Category Archives: Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre

Profile: Stephanie Skotidas

Profile: Stephanie Skotidas

There is a common biology experiment that involves extracting DNA from an onion. Why an onion? Given the low starch content of the vegetable, the DNA can be seen more clearly when isolated. Plus, anyone can do it in his or her own kitchen with a few household chemicals.

Stephanie Skotidas’ high school class had been learning about DNA, but as soon as she discovered the link between science and food, after spooling the onion DNA, she was “hooked.”

“It was amazing to see how the things we were learning in class could be applied in the real world and to have that tangible evidence of what we had only been learning the theoretical side of,” says the Research Lab Technician with Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre.

From there, she started her education in chemistry, biology and analytical instrumentation. After receiving a diploma in Food and Drug Technology from Durham College, she continued her studies to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from McMaster University.

“It was amazing to see how the things we were learning in class could be applied in the real world and to have that tangible evidence of what we had only been learning the theoretical side of.”

She was drawn to product development, working for Sensient Flavors Canada as a R&D Food Technologist for almost seven years. She also spent time as an Assistant Winemaker with Andrew Peller Ltd.

A highlight while at Sensient was creating the “Tubes” branded yoghurt and then seeing it on the shelves in the grocery store. It was the first of many items she developed that made their way into people’s homes.

“The first time I saw something I made on the shelf, I did a little dance in the grocery store and a lady who saw me said ‘Oh that must be really good!’ and I said ‘It is… you should buy it!’”

It also gave her family more of an appreciation for what her job entailed, she says. “And it was a tangible measure of what I did all day and how it affected real people.”

Together with the applied research projects she’s called upon to help with, Stephanie focuses on the technical services offered through the CFWI Innovation Centre, such as microbiology and chemical analytical lab testing, shelf-life testing, food and beverage quality and product development.

Today, she has come full circle since high school and has returned to what hooked her in the first place: putting theoretical learning into real-world practice. In her role at the college, Stephanie is responsible for maintaining all the state-of-the-art equipment within the Research & Innovation labs. She also works collaboratively with students, faculty and industry partners.

She is also now proficient at hops and beer analysis, something she rather enjoys. This past summer, she helped with a major R&I project for the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), which saw her do the bulk of testing on some 1,000 cans of beer.

Even so, the most exciting endeavour is just ahead – the imminent opening of the College’s Marotta Family Innovation Complex, where an entire floor will directly support applied research and world-class training specifically for the wine, beer, spirits and non-alcoholic beverage sectors in Niagara.

“I can’t wait to get my hands on all the new and innovative equipment we will be getting and sharing that knowledge with our students and industry partners.”

And, thanks to provincial and federal grants, the R&I team is currently purchasing additional leading-edge equipment to handle even more research. Through the Beverage Innovation Excellence research program, the new technology will equip three distinct research labs, and extend Stephanie’s responsibilities further.

“I’m so excited for all the new things that are coming,” she says. “In particular I can’t wait to get my hands on all the new and innovative equipment we will be getting and sharing that knowledge with our students and industry partners. It will be such an asset to have that space to work in.”

Stephanie lives in Smithville with her husband, four children (ages 2, 6, 8 and 10), a dog, a cat, 11 chickens, some bunnies and a fish pond. In her spare time, she has returned to running after a short hiatus and is a volunteer with Girl Guides of Canada.

The family also grows their own vegetables … including onions.

Apple cider project gets even sweeter

After a successful season increasing distribution of Reinhart’s Red Apple Light Cider into LCBOs across the province, Reinhart’s Foods is looking forward to even more exciting ventures for the brand in the year ahead.

According to Scott Singer, general manager and third-generation family member of Reinhart Foods, the hard cider maintained a Top 5 Ontario sales performance for most of 2018 while sales were doubled from the launch year of 2017.

“We are continuing to grow the Reinhart’s brand with more news to come in the spring,” noted Singer.

It is the first light beverage of its kind in the Canadian hard cider category and is made using 100 per cent Ontario-grown apples. The product is the result of a close collaboration between the research team at Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre and Reinhart Foods Ltd., well known and respected for its vinegars and baking ingredients.

While Reinhart had experience in liquid-based manufacturing and fermentation, the company did not have the necessary capabilities or equipment to develop a high-end commercially-marketable hard apple cider beverage, so they turned to the CFWI Innovation Centre for their expertise.

Thanks to funding by a College and Community Innovation Enhancement grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the team, which included students and faculty, handled everything from product development, competitive and sensory analysis, and quality control, to knowledge transfer in providing final recipe and process for making the cider at Reinhart’s production site in Stayner, Ont.

A key benefit to the lower alcohol is being able to better showcase the pure apple taste, with ripe, fresh red and golden apple flavours, explains NC’s Gavin Robertson, the faculty research lead for the Reinhart project, and instructor with the NC Teaching Winery. “It’s a satisfying achievement for the whole team and an example of the ways in which NC’s Research & Innovation department is able to contribute to Ontario enterprise.”

For more information on food and beverage innovation projects, click here.

Pet food company now an industry leader

With help from the research team at Niagara College, Iron Will Raw is now the first and only pet food facility in Ontario to be Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certified and only one of three in all of Canada. Internationally recognized, HACCP is a systematic and preventative approach to food safety, which helps to find, correct, and prevent hazards throughout the production process.

With this internationally recognized certification, Iron Will Raw is on its way to becoming a national brand coast to coast, says its owner Matt Bonanno. He readily gives some of the credit for his company’s rapid growth to the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre for its help in the demanding process of ensuring food safety is their No. 1 priority in their products, along with high-quality natural ingredients.

Company owner and president Matt Bonanno with four canine friends in front of Iron Will Raw’s temperature- controlled delivery vehicle.

