Category Archives: Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre

Ravine’s Lowrey Bros. brand heading to national shelves

“Waste not, want not.” The popular proverb, dating back to the 1700s, is deeply engrained in any farming operation of today. And it’s a philosophy that has been passed down through five generations of working the land at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery in St. David’s. 

The idea of throwing away bruised or marked fruit seems heretical given the work and effort that goes into farming, says Ravine’s logistics manager John Keen. And while the winery converted from a fruit and vegetable farm to primarily grapes back in 2004, that ideology lives on.

“Using what has become known as ‘seconds’ in canning celebrates the effort that goes into farming outside of the growing season as well as providing a source of income year-round.” 

This business model of using seconds to grow the reinvention of their Lowrey Bros. canning label and take them from a local to a national brand, brought Ravine to Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre last year for expertise in helping them realize this goal. 

The Lowrey-Harber family started the Lowrey Bros. Canning Company in 1897 with an initial canning of peaches from the property and then extended to produce from its neighbouring farmers. When they relaunched the Lowrey Bros. label in 2014, one of the first items they produced came from peach seconds from a farm down the road.

“The fruit was being destroyed at a rate of 100 pounds a day, and from this, we produced our line of Honey Bourbon Peaches as well as our Lowrey Bros. Peach Cider,” says Keen.

Today, Ravine is home to an organic vineyard, a winery, a restaurant, a cidery and a retail grocery store, where they sell out of their popular line of Lowrey Bros. Gourmet Food Products. And while sales have tripled since relaunching, the ultimate goal is to be on store shelves across Canada.

In collaborating with Niagara College, and its award-winning Research & Innovation division, the objective was to develop innovative food products, using seconds that are safe, sustainable, scalable, profitable, and of course, delicious.

“Scaling up to national grocery levels and the standards surrounding health and safety were not something we were familiar with,” notes Keen. “The CFWI Innovation Centre has the knowledge, expertise and experience we were lacking and were enthusiastic about the partnership.” 

The extensive project involved an array of food science experts at the Centre conducting product ideation; product and process development; co-packing identification; product scale-up; packaging; and regulatory/labelling claims. 

The Centre’s research team first carried out an in-depth study of regional produce and their seasonal availability, and market analysis determined flavour and product prospects for a variety of SKUs. Ravine then selected four products for optimization and scale-up: two of their current products (blueberry barbecue sauce and asparagus relish) and two new products for development (a tomato ketchup and a pasta sauce).

“This gave us the opportunity to see development both from a scale-up of existing recipes and de novo generation of new product lines,” says Keen. 

“This initial foray into scaling up, working with larger co-packers and understanding the standards for health, safety and labelling have been an education and the College’s team have been remarkable in leading us through this process.”

Working with the CFWI Innovation Centre has allowed Ravine’s Lowrey Bros. brand to grow from selling products in their own store to selling them in third-party specialty retailers, adds Keen.

“We now plan on taking all we’ve learned and the associations we’ve built towards expanding our market reach to the big box grocery stores soon.”

Nathan Knapp-Blezius, a research associate with the CFWI Innovation Centre and graduate of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, worked on the Ravine Winery project, helping the research team with product development and scale-up, using fruit and vegetable seconds.

The outcomes of the project will incrementally increase revenues by approximately $8M in sales over a five-year period, says Keen, and provide year-round revenues to help ensure the viability of the farm for generations to come.

“Our partnership with Niagara College has produced tangible and meaningful improvements in our procedures and processes, which has translated into measurable growth for our business.”

For Nathan Knapp-Blezius, a research associate with the CFWI Innovation Centre and graduate of NC’s Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program, it was an opportunity to work alongside experts with a creative vision to help solve the real-world challenge of rampant food waste.

“So much edible product from local farms becomes lost income because of blemishes, and can even end up costing money just to dispose of wastage,” says Knapp-Blezius. “Not every project has such a noble intention at its core. That goal, to create an uncompromisingly delicious product while generating a local opportunity is something we’re proud to be part of.”

