Assistant. Since July 2018, Gwen has served as a Junior Analyst for the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Tell us a little about where you work:

The Translation Bureau is a federal institution within the Public Services and Procurement Canada portfolio. It supports the Government of Canada in its efforts to serve and communicate with Canadians in both official languages.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

In my role as a Junior Analyst, I work on various files doing many different things. Some examples would be, conducting research on international governments, assist in writing reports, prepare presentations, support strategic planning initiatives among other responsibilities. It is my first position in the Canadian Federal Public Service, so I am still taking it day-by-day and learning a lot as I move forward.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

My experience at R&I has helped me tremendously to prepare for my current role. It has helped me refine my research and presentation skills. I have accepted that presentations will never come quite naturally to me, as it does for other people. It will constantly be something that I will seek to improve, however the feedback and positive encouragement from my colleagues during my time at R&I have really helped me in improving those skills.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

One of my most memorable projects that I was involved in with R&I was working a marketing plan for Planet Bean, a local coffee roasting company. Working on creating a survey, gathering and analyzing the primary data really taught me how meaningful data can be and the impact it can have of important decisions.

Many of the projects that I worked on were in collaboration with small local businesses. Although I was technically “working” for them, it truly never felt that way. I was always so happy to help them because we see first hand the heart and hard work that goes behind these small businesses. I genuinely wanted to see them all succeed and even if my research had a minuscule contribution to that, that was enough for me. My experience at R&I increased (even more so than I had before) the respect that I have for small local business owners. It takes a lot of heart, patience, and perseverance to do what these people do and I really commend them for it. All of this to say: Support your local small businesses whenever you can!

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

This answer might be a surprise to those who know me well. My friends and family know that I am a very organized person and (for the most part) am a huge planner. But the truth is, after high school, I had nothing planned. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was 17 and fresh out of high school and decided to go with the first thing that I thought made sense – I enrolled in the Computer Programming program at Niagara College. I learned very quickly during my first semester that playing video games and making them were two completely different things. I took some time off to really think about what I wanted to do and to put it simply, I knew two things were certain: I did not want to move, and I loved to travel. Fast forward and I applied for Niagara College’s Bachelor of Business Administration International Commerce & Global Development (aka ICOM) program. I got accepted that same summer and started in the fall and the rest is history!

“I was always so happy to help them because we see first hand the heart and hard work that goes behind these small businesses.”

Most memorable experience at NC?

My most memorable experience at Niagara College honestly is my time at R&I. I had a job that didn’t feel like a job and those are the absolute best.

A faculty member who influenced you?

There were many faculty members who influenced me during my time at Niagara College and R&I. During my time as a student, Professor Dawit Eshetu and Navjote Khara had a huge influence on how to improve my work. Most importantly, they always made time to sit down with students to provide us with the time and advice that we needed for either the class or just life in general. I learned a lot through the many conversations that I had in their offices and will value the advice and knowledge that they shared.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Be open to all opportunities, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your professors/mentors, and put in the effort – it shows, and people notice.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I’ve learned that, first and foremost, how important it is to take care of yourself. Work hard, but take care of yourself harder (yes, I just made that up). If you take care of yourself, not only will you be a better employee, but also a better friend, sister, partner, etc. It makes all the difference in the world and only positive things will come from it!

Proudest achievement since graduating?

My proudest achievement since graduating is finally getting winter tires.

Interests outside of work?

Outside of work, I very much enjoy travelling whenever I get the chance, going to the drive-in and trying out local foods with my friends and family. Also, I like to sneak in a few hours of World of Warcraft here and there!

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

“Don’t forget to breathe.”

  


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Innovation in Action

Through applied research activities, Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is preparing the workforce with the right know–how by providing an array of researcher expertise, supported by leading-edge facilities, technology and equipment. See how graduates and R&I alumni are applying their skills and knowledge in the real world.