Iron Will Raw came on board with the CFWI Innovation Centre for two separate applied research projects, thanks to Niagara Region and federal funding (from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), and involved students receiving real-world knowledge guided by expert staff, including an industry HACCP specialist.

The research team helped Iron Will Raw develop rigorous food safety protocols. The result is a pristine facility with 24/7 temperature monitoring, full traceability to slaughter and biological guarantees from suppliers for a number of pathogens. Now that the production facility is following strict adherence to good manufacturing practices, the company is focused on moving the business into more locations across Canada.

For more information on food and beverage innovation projects, click here.

Student researchers boost holistic product line

After developing his organic Broya bone broth product, entrepreneur Tim Sotoadeh had a new idea for a product to commercialize: a nitrite, soy, and gluten-free jerky snack. He turned to the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre at Niagara College to utilize both the culinary and food science expertise and state-of-the-art labs in order to get his new product to market.

“There was no way I was going to develop these products without the College… that’s a fact. I really don’t think my product could be differentiated enough,” says Sotoadeh. “Or even going to a co-packer on my own to do testing would cost me a lot of money and a lot of headaches.”

Guided by food experts with the CFWI Innovation Centre, the research team of students and graduates helped to expand Broya’s holistic line by developing a meat snack with shelf stability and with no additives, refined sugars, hormones or antibiotics. The team conducted extensive research, which included the development of more than 100 different flavour profiles. From those, three different flavours were chosen to develop for market: Sweet Chili Heat Beef Bites, Jalapeno & Honey Chicken Bites and Mango & Cayenne Pepper Turkey Bites.

The meat snacks are now in major grocery stores and other retail shelves across Ontario.

Sotoadeh was so impressed with the Innovation Centre that he partnered with the team again, as they secured funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program for an applied research project to assist with improving his original bone broth product.

He received comprehensive research assistance, complete with regulatory, production, packing, labeling, and product development. For example, recommendations were provided to select and monitor quality control parameters for food safety and food processing purposes, using the leading-edge testing equipment at the Innovation Centre labs.

For more information on food and beverage innovation projects, click here.

Parliamentary committee hears from NC Centre Manager on value-added food sector

Parliamentary committee hears from NC Centre Manager on value-added food sector

Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager for the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, was recently asked to visit Ottawa to make a presentation regarding the food sector to the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Forestry.

In particular, the federal committee sought input on the work that colleges do to assist business while providing applied research opportunities to students. The committee is currently examining how the value-added food sector can be more competitive in global markets.

During the Nov. 29 presentation, Ashton outlined how SMEs engage with the CFWI Innovation Centre by partnering on projects in a number of key areas that allow them to scale up, innovate, grow, etc.

For example, he spoke of a project with Reinhart Foods, to develop a light hard apple cider. In partnership with the college’s Teaching Winery, and using the expertise of faculty and student researchers, Reinhart’s Red Apple Light Cider was launched, and has been steadily increasing in sales month over month since it was launched in 2017.

Broya is a company focused on holistic living and eating nourishing food. They partnered with the college to refine their products, including their nutritious bone broth product, as well as to develop new types of products, including meat bites that are now on grocery shelves and online sales across Ontario.

Miname came to the college as an importer of ethnic malt beverages facing challenges with finding consistent stable ingredients. After their partnership with the CFWI Innovation Centre, they now have made-in-Canada products that meet the proper food safety protocols, which are available for sale in Canada, and could be developed for export markets as well.

Colleges are dedicated to supporting applied research for students, through co-op and internship programs, but also through the Technology Access Centre program, an NSERC-funded enhancement of the CFWI Innovation Centre, allowing the Centre to hire students as research assistants. They work under the guidance of researchers, shoulder to shoulder with talented people, and in many cases, end up getting hired by the industry partner as soon as the project is finished.

Ashton’s presentation concluded with three main points of what is needed to strengthen the positive results of college-industry partnerships in this sector:

● multi-year funding is important to build up tangible results

● investigating models that develop talent and new intellectual property

● strengthening supports to colleges to support their SMEs

Luis Garcia, Chair, Craig Richardson Institute of Food Processing Technology, at Conestoga College, was also invited to make a presentation on his institution’s work with SMEs.

To learn more about the CFWI Innovation Centre, click here.

Funding for state-of-the-art agri-food and beverage research

Niagara College has received more than $1.6 million in federal and provincial grants to help fund cutting-edge beverage research equipment for the College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI IC), which will be housed within the College’s new Marotta Family Innovation Complex. The Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) College-Industry Fund (CIIF) will supply $816,000 and another $816,000 will be provided by the Ontario Research Fund. The Marotta Innovation Complex will directly support applied research and world-class training specifically for the wine, beer, spirits and non-alcoholic beverage sectors in Niagara.

Through the CFWI IC’s Beverage Innovation Excellence research program, the new tech will equip three distinct research labs within the new 49,000-square-foot complex, which is set to open later this year.

“Over the past several years, Niagara College has proven itself to be a powerhouse for applied research for Canada’s food and beverage industries,” said Marc Nantel, NC’s associate vice-president of Research & Innovation. “This equipment will allow us to build upon that reputation and continue to conduct world-class research that will make significant contributions to this industry, right here in Niagara and across the country.”

The projects build on strong demand from regional beverage manufacturers and more than six years of recent capacity-building for food and beverage research and development at the CFWI IC. Since 2012, the CFWI IC has conducted more than 65 applied research projects, the products of several of which are now available on the market nationally and internationally. The staff and faculty who conduct these projects with students and industry partners are proven experts in food and beverage engineering, science, product development, and sensory analysis; food safety and regulatory affairs; nutrition; microbial and chemical analysis; and more.

~ Andrew Korchok       Read more at InsideNC