The team was able to take on this project thanks to funding through the Ontario Centres of Excellence Voucher for Innovation and Productivity (VIP) program and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) through its Engage grant program.

This is just one example of innovation from the College’s CFWI Innovation Centre, which offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. To read more about what the Centre offers, visit the website.

Sr. food scientist talks innovation at Summit

Niagara College’s Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, was a panellist at the 10th Annual Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit in Toronto.

Niagara College’s Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, senior food scientist with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the award-winning Research & Innovation division, was a guest speaker at the 10th Annual Food Regulatory & Quality Assurance Summit. The event was held in October in Toronto.

Vega-Lugo was an expert on the panel: Managing Regulatory and Business Driver to Improve Innovation and Competitiveness. Registrants of the panel learned how to identify and manage compliance drivers; maintain GFSI programs with limited resources; leverage consumer insights and trends to create value; resolve challenges in global food supply and distribution; and capitalize on emerging trends to improve core business goals.

The summit was a chance for experts and professionals from across North America to navigate the regulatory landscape; prepare for Canada’s biggest food regulations in 20+ years; adapt to compliance audits to avoid penalties and drive food industry innovation and benefit from growth opportunities.

Presentations from the FDA and Global Affairs Canada offered insight into the trade negotiations that are shaping the industry in both the United States and Canada.

Event goers were also able to meet with top government industry leaders to be prepared for how provincial and federal food regulations can impact businesses in areas such as food manufacturing, chain restaurants and wholesalers.

 

Where Are They Now?: Rachel Gerroir

Rachel Gerroir is a 2019 graduate of Niagara College’s Culinary Innovation & Food Technology program and spent two years with the Research & Innovation division, first as a Research Assistant, then Research Associate with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre. Rachel is now employed as a Research Assistant with the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University.

Tell us about where you work:
CCOVI is an internationally recognized institute focused on research priorities for Canada’s grape and wine industry, while also offering education and outreach programs for that community.

Describe your role and what you like about it:
My job involves working alongside researchers and graduate students on research projects aimed to help industry in various aspects of grape growing and winemaking. One of the projects I work on involves going to local vineyards to sample grapes and analyze the tannin concentration of the skins and seeds on a weekly basis until they are harvested.

The objective is to create a historical database of tannin development in many different varietals throughout the harvest season in Niagara’s wine region. This will facilitate best tannin management practices and informed decision-making throughout the winemaking process. I enjoy being able to go out into the field, and I’ve even had the chance to help with a harvest, which was a completely new experience for me!

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?
Research & Innovation was a fantastic learning environment and a great place to interact with clients and work on real products. I was able to see the challenges that small- and medium-sized businesses were facing and find the best solution for them. The hands-on lab experience and knowledge of various pieces of laboratory equipment have been most influential in preparing me for my current role. Working on many different projects simultaneously also helped me learn to organize and prioritize my time efficiently.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?
Sobrii non-alcoholic gin beverage was a product I worked on in my final year at Research & Innovation. It was great to be able to work on a product that’s the first of its kind in Canada and be able to try competitive products from all over the world. I learned how to manage a project from start to finish. This included sourcing ingredients, macerating botanicals and distilling, organizing tastings, and adjusting the product to meet client expectations. It all started with small lab-scale distillations and ended with running commercial scale-ups at the Niagara College Teaching Distillery.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?
The practical, hands-on approach to learning where you could take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to what you do in the science labs or kitchens. Coming from university, I also appreciated the smaller class sizes as they allowed you to dig deeper and ask more specific questions related to course material.

“The hands-on lab experience and knowledge of various pieces of laboratory equipment have been most important in preparing me for my current role.”

Most memorable experience at NC?
The culinary labs were some of my favourite courses because they brought food science into a practical environment while allowing you to use your creativity. Bringing home all the delicious food wasn’t so bad either!

A faculty member who influenced you?
Many members of faculty influenced me positively over the three years, especially Peter Rod, for sparking my interest in wine, and Dr. Amy Proulx for her ongoing encouragement and motivational support.

A mentor at R&I?
I learned something from many members of the research team, whether it be teachings through the product development process, how to use pieces of lab equipment, to how to manage expectations in the workplace. It was a great learning environment.

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?
Work hard and be open to projects of all sorts; there’s something to learn in every one of them.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?
To keep an open mind and be willing to participate in new experiences. If you have the opportunity to learn something new, always take it.

Proudest achievement since graduating?
Learning something new and building on my experience every day in a challenging and rewarding environment.

Interests outside of work?
Baking, hiking the beautiful trails of the Niagara region, visiting local wineries, and travelling.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?
It’s the will, not the skill.

Scientist turned brewmaster helps shape beer culture

Niagara College professor and notable brewmaster Adrian Popowycz is a true believer in the esprit de corps that binds the craft brewing industry. His is an enthusiasm for camaraderie he received at the beginning of his brewing career some 15 years ago.

Likewise, he has worked tirelessly to foster knowledge among the collaborative culture, with a strong regard for the quality of the brew in order to support the craft industry as a whole.

“All ships rise with the tide… while it’s cliché, it’s true,” says Popowycz. “If we don’t all try to make the best beers that we can, the wind can get taken out of the sails (and sales) really easily.”

As a scientist (he has a BSc in chemistry and a MSc in organic chemistry), the technical attributes central in producing a consistently quality product are his mastery. And it’s these standards of excellence that he imparts to his students in NC’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program.

“I always joke with the students that everyone can make a great beer once; to do it consistently is another thing.”

The multi-award-winning brewer was one of the College brewing program’s earliest champions, serving as the inaugural chair of the NC’s Professional Advisory Committee (PAC). He was also one of the first chairs of the Technical Committee for the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), an organization that represents more than 100 small, independent, and traditional brewers in the province.

While working as a brewmaster in the Ontario craft industry, Popowycz was instrumental in advocating for quality and technical issues prior to arriving at the College in 2017 when he accepted a faculty position.

He has also played an important role in increasing brewing quality as a research lead with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the award-winning Research & Innovation division at NC.

To this day, Popowycz remembers the taste of his first beer, some four decades ago. The crispness of the malts, subtle fruitiness of esters, bitter finish and a clean aftertaste that left him wanting another sip.

“I got to the point where I started to re-evaluate what I really wanted to do.”

Everything about the brew captivated both his scientific and creative sides. He just knew he wanted to be part of that world. But, alas, there was no path – or craft beer industry – to that world at the time. With a head for science and palate for hops, he experimented with home brewing.

Popowycz then followed a chemical science path, a career that would take him far from beer.

Meanwhile, during his years at the University of Montreal during the late 1980s and early ’90s, some great early microbreweries had hit the scene, he remembers. Yet he stayed committed to his path in chemistry and, ultimately, a lucrative and interesting career in the biotechnology field.

After graduating, and with a thesis in what he describes as “glow in the dark Mr. Bubble,” Popowycz ended up at the California headquarters of a billion-dollar pioneer biotechnology company. At the time, it was the world’s leading manufacturer of instruments used to analyze DNA, and even supplied a sequencing machine used by the Human Genome Project (the global project to map all the genes in the entire human DNA genome).

Armed with his chemistry training, he was delivering highly technical presentations to other scientists and prospective clients of the biotechnology instrumentation. He was even tapped to give a talk at Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to a group of rocket scientists who were looking at equipment from different instrumentation companies to help detect life on the planet Mars.

“It was all very humbling,” he recalls. “These are the same people talking on behalf of NASA on the Discovery Channel!.”

He rose rapidly through company ranks, in sales, busting quotas with record numbers.

Still, he moved to a few other small biotechnology companies, where he amassed experience with business development and management. All the while, Popowycz found himself immersed in the burgeoning beer scene in SoCal (Southern California).

“There was so much good craft beer going on, so I was enjoying some good beer, and visiting breweries,” he says, adding that the bug from his youth was pulling at him.

“I got to the point where I started to re-evaluate what I really wanted to do.”

And so, at 40 years old, he packed up and left the beach for Berlin, Germany and home to one of the world’s oldest and best beer schools. The renowned Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin (VLB), translated means “research and teaching institute for breweries,” was founded in 1883.

The school’s Technical University Berlin (TUB) offered an accelerated one-year certified brewmaster program, in English.

While he roomed in a frat house, Popowycz took his beer education very seriously. And it’s an experience there he describes as “the best year” of his life.

Albeit modest about graduating with the highest marks of any class at the time, he describes his fortune as having the opportunity to study under the renowned professor, the late Karl Wackerbauer, PhD.

 “He was one of those key people in brewing science and education,” he says. “I used to joke that he has probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know.”

Even now, Popowycz remains one of only a handful of VLB graduates in Ontario.

“We’re having an impact on brewing culture at the College. So we have to help shape that culture.”

It was also at VLB that he says shaped his principles surrounding the camaraderie that exists in the industry. Brewers will always help other brewers.

He took this maxim with him as he made a respected name for himself in Ontario’s craft beer industry. He arrived in 2004 to Toronto’s Black Oak Brewing as brewmaster and was involved in many beer “firsts.”

After a stint with Great Lakes Brewing, Popowycz served as brewmaster and director of operations for Cool Beer Brewing before heading to Niagara College.

While he’s also a coordinator of NC’s brewing program, Popowycz teaches many of the technical and management courses on the roster.

“It’s what’s fun for me in terms of bringing in a lot of that stuff you can’t learn from the books – the real-life experience that hopefully, you can transmit,” he says.

“We’re having an impact on brewing culture at the College. So we have to help shape that culture,” he says, adding that this culture of cohesion only makes sense because it helps the entire industry grow.

While he has worked in the relatively small industry of craft beer (with approximately 300 breweries in the province), Popowycz is quick to point out he is not biased towards a brewery’s size.

“It doesn’t matter what size you are; we’re brewers… I’m brewery focused,” he explains. “To me, it’s all brewing, whether large-scale or not. I’ve never looked at it differently.”

In his work with the Research & Innovation division, Popowycz brings his technical insight to each project. Last year he was able to consult on a large-scale project – managed by Kelly Byer, lab technologist at the CFWI Innovation Centre – that saw a review of 1,000 craft beers for quality and consistency for some 50 members of the OCB.

“It doesn’t matter what size you are; we’re brewers… I’m brewery focused,” he explains. “To me, it’s all brewing, whether large-scale or not. I’ve never looked at it differently.”

The analysis was presented by Byer at the OCB annual conference, in a report called “The Ontario Craft Beer Quality Review,” to serve as a model to the industry.

Given his role as chair of the OCB’s Technical Committee, Popowycz was able to act as an ambassador and liaison between the College and the brewers’ association.

As a cornerstone, he always stresses the significance of quality in the industry, especially as the industry, with advances in technology, continues to evolve.

“In some ways, it’s really different now than it was before, it was more cowboy at the time – Wild West,” he explains. “There’s still a lot of that creativity going around, but because it’s grown so much, the expectations – from consumers and even government – of quality and the importance of documentation and good manufacturing practices are even more critical.”

 “I like that these projects are practical…it’s not an ephemeral exercise,” he says. “I also like that the intellectual property flows back to the customer. That’s a big deal from having been from organizations that value IP… to me, it’s really important.”

The framework for the projects within Research & Innovation, he says, offers students valuable experience to understand these quality standards, while also working with real deadlines and dealing directly with industry partners.

 “I like that these projects are practical…it’s not an ephemeral exercise,” he says. “I also like that the intellectual property flows back to the customer. That’s a big deal from having been from organizations that value IP… to me, it’s really important.”

Currently, he’s putting his technical prowess to the test during an applied research project, managed by the CFWI Innovation Centre, to develop a gluten-free beer for an industry partner.

“There are very few gluten-free beers around, so it’s extremely exciting,” he says. “But it’s also a big challenge because fundamentally, a lot of your options for making this don’t work as well as barley.”

“It takes a particular mindset and inner peace to do research because things don’t work all the time. This type of perseverance pays off. It  teaches you a temperament and also what you’re capable of, and what your limits are.”

Barley, as a gluten source, adds to the palatable texture and mouthfeel, so it’s difficult to replace and has technical hurdles to overcome. “We’re trying to find a way to make something that tastes really nice, tastes like beer.

“There’s also scale-up, which provides further challenges,” he notes. “We’re making good headway on this, and I’m pretty excited.”

In working on these research-based projects, Popowycz also gets a certain type of satisfaction, separate from his role as a professor. And it’s a field for which he’s aptly suited.

“It takes a particular mindset and inner peace to do research because things don’t work all the time. This type of perseverance pays off,” he muses. “It teaches you a temperament and also what you’re capable of, and what your limits are.”

Given his journey thus far, it’s highly likely there’s not many limits ahead.

POSITION AVAILABLE: Research Assistant position available with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre team

Research Assistant, Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre

The Research Assistant will be enrolled in the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology or related food and beverage program. The successful candidate will work on a variety of projects and skill-building tasks. This includes assisting across various projects focusing on, but not limited to: new product development, product refinement and scale-up production, process improvement, shelf-life and packaging studies and more.

Click HERE to see the full job posting. To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, transcript and school schedule to researchjobs@niagaracollege.ca and reference posting ‘CFWI IC 01’ in the subject line.
The deadline to apply is Friday, December 6th, 2019.

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

Cannabis experts talk trends and challenges at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit

A panel of experts discuss the integration of cannabis into the food and drink space. Peter McCourt, PhD; Peter Crooks; Kimberley Stuck and Christopher Sayeh.

An expert panel brought insight into the challenges and innovations surrounding the integration of cannabis-infused edibles to the audience at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College on October 23.

The inaugural, one-day event was organized by the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the College’s Research & Innovation division and held at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus. Product developers and business owners in the food space and cannabis industry spent the day learning innovative concepts and forecasted trends from experts, in areas of flavours, colours, and packaging. 

The panel was moderated by keynote speaker Skyler Webb, Director of Product Development at Cannabistry, a professional research and development company based in Illinois, United States. With his background in chemistry and food science, Webb spoke about the complexities surrounding the cannabis edible space and shared science in developing effective cannabis delivery systems – a method for providing an active ingredient to the body – such as food and beverage, sprays, and tinctures.

Skyler was joined on stage by experts to discuss the integration of cannabis into the food and drink world, the trends, food safety, and regulatory challenges in the edibles industry. Panelists included: Peter McCourt, PhD, a plant molecular biologist and professor at the University of Toronto; Peter Crooks, a neuropharmacologist and Chief Product Innovation Officer for Dosecann Cannabis Solutions; Kimberley Stuck, a leading expert in cannabis food safety and Certified Quality Auditor; and Christopher Sayeh, founder of the popular Herbal Chef™, pioneered cannabis-infused fine dining. 

With the legalization of cannabis in October 2018, Peter McCourt formed an R&D company to develop technologies to improve the genetics of the cannabis plant to formulate specific compounds in certain concentrations and ratios.  

“We see this as a huge opportunity. We don’t think cannabis will be any different than any other crop; the research just has to be done systematically,” he said. “Let’s say we could breed out the terpenes – the smells – so we wouldn’t have to do all this extraction, or others may want to breed the plants so it’s resistant to powdery mildews… we’ve done this for other crops – it’s not rocket science.”

For Peter Crooks, whose company is a Canadian-licensed dealer dedicated to developing cannabis solutions, he said the pace of innovation in this space and the regulation hurdles add layers of complexity when approaching formulation.

His products – 83 of its 130 SKUs in edibles, topicals and concentrates hitting the market before year’s end – are targeting what he calls the “big middle” – the new cannabis consumer. He said overwhelmingly consumers said they did not want to taste the terpenes in their product, so his company has focused on distillates (a cleaner concentrate). 

As for the future of the cannabis industry, Crooks said consistency is the cornerstone of consumer trust. “So how you formulate, how you extract, how you standardize and then how you formulate your cannabis extract … that maintaining the very strict standardization of that is the only way to create a product that will be consistent with a predictable effect of high quality and I think it’s going to plague the broader cannabis industry for some time.”

Skyler Webb, Director of Product Development at Cannabistry in Illinois, U.S., was a keynote speaker at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College.

Consistency will be necessary in the highly regulated Canadian market; however, it’s something not always seen in its neighbours to the south. In fact, the lack of regulations in the United States affects the safety of products there, explained Kimberley Stuck, who was the first cannabis specialist for a public health authority in the nation in Denver, Colorado.

“When something is on the shelf, people really believe that it’s safe no matter what. They think the U.S. government wouldn’t allow there to be a dangerous product sold to consumers,” she said. “When it comes to cannabis, this is not the case. The fact is there’s a lot of really sketchy things.” 

She referred to the “irresponsible dosing” in edible-infused cannabis products, where one larger section of a chocolate bar could contain 1mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and another smaller piece as much as 20mg. However, the consumer trusts that each piece is consistent in the advertising dosage.

It is similar in the cooking industry, noted Christopher Sayegh, a biology/food chemistry professional. He said chefs might put infused butter into a pan, but have no idea how much is in the pan – not to mention that the heat (to a specific temperature) will accelerate the effects of THC.

After serving tens of thousands of gourmet cannabis-infused meals through his California-based company, Sayegh places a high value on quality and controlled consistency when it comes to cannabis-infused dosing for his guests. “If you’re going to be in a commercial setting and give something out to people and don’t know the dosage that you’re giving, it’s highly irresponsible.” 

Besides customizing individual dosing per diner, Sayeh also chooses specific strains to give certain effects for the entire dining experience. For example, during a 10-course tasting menu, the average guest will receive a total of 10mg of THC and 10mg of cannabidiol (CBD), starting with uplifting strains at the outset and ending with terpenes set to provide relaxation by the end of the meal. 

The dosing of edible cannabis products is so highly regulated in Canada, companies doing product development have to measure homogenization and potency every step of the way to hit a targeted dosage spec, explained Crooks. 

“I can’t underscore enough that having analytical validated methods internally makes a massive difference,” he said, adding there’s a strong competitive advantage for those companies who have in-house analytical capabilities, otherwise it would take some six weeks to get a result back during product development. 

Sponsors for the event included: Food in Canada Magazine; Invest Hamilton Niagara; Niagara Industrial Association; Food and Beverage Ontario; Two Sisters Vineyards; and Ontario Craft Brewers. Funding support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI) team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. From new recipe development to shelf-life testing and nutritional labelling, the CFWI Innovation Centre pairs industry partners with faculty, recent graduates and students with the right expertise and equipment to meet industry’s needs. For more information visit ncinnovation.ca.

The R&I division publishes a monthly e-newsletter to keep people informed of the innovative projects, people, jobs, events, news and opportunities available through the work at Niagara College. If you’d like to receive this in your email monthly, just follow the link below to the R&I website where you’ll find the sign-up box. https://www.ncinnovation.ca/contact